Fox News chairman Roger Ailes has dismissed suggestions there’s a rift between himself and 21st Century Fox executive chairman Rupert Murdoch over FNC’s coverage of Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign.
“My relationship with Rupert has never been better — I talked to him three times today, and none of the conversations involved Donald Trump or The New York Times,” Ailes told The Hollywood Reporter.
This week, The New York Times reported that Ailes figured prominently in a “clash of the titans” between Murdoch and Trump:
On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal, the crown jewel of Mr. Murdoch’s print company, News Corporation, published a scathing editorial calling Mr. Trump a “catastrophe.” And The Post’s front page screamed, “DON VOYAGE,” under a headline declaring, “Trump is toast.”
Mr. Trump responded by trashing The Journal on Twitter. “Look how small the pages have become,” he wrote. “Looks like a tabloid.”
Recognizing that winning over the notoriously headstrong Mr. Murdoch appears unlikely, Mr. Trump has set his sights instead on wooing perhaps the only media executive who wields as much firepower among Republicans: Roger E. Ailes, the chairman and chief executive of Fox News.
In the wake of the Times’ article on the billionaire’s “feud,” other news outlets reported the rift between Murdoch and Trump included a personal request from Murdoch to Ailes to pull back on Fox News’ positive coverage of the Trump campaign.
In fairness, Fox News has made fewer mentions of Trump (496 mentions over a five-day period) than CNN (547) and MSNBC (620), according to a review of data collected by media research firm TVEyes by The Hollywood Reporter, which also notes some of the network’s voices have been harshly critical of Trump. “FNC contributors George Will and Charles Krauthammer routinely bash Trump, and his remarks about McCain earned him rebukes on FNC from Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Geraldo Rivera, Greg Gutfeld and others.”
A Fox News spokesperson said any suggestion that Fox News was being guided by Ailes to keep Trump’s campaign afloat was “absolute nonsense, 100 percent untrue and said by someone who clearly doesn’t know Roger.”
Murdoch, meanwhile, has a longstanding policy of not interfering with Fox News editorial decisions. Part of the reason behind that is simple: in a time of cable news contraction, Roger Ailes keeps making the boss an awful lot of money. It makes financial sense to let Roger keep doing what Roger does.
Last month, Ailes signed a new, multi-year contract to remain in control of Fox News, Fox Business and the Fox TV Stations group. At the time, Ailes expressed his gratitude to Murdoch “for taking the risk on Fox News to see it become the number one 24-hour news network in America.”
Securing Ailes to a new contract, however, was significant, to keep Ailes in place–and Fox News operating smoothly as Murdoch put in place the transition of power to his sons, James and Lachlan. With Fox News representing nearly 20 percent of 21st Century Fox’s profits in 2014, keeping Ailes in control–and happy–was seen as critical to the company’s bottom line. In the most recent quarterly ratings, Q2 2015, Fox News posted its 54th consecutive quarterly victory, with double digit growth in prime time year-over-year.
As S&P Capital IQ analyst Tuna Amobi told The Hollywood Reporter, “If history is any guide, then Rupert Murdoch will probably go the extra mile to ensure that Roger Ailes, and effectively his fiefdom, are unruffled by any contemplated executive changes. Both Fox News and TV stations have clearly been a major part of the shareholder value creation at 21st Century Fox — and will likely remain so.”