This took some doing: 21st Century Fox is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Fox News without even mentioning the founder of Fox News, Roger Ailes. The tribute appears on the website of 21st Century Fox, the cable news network’s parent company, and includes a brief video in which Lachlan Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch, top executives of the company, look back on the world-beating organization that Ailes launched in 1996.
“Fox News came from a point of view of we can do this better,” says Lachlan Murdoch, the company’s executive chairman, in a video. “We can make news more interesting. We can tell stories better. We can tell them with more energy and more color.” Rupert Murdoch notes that he was “very lucky in the people I found. Now it’s … probably our single-biggest profit-maker as an individual channel.”
Bolding added to highlight what has to be a reference to Ailes, the now-76-year-old Republican strategist-turned-television executive who drove Fox News programming decisions with resourcefulness, ruthlessness and shamelessness. United in the quite-right conviction that traditional mainstream outlets had left out a whole bunch of Americans, Ailes and Murdoch targeted conservative America with a mix of hard-news programming and opinionmakers who have reliably stretched facts, reality and the conventions of journalism. But Murdoch is right: The Ailes formula has ruled cable news for the past decade-and-a-half, and Fox News turns an estimated $1.5 billion in annual profit.
Yet there’s no credit given to the man responsible for those profits. Instead, there’s an enormous omission in the history. Accounting for the launch of the channel, 21st Century Fox writes, “Time’s John Moody came on as senior news executive and Bill Shine oversaw ‘opinion hosts’ like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.” And they all took orders from a guy named Ailes.
In July 2016, Rupert Murdoch took the helm at FOX News and elevated longtime executives Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy to co-presidents of the network, and promoted Suzanne Scott to executive vice president of programming and development.
“While this has been a time of great transition,” Rupert said, “there has never been a greater opportunity for FOX News and FOX Business to better serve and expand their audiences.”
Allow the Erik Wemple Blog to fill in the gap here. Roger Ailes was ousted from the company in July after an internal review — prompted by a sexual harassment suit from former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson — found an assortment of credible allegations that he was abusing his position to seek favors from female employees. He has denied the allegations, though 21st Century Fox settled with Carlson for $20 million and even apologized to her for the environment in which she had labored.
Granted, such material doesn’t work well in a celebratory tribute of a fantastically profitable news operation. But failing to include a mention of Ailes sheds some light on the editorial values that have driven the Fox News project from the beginning — that is, any story can be distorted with some effort and a pair of blinders.