It’s hard to separate Fox News from Roger Ailes, the network’s founder and former chief executive officer, who was pushed out of the company this summer.
In the months that have followed, the media has questioned what a Fox News sans Ailes would look like, especially during a Donald Trump presidency. How will the culture change? Will the network be able to retain its star prime-time anchor, Megyn Kelly, as her contract is currently under negotiation?
On Tuesday at Business Insider’s Ignition conference in New York, James Murdoch, ceo of Fox News’ parent 21st Century Fox, did not address Kelly (nor did he address recent allegations that he was involved in authorizing the deletion of e-mails at News International six years ago when the phone-hacking scandal had come to light). Instead, he talked about the future of Fox and its tone.
“I think the important thing about Fox News is that there’s a real difference with the news reporting, news gathering and the opinion shows, the sort of talk shows that populate prime time,” Murdoch said. “I think [the talk shows] get people most excited, both the fans [of the shows] and [those] wringing their hands about it. It certainly is provocative, the opinion shows, but they are opinion shows and they are labeled that way.”
Murdoch called the news reporting “fair and balanced,” a Fox slogan, and cited the presidential election coverage by Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, as well as debate moderation by Kelly.
Henry Blodget, cofounder, ceo and editor in chief of Business Insider, stopped Murdoch, asking him to address the one-sided, conservative-leaning nature of the opinion shows before the executive took the “fair and balanced” rhetoric too far.
“The opinion shows, though, definitely seem to be of one view. I mean, would you hire Rachel Maddow, for example?” Blodget asked.
Murdoch punted the question, offering that he doesn’t make the hiring decisions at Fox, but pressed that the views of pundits Bill O’Reilly, Kelly, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Britt Hume have a “high contrast.”
“It’s important for us as a business of ideas, and as a creative business, to make sure there isn’t one controlling mind trying to do that, but actually, that you have a diversity of voices, of editors and writers and storytellers, who can come and tell the stories that they want,” Murdoch said, making a veiled reference to the way Ailes had ruled the Fox News business.
When asked more directly whether the network would change post-Ailes, Murdoch offered: “I think you have seen, and it is hard to tell right now because we are in the middle of this big political cycle, but I think there is a desire to break news, to focus on the news side of it, but also to make sure that the personalities that are in prime time and new figures that are going to come through are engaging, exciting and connecting with the audience. It is not a question of whether you pivot from a perceived political bias one way or another. It’s actually a question of developing the product and attracting the best that you can.”
Blodget made the assumption that Fox News’ success comes from the fact that it has always “pushed back” on the liberal establishment and taken the view of opposition.
“The idea of saying it’s always been in the opposition is just not borne out by the facts,” Murdoch countered. “Actually, what it is, is a lively product that’s, on screen, very engaging for viewers in news and opinion and that’s been a really successful format.”