Brian Stelter’s new book, “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth” is a treasure trove for media critics, conspiracy theorists and political junkies. But it also offers up fascinating details about Fox Corporation and the money and influence generated by one of its largest operations.
In the book’s prologue, Stelter, the anchor of CNN’s Sunday media-news program, “Reliable Sources,” tells readers he wrote the book “as a citizen; as an advocate for factual journalism; and as a new dad who thinks about what kind of world my children are going to inherit.” He then proceeds to lay out a convincing narrative about how the absence of founding top executive Roger Ailes after his ouster in 2016 left the network without the hard-driving voice-from-the-top that had guided it for years, leaving it open to testing new directions and concepts – and a closer alignment with Donald Trump, the candidate and, now, President of the United States.
Stelter has been covering, tangling and analyzing the Fox News empire for years, first as a college student running a blog about the TV-news business. In the book’s early pages, Stelter tells of his first encounter with Ailes while visiting Fox News’ New York offices in 2004; getting tips from Fox News staffers about “a serious bug infestation in the basement newsroom” while blogging; and going out on what he thought were dates with a Fox News intern who had clandestinely been dispatched “to take copious notes” on what he discussed “and feed information back to her bosses.”
Years later, the book offers a cornucopia of detail on the business behind the Fox News empire. Below, some of the most interesting findings:
*Sean Hannity, according to the book, has been able to work from home for years, after negotiating that condition as part of contract talks last decade.”Fox installed a state-of-the-art studio so he could helm his nightly TV show from his mansion [on Long Island], the same way he already did his afternoon radio show,” Stelter writes. To be sure, the host comes into New York City on occasion, as any employee might. But Hannity was doing remote broadcasting well before the rest of the industry made the shift earlier this year amid the effects of the coronavirus.
*Fox News salaries are high, as are the profits it generates: Stelter says his sources tell him “the network is on a path to $2 billion in profits,” and that Hannity “cleared $30 million a year from Fox,” while “Bret Baier made $12 million a year” and Laura Ingraham “netted closer to $10 million.” Contributors, says Stelter, can make “more than half a million each” if they are among “some of Fox’s most popular talking heads.” After the sale of the bulk of the former 21st Century Fox’s assets to Walt Disney Company, the new company, Fox Corp., is exceedingly reliant on Fox News for its business.
*Relationships between former Fox News anchor Shep Smith and some of Fox News’ primetime hosts (and even some news staffers) were in decline for some time before Smith abruptly left the network in the fall of 2019. Stelter reports that “bad blood” between Smith and 8 p.m. host Tucker Carlson had “stretched back several years,” citing examples of negative stories about Smith in The Daily Caller, a conservative web site Carlson founded. Stelter reports staffers on Smith’s program knew he had reached his limit at the network when he ordered them a big spread from Carmine’s, the Times Square Italian restaurant and told them, “The news will always continue at this network.”
*A small number of news correspondents have left the network for other outlets after Smith stepped down: Stelter notes that Catherine Herridge a reporter who specializes in national security issues, left Fox News in 2019 for a job at CBS News, eager to pursue tenacious coverage elsewhere. Ellison Barber, another Washington, DC journalist, left Fox News earlier this year for a spot at NBC News. Fox News has made hires in recent weeks.
*Former CBS News President David Rhodes was backed by James Murdoch as a possible candidate to replace Ailes. James, who at the time was a senior Fox executive like his brother, Lachlan (who currently runs the parent company), “thought Rhodes was a shortcut to making the news division stronger and reorienting the network to the middle,” Stelter reports. Rupert Murdoch and Lachlan “were both fond of Rhodes – but there was no way they were hiring him,” says Stelter, who notes the two Murdochs felt changing the direction of Fox News would be “business suicide.”