My opinion of Trump TV has reached the point where I’ll believe nearly anything about their Trump boosterism, but c’mon. If it were true that the rest of the on-air talent was being told not to defend her, it would have gotten back to Kelly by now and that would be the end of Fox’s attempts to re-sign her when her contract is up. It’d also be an unholy PR fiasco for Fox, undermining their biggest star to further ingratiate themselves with a guy whom many conservatives among its audience dislike and who himself called for a (failed) boycott of her show. It just wouldn’t happen.
[M]oney may not be the central factor in Kelly’s decision-making calculus. She could decide to take less money if it meant getting out of a place that’s become less and less hospitable to her. She’s said to have been upset that Ailes was slow to forcefully defend her after Trump’s initial assault when Fox executives were deluged with emails from his supporters. And her relationship with O’Reilly has deteriorated over their ratings rivalry and O’Reilly’s coziness with Trump. Kelly recently told More magazine she was hurt that O’Reilly allowed Trump to attack her uninterrupted on his show. “I would have defended him more,” Kelly said. Last September, Kelly left her agent Carole Cooper, whom she shared with O’Reilly, because she and O’Reilly were at odds. (It will be up to Kelly’s new Los Angeles–based agent, Matt DelPiano at CAA, to guide her through the upcoming negotiations. “She has no offers,” DelPiano told me. “She has a contract with Fox News; she can’t talk to people.”)
Meanwhile, tensions at Fox are only getting worse. Two sources told me that a senior Fox executive instructed on-air talent not to defend Kelly against Trump’s attacks.
Fox is so keen to retain her, writes Gabriel Sherman, that Rupert Murdoch’s outfit HarperCollins offered her $5 million for a memoir, yet he’d have you believe that FNC execs would stab her in the back by refusing to let other people at the network speak up in her defense. In fact, some Fox hosts — not many but a few — did defend her on Twitter the last time Trump came at her. If there’s a germ of truth to this, though, I’d bet it’s less a matter of other hosts being told not to “defend” Kelly than being told not to mention Trump’s feud with her at all unless it’s unavoidable. It’s one thing for O’Reilly not to defend her when Trump suddenly starts badmouthing her during an interview, it’s another thing for Fox hosts to bring up Trump’s attacks on her unbidden and start ripping on him. The more people like Bret Baier talk about it, the more Fox is essentially covering itself rather than covering the news. And I’m sure that if an in-house gag order is in effect, it’s with Kelly’s knowledge and/or approval. Kelly has tried all along to be professional in her handling of Trump, no doubt in part because she’s eager to land an interview with him for her big broadcast special next month. If some of the other on-air talent starts throwing down gang signs in her defense, it’d undermine the professionalism she’s trying to cultivate and risk alienating Trump altogether. And of course it’d make it easier for him to argue, however implausibly, that Fox is biased against him rather than towards him.
Sherman also claims that Kelly arranged her meeting with Trump last week on her own, without Roger Ailes’s help or knowledge, which contradicts the statement Fox put out afterward. Supposedly that was Kelly’s way of showing Ailes ahead of contract negotiations that she’s now a big enough name in media that she can get time with major news figures like Trump without Fox’s help. As one Sherman source put it, “She did it to prove she doesn’t need Ailes to make things happen for her.” Question: Was there any doubt about that? Which newsmakers out there are too big to even consider an interview with Kelly unless Ailes does some arm-twisting? In particular, it must have flattered Trump’s ego tremendously to have Kelly call him up and ask for an audience at Trump Tower after all the crap he’s flung at her over the past eight months. Why would Ailes derive any lesson about her leverage from that? Sherman himself calls her, aptly, the breakout star of the cycle and notes that Hillary Clinton recently called her a “superb journalist.” No one’s going to refuse to return a call from her booker if suddenly she’s hosting CNN’s nightly 9 p.m. show just because she’s not working with Ailes anymore. Kelly’s going to end up interviewing President Hillary no matter which network she’s at, and all parties concerned — Ailes especially — knows it.
By the way, the funniest line in Sherman’s piece is “Trump’s attacks on Fox have badly damaged its credibility with its core right-wing audience.” Bro, if you think it’s pro-Trumpers who are angry at Fox these days, wait until you talk to some anti-Trumpers.