Fox News fires back at Trump: Enough of your "extreme, sick obsession" with Megyn Kelly

John flagged Trump’s latest Twitter attack on Kelly in this post last night but you should read Fox’s reply too. Imagine: This guy can all but break the back of conservative resistance to him and become the prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination by beating Cruz handily in Arizona and Utah on Tuesday night — and this is what he’s busy stewing about. He has a general election campaign coming up, he has fundraising to think about, he has a convention to plan, and he’s sitting in front of his TV fulminating about one of the two hours of programming each day on Trump TV that’s not devoted to glorifying him. (Bret Baier’s show is the other.) Good guy. Definitely a guy who’ll have his priorities straight as leader of the free world.

The only way to understand his preoccupation, I think, is Ross Douthat’s way: “Trump envisions his wedding to Megyn Kelly as the made-for-TV highlight of his presidency-for-life.” Fox’s statement:

Donald Trump’s vitriolic attacks against Megyn Kelly and his extreme, sick obsession with her is beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate who wants to occupy the highest office in the land. Megyn is an exemplary journalist and one of the leading anchors in America — we’re extremely proud of her phenomenal work and continue to fully support her throughout every day of Trump’s endless barrage of crude and sexist verbal assaults. As the mother of three young children, with a successful law career and the second highest rated show in cable news, it’s especially deplorable for her to be repeatedly abused just for doing her job.

A few — but only a few — Foxies went after him last night on social media, including Baier (which was expected) and Geraldo Rivera (less expected). My pal Karl’s right that Fox personnel have been more vocal in the past in defending her publicly when Trump’s come after her. Maybe that’s less tenable now that the network’s gradually morphed into Trump TV and Trump himself has gradually gotten closer to taking over the party. Or maybe it’s pure fear: A report in Variety today claims that “Fox News officials are growing increasingly concerned for Kelly’s safety as Trump continues to target the anchor.” Sources inside Fox told Gabriel Sherman last year, after Kelly’s first run-in with Trump at the August debate, that she was receiving death threats. Fox News itself accused Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, of trading on the abuse she’s been taking by issuing veiled threats after the dust-up over Trump’s debate cancellation in January, allegedly warning the network that Kelly had had a “rough couple of days after that last debate” and he “would hate to have her go through that again.” And all of that happened before Trump started egging his fans on at rallies to get rough with protesters. If someone like Erick Erickson is experiencing this after a couple of light jabs from Trump, imagine what Kelly’s experiencing.

For all of Fox’s hard shots at Trump in defense of Kelly over the last seven months, though, he’s more ubiquitous on the network now than he’s ever been, doing daily call-ins with “Fox & Friends,” enjoying regular pattycake interviews with Sean Hannity, and being treated with admiration bordering on deference from virtually every Fox host in the line-up outside of the 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. hours. (Gutfeld and Perino are often hard on him on “The Five” but they’re balanced there by Trump superfan Eric Bolling.) Why is that? As a news organization, Fox has a duty to cover his campaign; a presidential candidacy is news and a nationalist takeover of the GOP is big news. They have no duty to give Trump himself a platform, though. That they continue to do so despite him relentlessly attacking their biggest star is proof enough that they don’t give a wet rip about his vendetta against Kelly. Ailes could pull the plug network-wide on Trump interviews right now or the individual hosts could do so on their own programs in solidarity with her. It’s a cinch, after all, that President Trump will end up barring Fox and any other news outlet from the White House if they cover him critically — he’s already done that repeatedly on the campaign trail — so why shouldn’t Fox respond in kind? Either Ailes and company are petrified of losing viewers by ceding Trump interviews to CNN and MSNBC or there are petty rivalries happening behind the scenes leading Fox hosts to side with him over Kelly. (“I do wish that O’Reilly had defended me more in his interview with Trump,” Kelly told More magazine recently. “I would have defended him more.”) Whatever the explanation, so long as Fox News continues to operate as Trump TV, you can print out their occasional angry statements standing up for Kelly and wipe with them.

Here’s Kelly last night talking about covering Trump with Jorge Ramos of Univision. Note the bit at 3:45: “Many shows get a pop if they put him on. I would submit to you I’m the second highest-rated show in all of cable news and I haven’t had Trump on in seven months. It can be done without him.” Two things seem increasingly clear about the Trump/Kelly feud. One is that if Trump wins the election and Fox goes all-in as a mouthpiece for the new nationalist GOP, she’ll have little choice but to leave the network. She takes her job seriously and Fox during a Trump administration wouldn’t remotely be a serious news outlet. The other is that, by insisting on this one-sided feud with her, Trump is slowly but surely making her the biggest star in television journalism. To the heavy majority of the country that dislikes him, she earns more respect every day by refusing to back down. I’m sure Trump doesn’t care about any of that right now; any publicity that involves him is good publicity, and Kelly serves as a convenient enemy du jour whenever he needs to throw some red meat to his fans. If you were a betting man, though, you’d get much better odds on Kelly landing as the anchor of a broadcast network news show sometime during the next four years than you would Trump landing in the White House. Her future as a player in national politics is now more secure than his is, thanks partly to him. Maybe they’ll finally make up and she’ll interview him when he’s asking for his old job at “The Apprentice” back.

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