International bestselling author Isabel Allende discusses her new memoir, "The Soul of a Woman," a reflection on feminism in our society, and in her own personal life.
Guest Host: John Donvan
Fox News has been making its own news this week: a $20 million dollar payout and an unusual public apology to former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson who filed sexual harassment charges earlier this year against now former CEO Roger Ailes. Then the announcement that long time Fox evening anchor Greta Van Susteren was stepping down effective immediately. Many question whether recent events point to a few bumps for the top rated cable news organization or the start of a wholesale shift in organizations culture and direction: Join us to discuss what’s going at Fox News and why it matters.
- Paul Farhi Staff writer, The Washington Post
- Dan Cassino Associate professor, political science,Fairleigh Dickinson University author of "Fox News and American Politics"
- Debra Katz Founding partner,Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP
- Megan McArdle Columnist, Bloomberg View and economics blogger.
MR. JOHN DONVANThank you for joining us. I'm John Donvan, moderator of The Intelligence Squared US Debate, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Well, Fox News, the big dog of cable news ratings and the key driver of conservative political thought is making its own news again this week. A $20 million payout to settle sex harassment allegations and now the abrupt departure of longtime host, Greta Van Susteren.
MR. JOHN DONVANWell, joining me to talk about what these developments at Fox may mean for journalism, for television news, for the conservative agenda and for Fox itself, we have Paul Farhi of The Washington Post, Debra Katz, an attorney in private practice, Megan McArdle of Bloomberg View and joining us later on in the program from a studio at WBGO in Newark, New Jersey, Dan Cassino of Farleigh Dickinson University.
MR. JOHN DONVANLet's jump right into the events of the week, Paul Farhi of The Washington Post. A lot of news out of Fox. Bring us up to date on what's happening there.
MR. PAUL FARHISure. There's the $20 million settlement with Gretchen Carlson, as you said, and then there's the second shoe dropping, which was the departure of Greta Van Susteren. These two things are somewhat related, not entirely related. But nevertheless, a big earthquake just shook up that place and has been shaking that place for about two months now.
FARHIWell, that's to be determined. Obviously, they have to find someone at 7 o'clock to be the host to replace Greta Van Susteren and then the question is, is what becomes of Fox after the election. Will there be other departures? Will there be executive departures? Will the management change? It appears that the entire management of Fox is undergoing a bit of a revolution. Rupert Murdock is the nominal head of Fox News right now, but the real power is with his sons, James and Lockland, who seem to have driven this entire settlement and have taken over the future of Fox News.
DONVANPaul, if we went back to, let's say, late spring and looked at Fox's prospects for this year, what they would've been in the absence of this earthquake as you call it, what did it look like for Fox back then?
FARHIThey were sailing. They were in great shape. Their ratings have been the leader in cable news for about 14 years now. They are the most profitable and dominant cable news operation by far, exceeding CNN and MSNBC by, you know, 40, 50 percent. That said, I do believe that in the future, they will continue to be the dominant cable news network. They just won't be the same kind of network.
FARHIAnd we can talk a little bit about what that's gonna look like in the future.
DONVANAll right. I want to bring in Debra Katz. You're an attorney. You have actually represented individuals in sexual harassment cases. And you were telling us earlier that the swift and rather dramatic outcome in this case is practically unprecedented.
MS. DEBRA KATZAbsolutely, in two regards. First, the dollar amount of the settlement, $20 million is a breathtakingly large settlement in a case like this, single...
KATZWell, it somewhat depends on what the person earns, but this is a huge settlement. But the other really significant piece of this is the issuance of a public apology, which never happens in these cases. That is unprecedented. And in this case, Fox not only apologized to her, but did it more globally and essentially apologized for the environment that it created for all women there.
DONVANIn what sort of terms did they do that?
KATZThey issued a press release and they admitted that Carlson was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve. And in that, they're acknowledging not simply that one bad actor, Ailes, subjected her to harassment, but that the culture itself was sexually hostile culture and that it failed not only Carlson, but other women as well.
DONVANAnd does a statement like that -- does that implicate Fox or does it get Fox off the hook?
KATZWell, it is an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, which never occurs. I think what we're seeing here is Fox is trying to suggest that there's going to be a sea change. We're going to take this culture seriously. We're going to try to make the changes and indicate to employees that we have zero tolerance for this. And that, of course, remains to be seen. We see the elevation of people who are loyal, Ailes lieutenants who have been, themselves, implicated in covering up his wrongdoing for years.
KATZAnd Ailes engaged in this behavior for decades in clear view and he was aided in his actions by people who covered it up, helped usher people out. So if Fox was really serious about changing the environment, there are going to have to be a lot of people who get let go. And we'll see if that happens after the election.
DONVANGiven that it was so long term, as you say, and, obviously, women had been harassed there for decades, what changed in this case? Why did Gretchen Carlson get to win?
KATZShe got to win because her lawyer made a very savvy and potentially risky legal decision, which was to file suit in court and make these allegations public rather than going through mandatory arbitration. Now, Ailes immediately tried to have her case stayed and make her go through mandatory arbitration, which is...
DONVANWhich would've meant -- let's talk about the arbitration for a moment.
DONVANWhat would've happened? Might have happened.
KATZWell, mandatory arbitration is a confidential procedure, which means none of us would have know about this case. If Carlson had not gone to court and made her allegations public and had filed a mandatory arbitration request, Ailes would be sitting in a C suite. He would be conducting business as usual and Carlson would be slogging along with a case where all the resources of Fox would be brought to bear to discredit her, to have other women come forward.
KATZWhich is what Ailes tried to do the first several days after these allegations became public. So the fact that Carlson went public with her allegations and other women started coming forward, both to journalists and then, as the investigation that Paul Weiss undertook progressed, there was a tipping point and Fox had to make a decision here. If this had gone through arbitration, none of us would be any of the wiser, even though it was a well known secret at Fox that women were sexually harassed routinely and it was a sexually hostile and revolting culture there.
DONVANAnd Megan McArdle, Gretchen Carlson also reportedly had tape recordings.
MS. MEGAN MCARDLEAnd that makes a big difference. And you can't do that in every state so it varies by state whether you're allowed to record conversations where the other party doesn't know that they're being recorded. But that is, you know, sort of the smoking gun, I think. We don't know what was on those tapes. We don't even know that what was on those tapes was necessarily illegal. But in the media, that doesn't necessarily matter. There are lots of tapes -- there are lots of things you can imagine saying that are perfectly -- in fact, if you think about some of the secret tape-recordings, like Mitt Romney's 47 percent remark, right?
MS. MEGAN MCARDLENow, there is nothing illegal about that, but I bet if you'd asked Mitt Romney to pay, he would've paid quite a pretty penny to keep that tape out of the media. And so I think that that is -- that was, ultimately, I assume, why this settled as quickly as it did.
FARHIWhich is the flipside of the whole Fox making a clean breast of its hostile work environment. Yes, they are trying to make a clean breast of their errors of the past and their sins of the past. The flipside is they're also covering it up. By settling with Gretchen Carlson, they effectively bury all of the evidence and all of the bad PR that would've come out in an open trial and we would've heard those tapes. We would've heard the testimony.
FARHIWe would've seen a parade of women to say just how awful it was over there. So you can say they're trying to clean their act up. You could also say they're trying to get this out of the media.
DONVANI went to the dictionary today to make sure I could come up with a perfectly well phrased definition of the German term schadenfreude, a pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Do you smell a lot of that going on right now in the conversation about Fox, Megan McArdle?
MCARDLEOh, absolutely. I mean, you know, there's -- liberals don’t like Fox News. They very much don't like it and, of course, when one of your opponents -- I mean, you saw the same thing in 2004 when Dan Rather was taken down by a fake document scandal. You saw enormous gloating on the conservative side, even though it wasn't really very nice to discover that this had happened in our news media. And similarly, you know, there's always going to be -- and in part, also, you know, this plays into a stereotype that is held among liberals about conservatives, that they're all sort of like macho apes who run around beating their chest and figuring out ways to oppress women.
MCARDLEI'm exaggerating, obviously, for dramatic effect, but I mean, there is that stereotype of conservatives and because it plays into it, the most satisfying schadenfreude is always when someone confirms your worst opinion of them.
DONVANBut Debra Katz, you're sort of suggesting then, in this case, the worst opinion is justified.
KATZIt seems so, absolutely. I will say in relationship to Paul's point, I don't think this evidence is gone. If anyone else subpoena's these records and Carlson, in fact, does have these tapes, we may see them or hear them. But I think that's why Fox is going to have an incentive to settle with anybody who comes forward who could raise these issues. We know that Carlson signed a confidentiality agreement, but you can't, as a condition of settlement, require somebody to destroy evidence. That's obstruction of justice.
KATZSo there is an existing law suit against Fox and Fox is moving to have that also sent to arbitration. But if it doesn't, and my guess is it will be if it doesn't settle, we may hear these tapes.
DONVANPaul Farhi, as we come up to the break and lead into our next section, in ten seconds, how important was Roger Ailes to Fox?
FARHIAbsolutely vital. He was the heart and soul of that place and without him, there would be no Fox News.
DONVANAll right. When we come back, we're going to have Dan Cassino join us in the conversation. He is an historian of Fox News, in fact, leading historian of the organization. And we want to explore what happens to Fox without Roger Ailes, how critical is that. Our guests are Paul Farhi, Debra Katz and Megan McArdle. We'll soon be joined by Dan Cassino. I'm John Donvan and we're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DONVANWelcome back. I'm John Donvan, moderator of the Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We are discussing the question of whether Fox News, in light of dramatic developments this week. Our guests are Paul Farhi, staff writer of The Washington Post, Debra Katz, founding partner of the law firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks, and Megan McArdle, columnist for Bloomberg View and an economics blogger. And now we're bringing into the conversation Dan Cassino. He's an associate professor of political silence -- science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the author of "Fox News and American Politics." Dan, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. DAN CASSINOA pleasure speaking with you, John.
DONVANAnd that makes you one of the leading, perhaps the leading historian of the phenomenon of Fox News up through the year 2016 and its dramatic developments. And we were talking, before the break, about the role of Roger Ailes. What we want to explore with you is, what is Fox News post -- without Ailes? Or what would Fox News have been without Ailes? Would it have been anything like what it became? And what did it become?
CASSINOWell one of the most important contributions that Ailes makes to Fox News is controlling the messaging and controlling even the terminology that the hosts are using. One thing that's very different about Fox News from CNN or MSNBC is that Fox News hosts are much more unified in what they're talking about on a given day. We hear about campaigns putting out a memo saying, all right, here's our message of the day, here's our topic of the day. And Fox News, under Ailes, was doing the exact same thing.
CASSINOAnd Ailes was a genius at messaging and figuring out what messaging would work for the audience he was trying to reach and what topics they should be -- cover. We have to remember, Roger Ailes goes back to, you know, almost 50 years in political media.
CASSINOHe was a line producer on "The Mike Douglas Show," when he first started working with Richard Nixon. And so Ailes was able to control exactly what topics were coming up on Fox News over the course of a day. And that was vital because he was able to keep together the coalition Fox had built of conservatives, things like country club conservatives or Chamber of Commerce conservatives, along with what we now refer to as the Tea Party or even today the alt right. And he did that by selecting topics that everyone could agree on.
CASSINOThere's a reason Fox News, in contrast to basically everyone else in media, has spent so much time talking about Benghazi or talking about the Fast and Furious scandal, because Ailes figured these were things that we -- that Fox could talk about, that no -- that would be able to keep together a coalition, that no one in the coalition would disagree with.
DONVANDan, but in the sense that Ailes was setting an agenda for his network, why is that different from the role of, say, any newspaper editor or a network news leader, where there's always some sense of saying, this is what we're going to stand for. This is what we're going to do. This is what we're going to cover. This will be our quote, unquote, "agenda." What -- why was it different in Fox?
CASSINOWell, Ailes had, first off, a great deal more control. A lot of the people who are working at Fox have been working personally with Roger Ailes for a long time. Bill O'Reilly goes back to tabloid shows in syndication in the '90s with Roger Ailes. And so because of that, he had more control because the host had personal loyalty to him. It's entirely possible that the head of CNN is doing the same thing and trying to control his hosts. But if the head of CNN's doing that, he's not doing nearly as effective a job as Roger Ailes was.
CASSINOAiles, typically, we can see, would send out this memo in the morning. We would see that some shows, especially "Fox and Friends," a later show called "The Five," would try out the messages. The messages that seemed to be the most effective would move on to the prime-time spots. And because of that, Fox News wound up being much more influential than the other news broadcasts.
CASSINOBecause you were getting the same messaging reported by different hosts in slightly different ways, making it much more convincing. And all the research we have in social psychology tells us that if we hear the same message again and again and again, people are much more likely to believe it.
DONVANWell, Fox told us what they were going to do when they launched back in October of 1996. This was Bill O'Reilly on that first day, his first broadcast.
MR. BILL O'REILLYHi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thank you for watching on our very first day. How did it happen? How did television news become so predictable and in some cases so boring? Well, there are many theories, but the fact is that local and network news is basically a rehash of what most educated viewers already know. Few broadcasts take any chances these days and most are very politically correct. Well, we're going to try to be different. Stimulating and a bit daring, but at the same time, responsible and fair.
DONVANPaul Farhi, they kept their word.
FARHIYes. And that soundbite has all of the DNA of what Fox became. He never says, we are the conservative network. And Fox, to this day, really doesn't admit that it is the conservative network. But the whole fair and balanced theme is, we are the fair guys. Everybody else in the media, they're lying to you. They're the liberals and we will give you something different, that is to say, something you're not getting from the other guys. So they differentiated themselves politically, they differentiated themselves by the look of the network and, as Dan says, by the topics they selected.
DONVANMegan McArdle, how did Fox change the television industry?
MCARDLEI mean, you know, what they did was sort of genius, if you look at the structure of the media, it's liberal, it's been getting steadily more liberal for basically the past century. It was less pronounced at the local level because papers tend to mirror sort of who their readers are. So the Dallas paper is more conservative than the New York paper. But at the national level, the liberal hegemony was pretty strong. And so they were leaving half of the electorate on the table, right? And those people felt that they weren't represented, that there was -- and it's a sort of micro-aggression thing, right?
MCARDLEIt wasn't that people were coming out all the time and saying, conservatives are terrible, and they weren't ever reporting on liberal bad things or reporting on positive, but that the worldview that they watched on television was the worldview of a liberal, educated, elite person. And that was, I think, basically correct. And so Fox says, look, there's a bunch of people that don't fit that description. And they come in and they sweep up all of those people. And, you know, that's one of the reasons for the host loyalty, right?
MCARDLEIn the same way that you see this in conservative print media, is it's really hard to move into another outlet from a conservative outlet. And so therefore, you know, part of that loyalty to Ailes is the loyalty of -- it's probably more difficult. I think Paul Farhi disagrees with me.
DONVANPaul, do you disagree with that?
FARHIYes, I disagree completely. The media did not become inherently more liberal. It became more bland and general. If you go back 100 years, the newspapers were all very, very partisan, openly partisan.
FARHIAs newspapers, particularly newspapers, began to die, the last man standing had to appeal to a much broader audience than the days of great partisanship. So they became even more broad in their approach politically. Now, you could look at the editorials on those newspapers, they tended to be Republican and conservative, but the news coverage and the news agenda tended to be something for everyone.
DONVANBut, Dan Cassino, come into the conversation.
CASSINOWell, I -- part of what O'Reilly is saying there is an important part of Fox News' strategy, which is an inoculation strategy. The reason the Fox News viewers are so loyal to some extent is because they're told constantly, you can't trust any other news source.
CASSINOAnd this is something that Ailes has been doing, going back to Nixon. Politically, this is the, playing the ref strategy, right? I get better coverage if I complain always that the coverage is biased, then the news media is going to bend over backwards to try and not be biased against me.
DONVANDan, if memory serves me correctly, MSNBC, which now has an avowedly liberal personality, when it launched, that was not the case. They were trying to play more of the CNN game of...
CASSINOWhen it launched on the first day, Ann Coulter had a show on MSNBC.
DONVANSo did Fox shape MSNBC?
CASSINONot exactly. MSNBC has this very strange corporate history, because they were basically initially there to show reruns of the "TODAY Show" of all things. But what MSNBC found was, after Keith Olbermann did his "Countdown to Iraq" show and it became so popular, they realized, oh, my gosh, we can make money doing this. So that was really what formed MSNBC. Where Fox News really does a guiding voice at the helm, at Roger Ailes, from the very start.
MCARDLELook, I agree that news has become blander. I mean, I -- we don't disagree about the history of what has happened in newspapers is that you go from news, very partisan outlets to outlets that are bland, because you've only got one paper in most major cities. That said, who decides what's bland and objectionable? And as I say, it is not a matter of coming out and saying, Republicans are terrible human beings. It's a matter of, what do you interrogate and what you don't. What sorts of facts you find -- stories you find salient. And it completely doesn't register if you are within that dominant -- if they -- the people who are making those choices basically agree with you, it doesn't register.
MCARDLEIn the same way that, you know, black Americans will say, it doesn't register on people how many times in the media the black kid is a criminal. Right? It doesn't register on white people that that happens. And it's the same thing is that it does not register to liberals how liberal the media seemed to conservatives who are watching it and not, you know, with open, flagrant bias, but constantly seeing their worldview not represented, the facts chosen that favored the worldview of the people who are presenting. And I think that that is something that Ailes really recognized, has picked up that audience. And so changes at Fox are a change for the whole media landscape.
DONVANOur number is 1-800-433-8850. We would love to have you join the conversation. You can also email us at email@example.com. And let's bring Joan from Washington, D.C., into the conversation. Joan, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
JOANThank you. My comment is that, lost in this discussion about Ailes and the settlement and his track record at Fox with women, nobody has mentioned that he took a direct flight from Fox to Trump. And the fact that Trump welcomed him and sought him out with open arms is very relevant to this discussion and to this campaign.
DONVANPaul Farhi, how about that?
FARHIYes, that is a correct statement. We don't know exactly what role Roger Ailes is playing in Donald Trump's campaign, but they're old friends. Fox put Donald Trump on the air repeatedly, long before Donald Trump seemed to have any presidential ambitions. I don't want to say that Fox created Donald Trump. It certainly did not. But they were, you know, fairly big supporters of him over time. And since the campaign began, they've gradually moved in a way to support him, to the extent that conservatives are very upset with Fox these days, because they believe that Fox was unfair to everyone else and favored Trump.
DONVANDan Cassino, by -- with -- is Ailes departure from Fox the equivalent of having the heart of Fox ripped out?
CASSINOI don't think you're going to see that immediately...
CASSINO...simply because he -- the posts have been there for a long time. They know what they're doing, especially in the prime-time area. But it -- I do think you're going to see, and we already are seeing, some of the cohesion of Fox messaging starting to fall apart. And the first sign of that actually had to do with the Gretchen Carlson lawsuit, where Megyn Kelly basically openly defied Roger Ailes and would not go on the air defending Roger Ailes, when everyone else in the network was. And she stuck around. And that sends a signal to the other hosts that, wait, at this point, you can actually get away with doing your own thing in pursuing your own self interests rather than the interests of the network, if you've got enough followers.
DONVANI'm John Donvan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Debra Katz, the fact that a number of Roger Ailes' employees did stand up during those first days after the news broke of Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit and defended him, including women, tells us what?
KATZIt tells us he was very powerful and they were fearful that if they didn't do that, they could suffer themselves, retaliation. They felt that the -- ultimately, he would prevail, he would stay in his role. And they were going to hook their wagon with the CEO, the person they thought would manage to withstand the tide. And he had a lot of control over people. That's what we see.
DONVANYou think they were being disingenuous?
KATZI think that they were acting self interested. They were doing what they were asked to do by Ailes. And I think that they don't look very good right now.
DONVANPaul Farhi, one of those defenders at that point was Greta Van Susteren, who's now departed. How do you understand her departure?
FARHIWell, it's related, but in only a sort of indirect way. She was a supporter of Ailes. She did publicly trash Gretchen Carlson and her lawsuit. She said, no credibility. Here's what happened, as I understand it from reporting and talking with people at Fox. She has a clause in her contract, as do other personalities at Fox, called a key-man clause, which ties her continued service to the network and a continued employment to a key man, in this case Roger Ailes. When that key man, Roger Ailes, was removed from the network, she had the right to open up her contract and renegotiate, which is what she did.
FARHIShe asked for a lot of money and Rupert Murdoch said, no, we are not going to pay you a lot of money. And we resent the fact that you are putting us over a barrel under the circumstances that you are. And at that point, Greta, who was apparently not all that happy being there, said I'm leaving.
DONVANMegan McArdle, people come and go from networks all the time. Is the Greta Van Susteren departure being overly analyzed?
MCARDLEWell, I mean, I think it was a little bit shocking, I think in part because she's a woman. You know, you see a guy gets sacked because he's -- or has to resign or whatever we're calling it, because he has been sexually harassing women, and it's a little odd to see the first person out the door after him be a woman herself. But, you know, I think, yes. Stars -- shows come and go. Although, you have to say about the Fox lineup, it's remarkably stable compared to someplace like...
MCARDLE...like MSNBC, where it's basically like, is it Tuesday? We must be changing hosts again. And so it is a shock. But I -- no network is dependent on one person. And that's why it's sort of interesting that there are these rumors that Ailes and Trump are going to start a network.
DONVANMm-hmm. Yeah, we're going to get to that a little bit later on.
MCARDLEIs that you never want to have one person who decides what's -- who makes or breaks your lineup. Because if you have that, you know, you don't really have a network, you have that person.
CASSINOI do want to go back to Paul's point about the key-man clause in these contracts. So it's not just Greta Van Susteren has this key-man clause. We know that O'Reilly has one, that Sean Hannity has one, Bret Baier has one. And these are contracts with a 60-day clause built in them. They say, after the individual, the key man, leaves, you have 60 days at which point you can leave. It's not entirely unexpected that Greta Van Susteren would be leaving. She's expressed in the past that she has been unhappy with being there. She said many times she'd go back to Georgetown, go back into private practice.
CASSINOAnd this actually happened earlier, a few years ago, when she lost her prime-time spot to Megyn Kelly. She had a tense contract negotiation and, even from her own statement said, basically she got a whole bunch of money. She got a big pay raise to stick around. I think it's entirely possible that the new management at Fox was not willing to give the sort of money to her that she would need to stick around, especially given that she's not a prime-time host.
CASSINOAt the same time, we have to expect that people like O'Reilly and Hannity are also negotiating for more money, because right now they can. And Fox certainly doesn't want any of them to leave. And so we could talk about, you know, figurative, perhaps literal dump-trucks full of money to keep them where they are.
DONVANMegyn Kelly has become rather sphinxlike in this process. Interesting position that she's in, she's become a megastar in the past year, much more well known and I would say respected than she had been in the past. What do you make of her -- the talk of her departure?
MCARDLEWell, I think it's interesting because Megyn Kelly has in a lot of ways represented a kind of split in the conservative movement that you hadn't seen before. And I think that this started before the Gretchen Carlson case. This started with Trump. And so, you know, you had this really interesting moment where, on the one hand, you have Hannity, who is going on every night and talking about how Trump is the best thing ever, and then you have the Fox debate where, more effectively than any of the other networks, they destroyed him. I mean the moment when Mike Wallace got him to say something...
MCARDLEChris Wallace sorry. Chris Wallace got him to say something and then threw -- said, you know, called for the slide and just threw out the data that completely demolished everything. And they did it to him, like, over and over again. A lot of conservatives really resented that. But Megyn Kelly has really been very central to that. And she has stood out against the other hosts who were all-in on Trump. And so, you know, that is what elevated her. It is also, I think, you know, whatever happens to her is going to really represent, can the conservative movement hang together or are they fragmented?
DONVANOkay. We're going to come up for a break. But when we come back, we want to take a look -- a little bit of a closer look at that settlement statement that came out from both parties in the Gretchen Carlson case. And also talk about this notion of a Trump-Ailes news network. I'm John Donvan. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DONVANWelcome back. I'm John Donvan, moderator of Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates sitting in for Diane Rehm. As we take a look at events this week affecting Fox News and take some guesses as to the future of the network and its impact on the rest of the industry. Our guests are Dan Cassino, associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Megan McArdle, a columnist at Bloomberg View. Debra Katz, a partner at Katz, Marshall & Banks. And Paul Farhi, staff writer of The Washington Post. We invite your calls. Our number is 1-800-433-8850. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
DONVANAnd we're going to ask Mike in Rochester now to join the conversation. Mike, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MIKEThank you very much.
MIKELet me start out by saying that I have two points. First, I think this whole business goes straight to Murdoch. I think he could not have not known what was happening at Fox News. And I think if you look at his other publications, you'll see there's lot of sexism in those as well. But I also want to say that I don't think Fox News can change. I'm looking at a website, Media Matters, and there was Brian Kilmeade of Fox and Friends insisting that the blond woman sitting next to him, they were all blonds, take on a cooking show. He said, give it to the girl. And that was right after all this business started.
MIKEAnd Fox Olympics preview included two men discussing the makeup of female athletes. We also have people like Megan Kelly, whom I honestly don't respect as a journalist, who seems to need to wear or feel that it's appropriate for a professional journalist to wear what appears to be a cocktail dress when sitting before the cameras. I just don't think that this culture -- I mean, I think it permeates the entire business, and I don't think the people in charge of that business want to lose viewers or money by changing that by very much. I just...
DONVANAll right. Mike, let me...
MIKEAnd I think it, again, that if Murdoch had not known about this, he'd have to have been blind.
DONVANLet me take your point to Debra Katz who you've been on this issue for quite a while. Is it -- are we just talking about Fox, by the way?
KATZNo. We're not just talking about Fox. In this case, there are allegations however that Fox made their on air talent wear the type of outfits that your caller is raising questions about because appearance sells. Women were not allowed to wear pantsuits, for example, on air. So they were clearly trying to use women and objectify their appearance as a way to promote viewership. So I agree...
DONVANAnd is the lesson, by the way, that it works?
KATZWell, it apparently does work, but the question is whether we should still countenance this. And I do want to jump in on one point about Bill Riley, if you don't mind.
KATZAnd this is the question, will this culture change? Bill O'Reilly was sued for a multimillion dollar sexual harassment suit where his producer alleged, and she alleged she had tape recordings of him calling her and engaging in sex banter and masturbating while he was on the phone with her. And the net of that was a large settlement, undisclosed amount, but reported in the millions was paid. And she left, he stayed. He was the first person out of the box when the Carlson suit was filed to say on air that people like us, famous people like us, like Ailes, like me were subject to these kind of false allegations.
KATZAnd now he's going to be in a position to better his contract as a result of the other defections from Fox. He is implicated in a lawsuit now that has been filed against Fox where he has been alleged to have sexually harassed yet another person. So if Fox is serious about changing its culture, it's going to need to investigate all of that.
DONVANWell, if you look at the statements that were made this week by both parties in the Gretchen Carlson lawsuit, both Fox and Carlson's, do those statements tell you that Fox really is waving the white flag on this issue?
KATZI think Fox is trying to say, we did wrong and we will improve. Clearly they're stating publicly, we are taking responsibility for this, which is very unusual. Mostly employers say, we're sorry you felt badly about what happened.
DONVANBut I wanted it more to get to what Gretchen Carlson's statement said.
KATZYes. Well, these kind of statements are carefully negotiated.
KATZThese statements are not without cost. Clearly Carlson insisted upon a public apology, and she got it. On the other side of the equation, Fox clearly insisted on a statement from Carlson saying, Fox did well by quickly jumping on this and investigating this. And that's really subject to debate. But clearly that's something Fox wanted. It was a value. And they negotiated that as part of Carlson's statement.
DONVANAnd Carlson actually compliments Fox.
KATZYes. She does.
KATZThat's part of her statement.
DONVAN...and was that something -- was that a concession on her part, do you think?
KATZI'm sure it was carefully negotiated on both sides of the equation. That's something of significant value that Fox wanted out of this, which is her blessing, we did right by Carlson, and we did right by other women.
FARHII just wanted to address the caller's point about whether Rupert Murdoch knew or not, and I find that question much less interesting than what did he do when he knew, because eventually he obviously had to be informed about this. And the interesting parallel here is the phone hacking scandal and the Murdoch empire in Great Britain, and how they attempted to outrun the clock and evade and effectively cover up.
FARHIIn this case, there's a new factor. That is Murdoch's sons who are the new guys running 21st Century Fox, Fox News' parent. And that factor created a different dynamic. I don't think they would've been as eager to settle. I don't think the events that we've seen in the last two months would've occurred unless they were in the picture, as opposed to dad running things.
CASSINOTwo quick points on what the caller had said. The first is this idea of stylistically the way Fox News presents female hosts, which is very problematic, but it's also part of the way Fox News presents itself really as almost being soft news, being entertainment rather than being hard news. Because there's one other channel that does the same thing, and it's the most successful channel on cable, and that's ESPN, which presents its female hosts in much, much the same way. They don't have the bottoms of desk, so you can see women's legs, and that sort of thing. So it is -- that is much more about the entertainment factor.
CASSINOSecond, about Rupert Murdoch knowing or not knowing, I think people have an idea that Rupert Murdoch is intimately involved with Fox News. All the reports we have, you know, even from Ailes himself say he's really not. He shows up every couple weeks, looks at the numbers, says, are you making plenty of money? Fine, as long as you're making money, great, keep on doing what you're doing. And if not, Ailes has always said, he'd be in a lot of trouble if he missed his numbers.
DONVANWe have an email from Michael, who says, "There have been several times when I hear the same phrase used throughout the day about the same story across NBC, ABC, CBS and NPR. Are you saying that they don't coordinate their stories in the same way that Fox does?" Megan.
MCARDLEThat's probably a better question for Paul almost, but every -- the media has echo effects. We have echo effects from where we get our information, you know, often for stories there's only one or two sources. If there is one or two sources for your story, and they are the main actors in the story, you're probably going to repeat what they said. And that's probably going to show up as over and over again on every network, you know, the same phrase. And there's also the fact that reporters talk to each other.
MCARDLEYou work at a building with someone, you have conversations with them, you pick up ways that they've talked about it, you repeat them. I don't think there's a...
DONVANBut you're saying it's somewhat accidental, whereas, Dan Cassino, you were saying at Fox it's the plan, it's the game plan.
CASSINORight. It is coordinated from the top. I would argue when you see the same phrase or same guest at ABC, CBS and so on, which you're actually seeing is coming from the bottom up. The people generating the content are drawing from the same sources. Every newsroom, they're going to have CNN on. They're going to be looking at the New York Times. And that's going to drive to some extent what they're doing. However, there is an incentive there to go against that. If you can be the reporter who finds some new way to talk about this, you can get a greater share of the news.
CASSINOIn Fox News, there's the opposite incentive. Your incentive is to stick with the messaging because otherwise you could face professional repercussions.
DONVANPaul Farhi, all of this talk in the last few weeks about Trump and Ailes going into the TV business together, is that pure fantasy?
FARHII don't know is the answer. First of all, we have an election. He might be president. I will say the following, it will be very, very difficult for him -- for both of them to do it. You know, Rupert Murdoch spent literally billions of dollars to launch Fox News. I don't think Donald Trump wants to spend billions of dollars to launch to Trump cable network. The example here is Glenn Beck. Glenn Beck left Fox News. He was more or less driven off Fox News. He started his own media empire. Empire is too strong a word. He's struggling. It's difficult to get attention. It's difficult to get an audience. And it's very difficult to get advertisers.
DONVANHe's actually very forthright about that. He was interviewed by Brian Stelter this week. He said it's very, very, very hard to start a network.
MCARDLEAnd I think that you see a couple things there. And first of all, the idea that you're going to go to an investor and say, I've got a guy who's 76 and a guy who's 70, would you like to invest a lot of money and see, you know, how long they last in order to build this network? I'm skeptical. You could see something like TheBlaze, but, you know, what we've seen and I think this is a testament to Fox was unique, right?
MCARDLEThey own conservative television news in a way that you look at what's happening -- now, 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, there were, like, 4 conservative print media outlets you could work out, 4 or 5 in the city if Washington if you moved here. But the proliferation of those things, well, when you fragment a market, right, you've now got much more competition for those eyeballs. They can't go and do again what Roger Ailes did...
MCARDLE...which is speak to 50 percent of the country that wants conservative news. That is now a hugely fragmented market. And if they go into the web, they're going to a space that is super crowded right now with conservative startups.
DONVANWe also have the impression that Fox News' audience is rather advanced in age. Is that accurate? And if so, does that not bode for an audience that will disappear within 20 years through natural causes?
FARHIFox News and news in general has the Cadillac problem, which is we have a loyal audience, but it's an older audience, and that doesn't bode well for the future. The average age of viewer at Fox News is the oldest in cable news 68 years old. You know, that suggests they have a demographic problem. They need to refresh. They need to bring in younger viewers. And, in fact, when -- the hiring of Greta's replacement is going to be very interesting because I think you'll see someone younger and someone who they think can attract a younger audience.
DONVANI'm John Donvan. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And, Debra, as our lawyer, you're making an important point about Roger Ailes' opportunity actually to form a TV network with Donald Trump.
KATZRight. Well, we haven't seen the agreement, but what's been reported is in addition to being paid $40 million, he also signed a non-compete. And it would be...
DONVANSo that's the end of that story, if that's true.
KATZI think that's -- if it's true, I think that's the end of that story. Paul's shaking his head no.
FARHINo, I -- define non-compete. I mean, in other words, we're not going to put on a cable TV network, we're going to put on a web network.
KATZDoesn't matter. Any lawyer who would draft his separation and pay him $40 million...
KATZ...is going to keep him away.
DONVANI'm declaring impasse on that point.
CASSINOI do want to go back to Paul's point real quick about the blaze and the problems that TheBlaze has faced, that Glenn Beck's network TheBlaze faced, and the problem they have is advertisers. The problem that Glenn Beck had while he was at Fox News, he had lots of viewers, but what he was saying was so incendiary that advertisers were boycotting him. So he had a Cadillac problem that he couldn't get Cadillac to advertise on his show. And that's really what's made Fox successful. They're able to get a large audience, but also get an audience of Chamber of Commerce Republicans, traditional, conservative Republicans who are interesting to advertise, who advertisers want to get at.
CASSINOIf you start the Trump network and you go full-on with the alt-right like Breitbart is, you have a problem that you can't get advertisers who are willing to pay a lot of money for that. You wind up like Glenn Beck with a lot of people who want to trade your worthless American currency for valuable, valuable gold. And that's just not a sustainable business model for a network.
DONVANLet's bring in Dennis from Overland, Mo. Dennis, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DENNISYes, great show. I wanted to point out on the flipside in radio, and I've been following this ever since the Fairness Doctrine. Clear-channel radio forever, and I'm in St. Louis here and we've got six radio stations that basically have the same news all day long. People are working in offices and in factories, and it's not as straightforward a story, but the story is the same on all of them. And this goes all across the United States. And, you know, Bain Capital bought them in 2008. And, in fact, I started calling it Romney radio, and I think it was one of the reasons Mitt thought he was going to win so well in 2012.
DENNISBut this is -- I mean, we know that people watch Fox News, but it's a lot of old and retirees, but there's a lot of people that are out there working that really aren't paying that much attention. And, boy, do they hate Nancy Pelosi, you know, because they hear things over and over and over. And quite often there are people that shouldn't have any hate for Nancy Pelosi at all.
DONVANOkay, Dennis, thanks very much for your comment. Appreciate it. I want to bring in David from Charlotte, N.C. David, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DAVIDYeah, how you doing?
DAVIDI just wanted to address something, this story from The Washington Post. It sounds to me like the fish that doesn't know it's wet, because immersed in, you know, the mainstream liberal world view of the mainstream media, Washington Post, New York Times, ABC, NBC, CBS. And the problem those of us on the right have with this is if you guys would just admit where your bias is, we would -- you would have a whole lot more credibility especially with, like I said, with most people like me on the right.
DONVANI'll let Paul respond.
FARHIWell, you would have a lot more credibility if you would pick your spots and not just make a bland statement about the media, whatever that is, this monolithic thing, covers any particular thing. I'll take The Washington Post, for example, we've been very hard on Hillary Clinton. I'm sure she doesn't like our coverage particularly. We've been very hard on Donald Trump. So pick your spots, tell me where we're slanting the news.
DONVANBut you mean that rhetorically, right? You don't want to have that debate right now.
FARHINo, I don't.
DONVANBut I want to thank you very much, David, for bringing your comment to us. But, Megan, what about you? You're identified not -- let's say you're identified more as a conservative writer and blogger.
MCARDLEYeah, I'm a...
DONVANCan you take that label?
MCARDLE...I'm a libertarian squish is probably the best way to describe me.
MCARDLEBut I'm constantly getting kicked out of the libertarian movement for not being hardline enough. But -- by emailers I mean, not by actual people who head the movement. But, look...
DONVANBut David's point is that...
DONVAN...that there's an unknowing bias in...
MCARDLEI think there is an unknowing bias.
DONVANYeah. You do?
MCARDLEI think there absolutely is. And it's unavoidable, right? I mean, this is absolutely -- I don't think that this is, you know, there are a lot of conservatives who, it's this big conspiracy. They're all like plotting us -- it's absolutely nonsense. What I think is the fact is that you cannot -- you never interrogate stories that disagree with -- that agree with you as hard as you interrogate stories that don't. You can't. This is not impossible...
DONVANIt's human nature you're saying.
MCARDLEIt's human nature. You don't -- and often it's the things that you don't even know that you're missing. The questions -- and every reporter has had this, is you've written something and then there's this obvious thing, you say, how could I have missed that? How could I have not asked that question? It's so obvious, after the fact. I'm sure Dan Rather in 2004 said, how could I not have locked at the font? Right? But the thing is that it is that balance, right, that conservatives are better at interrogating some stories and liberals are better at interrogating others. But the fact is that almost everyone in the media is somewhere to the left of the political center of the United States.
MCARDLEAnd therefore there is simply going to be story choice, what facts you consider relevant, what sources you consider valid, that is just an inherent thing and, you know...
MCARDLE...every reporter I know who is a conservative reporter has had that experience.
DONVANI want to -- I want -- I apologize for interrupting, but I just want to let Dan Cassino, give him 15 seconds as we wrap up the show. Fox did that but did more is your point, Dan.
CASSINOThey did a great deal. They've become enormously influential as a result. And I think actually part of what Fox has done is create the level of distrust in the mainstream media that we see now, which is part of the problem we're having now with fact checking, where nobody can fact check because a lot of people just don't...
CASSINO...believe what the media is saying at all.
DONVANFox changed history, and now we will see how the history of Fox will change. I want to thank my guests, Paul Farhi, Debra Katz, Megan McArdle and Dan Cassino. I'm John Donvan. Thank you for listening. Thanks to all of our callers. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
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