The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Yet another truce in the Trump-Fox News ‘death struggle’?

Fox News moderators Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Brett Baier start the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 presidential campaign in Cleveland on Aug. 6. (REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk)
Placeholder while article actions load

Roger Ailes and Donald Trump have been talking again, it appears. In an appearance today on Laura Ingraham’s radio show, Republican presidential hopeful Trump said, “Roger Ailes is great. Roger Ailes is a special guy, he’s a good friend of mine, and we just spoke a two minutes ago. I mean, Roger Ailes is a great guy and no, I have no problem.”

That’s what you call a flip-flop.

Ever since star Fox News host Megyn Kelly fired a tough question at Trump about his misogynistic history at the Aug. 6 Republican presidential debate, Trump has had a big problem. Immediately after the debate, he lit up Twitter with criticisms of Kelly and her question. A day later, he suggested something almost unthinkable in a CNN interview: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”

After that and other slights, Trump and Fox News chief Roger Ailes reached something of an accommodation, a truce, a cease-fire. It didn’t last. When Kelly hit Fox News air on Monday, Trump bombed her on social media via tweets and retweets:

Angered that their deal didn’t stick, Ailes issued a statement ripping Trump for his tweets: “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,” read the statement, in part. Trump issued an opposing statement disagreeing with the network.

This story, which has Miguel Indurain-caliber endurance, stretched well into yesterday evening, when Trump, at a press gathering in Dubuque, Iowa, said that Kelly owed him an apology, not the other way around.

After the chat with Ailes today, it appears that Trump is dropping his apology demand. “Actually, I watched her show last night; she was very nice and I appreciated it,” said Trump in his Ingraham interview, referencing a Kelly show featuring an interview with Sen. Ted Cruz in which the host gave Trump credit for “explicitly” answering a tough question on immigration.

Ingraham asked Trump point-blank: “Are you going to keep retweeting these bimbo’s back in town comments?” Trump responded that he had more important things to do — though apparently he didn’t have such important things to do as recently as Monday night. Hey, a candidate’s schedule is a volatile thing.

In a tell-tale exchange, Trump scoffed at Ingraham’s apt description of this episode as a “death struggle.” “It’s not a death struggle, not a big deal,” said the real-estate mogul. Again, that’s a 180-degree change-in-message from the Republican candidate: Non-big-deals generally don’t prompt late-night Twitter binges and offensive remarks on CNN.

Whatever Trump’s cogitations, Ailes apparently engaged in yet another telephonic conciliation — after Trump violated the first one. In deference to the Fox News chief, he’s in a difficult spot. Pressure on the exec mounted after Trump made those awful “blood” comments on CNN. Shouldn’t he step in and defend his star anchor? Consider this ill-considered headline on an Aug. 11 New York Magazine piece on the controversy: “How Roger Ailes Picked Trump, and Fox News’ Audience, Over Megyn Kelly.” That piece scolded Ailes for not taking a more aggressive approach against the gas-bag businessman.

Plus — Ailes has built a reputation as the kind of boss who has the back of his people. They are loyal to him, and he returns the favor. That very mutuality is behind the stick-up-for-Megyn-Kelly statement that Ailes released yesterday.

Yet by participating in these peace-making discussions with Trump, Ailes comes off more as a player in the GOP primary game than as a news executive. His role is to drive news stories on Trump, not to hop on the phone with him to work things out. In addition to that substantive problem, there’s a crisis of appearances here as well: Ailes is negotiating and issuing statements to protect Kelly, the host that Fox News promotes as an intrepid, thick-skinned cable brawler. That Megyn Kelly needs no protection from a blowhard like Donald Trump; Ailes’s recent work makes it look as though she does.

(h/t Politico)