Now more than ever Fox needs a firm hand on the wheel. In many ways, the channel faces the same rebellion from the grassroots that’s cleaving the GOP. “I can tell you, my base is fed up with Fox,” conservative commentator Michelle Malkin told me. Malkin, who quit Fox as a contributor, actually goes after Murdoch for supporting immigration reform in her new book Sold Out (she calls him a “treacherous bedfellow”). Rush Limbaugh, whom Ailes first put on television in the early ’90s, has said he “no longer watches cable news.” A Limbaugh friend told me the dig was made explicitly about Fox.
Several other prominent conservatives I’ve spoken with grumble that Murdoch is pushing Fox to be openly hostile to Trump and Ted Cruz at the same time the channel boosts Establishment candidates, most prominently Marco Rubio. “I’ve joked to people that they’ll be doing a segment about kumquats in China and somehow they’ll mention Rubio,” one Cruz ally told me. Another conservative activist pointed out that Fox gave Rubio the first interview opportunity following Obama’s Oval Office address on ISIS last month. Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, it should also be noted, has been one of the most aggressive Trump and Cruz critics.
So far, the kvetching among conservatives has yet to become a business concern for Murdoch. But as he weighs Fox’s future — with or without Ailes — Murdoch must consider the risk that the backlash poses to his network. Fox revolutionized cable news by offering a conservative alternative to CNN and the broadcast networks, and the long-term danger is that Fox’s audience starts to watch it grudgingly, hoping for an alternative. “After the big brouhaha with Trump, there was all the apocalyptic talk of the ratings cratering. But there’s still nowhere else on TV to go,” Malkin says. “There’s a big opportunity. These people are sick and tired of seeing Lindsey Graham all over Fox.”