On Jan. 15, the Daily Beast reported that Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott’s tenure at the network “may shortly be coming to an end.” On Feb. 9, the company announced that Scott had signed a new multiyear contract. “Suzanne’s track record of success, innovative sprit [sic] and dedication to excellence make her the ideal person to continue to lead and grow FOX News,” read a statement from her boss, Fox Corp. chief executive Lachlan Murdoch.
What happened here? Did Scott perform management miracles in the three and a half weeks between her reported career crisis and her new contract?
That’s unlikely. The website’s story was sourced to “six people familiar with the situation,” though the extent of their familiarity now lies in doubt. Scott has had a 25-year run with Fox News, having begun as a programming assistant in 1996, the year of the network’s founding. Elevated to CEO in 2018, Scott has instituted “cultural changes” at the network, according to the company’s release, though the Daily Beast pointed out that she’d served as a “prominent enabler for late founder Roger Ailes’ alleged serial sexual misconduct.”
The Daily Beast story landed at a contentious point in Scott’s leadership, as the piece noted:
- Ratings were slipping. Though Fox News finished 2020 as the most-viewed network in cable, events around the November presidential election presented a new challenge to the network’s decades-long supremacy: “A significant portion of the network’s conservative viewership has abandoned Fox for Newsmax, a rival pro-Trump channel that openly disregards factual reporting,” noted the Daily Beast story. “To make matters worse, Fox has also suffered historic ratings losses to CNN and MSNBC, despite an intensely dramatic news cycle.”
- The network’s early call on election night that Joe Biden had won Arizona drew condemnation from then-President Donald Trump’s inner circle and supporters around the country. That move, noted the Daily Beast, had landed Fox News Media President and Executive Editor Jay Wallace in “hot water.”
- The Murdochs had intervened to promulgate a rejiggering of the network’s programming schedule that moved anchor Martha MacCallum from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m., making way for a more avowedly opinion show just before the prime-time block of Tucker Carlson-Sean Hannity-Laura Ingraham. “Rupert got involved with the shuffling of the lineup, so that’s never a good sign for someone in charge,” a current Fox staffer told the Daily Beast, referring to the Fox Corp. chairman.
In response to the Daily Beast’s inquiries, Fox Corp. issued this statement: “Your premise is wrong. It is wishful thinking by our competitors.”
When asked about the story, Daily Beast Editor in Chief Noah Shachtman wrote, “A half-dozen sources told us that Suzanne Scott was fighting for her job. We reported that to our readers.”
The Daily Beast is something of a media-reporting powerhouse, claiming more than its share of exclusives on this beat. In this case, however, the website ventured into daredevil territory: forecasting what will happen in the upper reaches of a Murdoch-controlled property. There are only so many people who actually know what’s going to happen with the network’s top talent — fewer still who’ll disclose the maneuvers to reporters. “With the Murdochs, nothing is done until it’s done,” said NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, author of the book “Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires.” “And sometimes even when something is real, it’s true until it’s not, which sounds cryptic, but Rupert has not gone for elegant succession planning. He grooms people, he evaluates people, he dumps them. He goes by his gut.” With this crew, you can’t even trust visuals: In April 2017, Fox News co-president Bill Shine was photographed coming out of lunch with a fellow executive and Rupert Murdoch — which, in Fox Kremlinological terms, was viewed as an endorsement. A week later, he was out.
Two further considerations: Promotion of the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election on some Fox News and Fox Business programs triggered litigation from voting company Smartmatic and a threat of litigation from Dominion Voting Systems. The Murdochs might not want to upend management in the midst of a hefty legal assault; Fox News, indeed, has previously resisted taking personnel action in such a scenario.
And, hey, just who wants to take over Fox News? The Daily Beast reported that the Murdochs are fond of David Rhodes, who once worked at Fox News and later took the helm at CBS News. But does Rhodes, or anyone else outside the network, long to clean up the mess from the “Big Lie”? Or press Carlson on why he just said the autopsy in George Floyd’s death showed that he “almost certainly died of a drug overdose”? Congratulations, Murdochs: You’ve created a media property governable only by lifers whose values have already been duly warped.