Fox News is an organization famous for loyalty. The culture starts from the top, where boss Roger Ailes sits. When anchors come under fire for some reason or other, Ailes is there to back them up. A year ago, for instance, ratings king Bill O’Reilly struggled to respond to a plume of reports documenting how he’d misled people about past reportorial exploits. Whereas other news organizations would audit such a situation, Ailes supported O’Reilly and waited out the storm.
On his program last night, O’Reilly demonstrated how not to return the favor. In a highly anticipated quasi-interview/mutual back-scratching session with Donald Trump, O’Reilly carefully avoided a full-throated endorsement of his colleague Megyn Kelly. Trump has been hammering Kelly ever since the Aug. 6 GOP debate in Cleveland, when she sought an explanation from Trump about how he’d mistreated women over the years. In tweets and interviews, Trump has called Kelly a “lightweight” and cheekily used the term “bimbo” in criticizing her, among other insults — conduct that speaks to the righteousness of Kelly’s Cleveland question.
In recent days, Trump renewed his rips against Kelly and on Tuesday his campaign announced he wouldn’t be showing up for tonight’s Fox News debate, at which Kelly, Bret Baier and Chris Wallace will serve as moderators. Trump will hold his own event in Iowa at the same time as the Fox News debate.
A way-too-long conversation on “The O’Reilly Factor” accorded the host a great number of opportunities to rebuff Trump for invoking the term “bimbo” in a tweet about Kelly; to stand foursquare behind Kelly’s Aug. 6 question; and to otherwise stand up for journalism. He turned them down, perhaps preferring not to rupture his decades-long friendship with the real-estate mogul.
Sure, O’Reilly gave the three moderators a vote of confidence, telling Trump that they’d treat him fairly if he decided to show up for the contest. And he did say that Kelly’s question was “within journalistic bounds.”
That said, O’Reilly did some retroactive editing of his prime-time Fox News colleague: “If I had been debate moderator last August, I would have asked you about that comment. I wouldn’t ask it the same way. But once you said something about Carly Fiorina, you open the door for it,” said O’Reilly to Trump. There’s a mistake in there: Kelly didn’t ask about Fiorina at the Aug. 6 Cleveland debate. The controversial and very sexist comments from Trump about Fiorina — “Look at that face!” he said in mocking his fellow candidate’s appearance — surfaced in a September Rolling Stone interview. With her famous question one month earlier in Cleveland, Kelly was focusing on other sexist comments by Trump. Here’s the transcript:
Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women.
You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Your Twitter account … has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?
When O’Reilly says he wouldn’t have asked that question the “same way,” what he means is that he would have said, “Mr. Trump, my friend of many decades, with whom I’ve gone to many sporting events and bought a great number of milkshakes, would your presidency help women?”