The willingness of Fox News over the years to regularly push false narratives and often report outright false news in order to pander to the most brazen of conservative viewers has long brought scorn from, well, everyone who doesn’t fall for it. If only Fox News would go away, the average mainstream American has long believed, maybe conservatives would end up with a worldview that’s less fictional. After the way things have gone this summer in general and this week in particular, the startling exodus of prominent Fox News personalities means that we may indeed find out what that future looks like – though perhaps not in the manner hoped.
The trouble first became visible when longtime Fox News on-air personality Gretchen Carlson quit the network and then sued it over allegations that CEO Roger Ailes had been routinely guilty of sexual harassment. That ultimately led to Ailes being pushed out the door as well. Today is was announced that Fox will pay Carlson tens of millions of dollars and publicly admit its guilt in the matter. None of that comes as a major surprise.
But almost shockingly, another longtime Fox News host Greta Van Susteren announced today that she’s also leaving the network. Why? No one on the outside really knows. Her only explanation was that “Fox has not felt like home to me for a few years.” If she were bailing because she was loyal to Ailes, she wouldn’t have phrased it that way, would she? And if she hated Ailes, why would she be bailing now that he’s finally gone? The timing and the wording don’t make any sense unless she knows something that we don’t.
And so now Fox News has lost its longtime mastermind and two of its most prominent on-air people in a span of just several weeks. You have to think there will be more to come, because it’s difficult for this many big dominoes to fall in such rapid fashion without it setting off even more dominoes. But bizarrely, this comes at a time when those who despise Fox News should be fearful of what could really take it down.
From the start of this election, Donald Trump has been engaged in an ongoing feud with seemingly half the personalities on Fox News, a bizarre move on his part considering the network’s conservative republican leanings. Now that his chances of winning appear to be null and void, he’s shifted gears by bringing Roger Ailes into his campaign for no official reason, while turning over control of the campaign to Breitbart News boss Steve Bannon. These are great ways to lose a national election, because these two guys have no idea how to win anything. But it no longer appears that Trump’s goal is to win, if it ever was to begin wth.
If Donald Trump is indeed using the remainder of his losing election effort to set up some kind of “Trump News” television station, and some would argue that he’s been using his entire campaign to do from the start, he’s now put all the pieces in place he would want. Bannon is the kind of sexist racist garbage who can perfectly channel Trump’s own desire to produce an apocalyptic cable news channel from hell. Ailes is the well connected guy who can lure in the kind of low-aiming television talent who would want to work for such an all around collection of filth.
And you can almost see the wheels moving already. Even as Megyn Kelly increasingly becomes the primary face of Fox News thanks to her consistent willingness to bash Donald Trump, her Fox colleague Sean Hannity has suddenly decided to inexplicably become a Trump cheerleader. Is Hannity planning to become the face of the Trump News network after the election is over? And why is Greta Van Susteren choosing now to quit, when she seemingly has nowhere else to go? Could she really be planning to hold her nose and follow Ailes to Trump TV?
These are all questions whose answers won’t be known until at least after election day, when Donald Trump and his newly assembled band of alt-conservative media malcontents get around to rolling out their presumed competitor to Fox News. They’ll take away a percentage of Fox’s audience; the only questions are how little or how much of that audience they can snare, and how many of Fox’s own on-air personalities they’ll snatch up in the name of doing so.
In the mean time, even as Fox News continues to implode of its own accord thanks to Roger Ailes’ finally-exposed pattern of institutional sexual harassment and all the dominoes it’s set off, it couldn’t come at a worse time for the network: a would-be competitor with a chip on its shoulder, and a willingness to sink even lower than Fox ever dreamed of, appears to be waiting on the horizon.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report