As has been expected, Fox CEO Roger Ailes will sandwich the network’s golden child, Megyn Kelly, between its two gnarled stars, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, injecting a touch of youth — and let’s face it, a more telegenic TV presence — into the network’s primetime lineup. Greta Van Susteren gets what amounts to a demotion, moving to 7 p.m.
This is news, only because Fox News Channel has been characterized by such stability during the Ailes years, while MSNBC and CNN often appeared to be wildly flailing around it.
Look closer, though, and those predicting any change of course in the network were sorely misguided. Yes, Kelly has been promoted and Elisabeth Hasselback has replaced Gretchen Carlson on “Fox & Friends,” but other than the additional human blondage, Fox remains the same: A conservative-leaning channel dominated by older white men, with a few younger women thrown in for an audience that remains skewed toward senior citizens who still enjoy seeing a pretty face or two while hearing about how Obama is destroying America.
Almost every prediction about Fox tinkering with its basic mission, however, has been off base, including reports that the network might dial back its partisan fervor after the election, when Ailes benched Karl Rove and Dick Morris.
“The post-election soul searching going on inside the Republican Party is taking place inside Fox News as well,” New York magazine wrote at the time.
That sounded questionable even then, and looks like balderdash now. Ailes might be a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. And he knows that as long as Obama’s in the White House, Fox would be silly to do anything that would diminish its standing as the voice of the not-so-loyal opposition, railing against a demographic tide that appears to be pulling the country in another direction.
Because while the GOP might need to worry about winning over half the country, practically speaking Fox News can do just fine with a decidedly smaller segment of the population clinging to the channel as its home base for news. And we’ve seen that polarization and positioning squarely toward Fox’s older demo in its strident coverage of the Trayvon Martin case, which highlighted the intense divide between the network and MSNBC.
So while Fox might appear to be shuffling its deck, all Ailes is really doing is doubling down.