In early December, when the news broke that Rupert Murdoch was preparing to sell his movie studio and television assets to Disney, Donald Trump placed an urgent call to the 86-year-old mogul. While Fox News was not one of Murdoch’s assets included in the Disney deal, some observers were speculating that as he passed the torch to his more liberal sons, they might unload the network—a prospect that deeply concerned Trump. According to a person briefed on the conversation, Trump was relieved when Murdoch assured him that he would not be selling Fox News.
While Fox News remains immensely profitable, generating more than $1.5 billion for Murdoch’s empire, there’s an argument to be made that now, at Peak Trump, would be the time to sell. The cable-television industry continues to be buffeted by cord cutting and the rise of streaming competitors. But, ironically, Trump highlights a deeper problem at Fox news. In the post-Roger Ailes era, the network doesn’t have a programming Svengali to develop new story lines. “There’s absolutely no direction,” one Fox host told me. Without Ailes’s daily talking points to guide them, producers are freer than ever before to program their shows, and the surest path to ratings success is airing stories that appeal to Trump’s most fervent supporters. Fox may be Trump’s safe space, but Trump is Fox’s safe space, too. It’s a circular feedback loop.