Until Thursday’s GOP debate, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes and Donald Trump had been executing one of the most successful examples of media synergy in recent memory. But the Trump-Ailes alliance — which helped generate a record debate audience of 24 million — has been in tatters ever since Fox’s debate moderators peppered Trump with critical questions onstage in Cleveland. From the moment Trump faced reporters in the post-debate “Spin Room,” he’s been attacking the network’s treatment of him, with special venom reserved for Megyn Kelly.
Now, it appears both sides want peace. This morning, Trump tweeted that Ailes called to assure him that Fox will cover him “fairly” going forward. According to two high-level Fox sources, Ailes’s diplomacy was the result of increasing concern inside Fox News that Trump could damage the network. Immediately following Thursday’s debate, Fox was deluged with pro-Trump emails. The chatter on Twitter was equally in Trump’s favor. “In the beginning, virtually 100 percent of the emails were against Megyn Kelly,” one Fox source, who was briefed on the situation, told me. “Roger was not happy. Most of the Fox viewers were taking Trump’s side.”
Things got worse for Ailes over the weekend. In a phone conversation, Trump told Sean Hannity that “he was never doing Fox again,” according to one person with knowledge of the call. The anti-Kelly emails, and threat of a boycott by Trump, seem to have pushed Ailes to defuse the war. One Fox personality told me that Fox producers gave instructions to tell in-house talent not to bring up Trump’s controversial comments that Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” during the debate. According to one count, Fox only aired Trump’s comment once since Friday, while CNN mentioned it at least 50 times.
In recent days, Ailes got a glimpse of what a Trump-less Fox News would look like. On Sunday, Trump called in to the four other public-affairs shows; this morning he gave interviews to Today and Morning Joe. Inside Fox, this was alarming. “This thing with Megyn got way ahead of Roger and bigger than he must have thought,” one Fox personality said. “Roger wants this to blow over,” another source added. “He’s upset that conservatives are mad at Fox.” Online, Ailes also took flak. Both the Drudge Report and Breitbart News carried pro-Trump headlines.
Whatever Ailes said to Trump in their phone call earlier, it seems to have worked. Trump has agreed to interviews on Fox & Friends and Hannity tomorrow.
Irena Briganti, a Fox spokesperson, did not return a call for comment. The Trump campaign declined to comment.