Fox News Channel debate moderators, Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Brett Baier, at the Republican debate in Cleveland this month. (Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters)
Media critic

Roger Ailes, the brilliant and fiery boss of Fox News, today issued a 177-word statement directed at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump:

Donald Trump’s surprise and unprovoked attack on Megyn Kelly during her show last night is as unacceptable as it is disturbing. Megyn Kelly represents the very best of American journalism and all of us at FOX News Channel reject the crude and irresponsible attempts to suggest otherwise. I could not be more proud of Megyn for her professionalism and class in the face of all of Mr. Trump’s verbal assaults. Her questioning of Mr. Trump at the debate was tough but fair, and I fully support her as she continues to ask the probing and challenging questions that all presidential candidates may find difficult to answer. Donald Trump rarely apologizes, although in this case, he should. We have never been deterred by politicians or anyone else attacking us for doing our job, much less allowed ourselves to be bullied by anyone and we’re certainly not going to start now. All of our journalists will continue to report in the fair and balanced way that has made FOX News Channel the number one news network in the industry.

That’s 177 words too long.

To judge from the tenor of Ailes’s words, Trump had libeled Kelly as a felon, a fraud, a liar, a plagiarist, a fabricator and a scoundrel to boot. But here’s the actual “attack” from Trump:

What bare knuckles.

The backstory here is as close to summer blockbuster fare as arises on the national media beat. At the Aug. 6 Republican presidential debate underneath the banner of Fox News, Kelly, the emerging face of Fox News, pressed Trump on his history of misogynistic name-calling, an issue for any candidate seeking support from America’s women. As Kelly listed all the nasty things that Trump had called women, the candidate attempted to joke-away the question, saying, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”

But the real estate mogul was bruised. He ripped Kelly on Twitter and on CNN, where he said, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” High-level consultations resulted, as did something of a Pax Trumpiana. “Donald Trump and I spoke today,” noted Ailes in an Aug. 10 statement. “We discussed our concerns, and I again expressed my confidence in Megyn Kelly. She is a brilliant journalist and I support her 100 percent. I assured him that we will continue to cover this campaign with fairness & balance. We had a blunt but cordial conversation and the air has been cleared.”

Two weeks later, the air became muddied again, thanks to Trump’s weak-kneed tweets. Especially by the bilious standards of Twitter, this little social media burst by Trump was tepid enough to dissolve a robust tablespoon of yeast. He claimed Kelly was “really off her game” after her return from vacation. Oooh.

The 75-year-old Ailes is an old GOP campaign hand and a great student of PR/optics/spin. So why would he suggest that Trump’s lame tweets have gotten to him and his staff? Why does he feel compelled to repeatedly stick up for Kelly’s work at the debate? Isn’t it clear to all but Trump fanatics that the question was fair and strong and well timed? Why would he join the mainstream media in pressuring Trump for an apology? Perhaps because Fox News really is troubled by the backlash from Trump supporters?

Whatever the case, Ailes’s statement has landed him in a debate over journalism ethics with … Donald Trump. The latter has issued a statement saying, in part, “I totally disagree with the FOX statement. I do not think Megyn Kelly is a quality journalist. I think her questioning of me, despite all of the polls saying I won the debate, was very unfair. Hopefully in the future I will be proven wrong and she will be able to elevate her standards to a level of professionalism that a network such as FOX deserves.”

It’s August, an ideal time for Ailes to take some time off from the statement mill. Let Trump tweet.