What’s most significant about Fox News’ Republican National Convention coverage, from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, was what was left unsaid. Just hours earlier, Fox News chief Roger Ailes was reported to be out after an internal review of sexual assault and harassment charges made against him. Possible targets of his advances include former anchor Gretchen Carlson and current anchor Megyn Kelly.
In Cleveland, though, neither Kelly nor the other correspondents covering the convention betrayed an inkling of dissension or discomfort with the Ailes news. Indeed, they did not present an inkling of dissension or discomfort — signs of what we might call critical thinking — about anything that occurred Tuesday night at the RNC. The Fox News graphics for the RNC included a big circle that reads “TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT” that is supposed to look like a campaign button. The button takes up the whole screen for a minute; its message seemed to take up all available space on the channel for the whole evening.
The network that Ailes built does not question the Republican Party, even if, at this point, the Republican Party deeply questions itself. Neither Ben Carson linking Hillary Clinton to Lucifer or Governor Chris Christie making his speech into a mock trial for the presumptive Democratic nominee merited much discussion from the Fox News team. When the team couldn’t think of something nice to say, they just didn’t say anything at all. Chris Wallace, the news network’s token moderate, advanced a sentence or two of speculation as to whether the entire RNC would be devoted mostly to dragging Hillary Clinton instead of promoting their nominee.
But then the panel turned to praising Donald Trump, Jr.’s speech, admiring its establishment Republican sensibilities and the vigor with which it had been delivered. Tucker asked, by way of praise, “How many kids of billionaires have you met who are kind of normal?” — a question that prompts us all to wonder if we’ve ever met any kids of billionaires. Contributor Byron York said on Fox News Wednesday morning that it was significant that Trump, Jr. had begun the work of establishing his father as a “blue collar billionaire,” as if that is a phrase that makes any amount of sense. The bar has been set so low at this convention that a halfway competent speech became manna from heaven for those determined to say nice things.
Other news networks are not necessarily more competent or better-informed. But watching Fox News overlook these events is pointed, deliberate ignorance of serious issues. Ailes, a former power-player in the Republican party, leaves behind a legacy of making the pursuit of truth look like liberal bias. As uncomfortable as Fox News has been with Donald Trump, this is a strategy the network and the candidate have in common.
It remains to be seen if post-Ailes Fox News will be significantly different from the ratings behemoth that he has created. But it will be interesting to see how a network so averse to reporting on how free market institutions and rich old billionaires can abuse their power will handle this kerfuffle, both on-screen and off. Fox News is often determined to blatantly construct narratives around the elephants in the room, narratives that bear little resemblance to the world we live in. But in the middle of an RNC that has the GOP elephant emblazoned on every available surface, this particular scandal may be too big of an elephant to ignore for long.