Two of the top banner headlines in the news world today involve the eponymous, widely-watched yet seldom-believed Fox News Network.
Gretchen Carlson, who you may remember from the three part series I wrote, sued Fox News' (now ex) Chairman Roger Ailes for sexual harassment and will now be awarded a $20 million out-of-court settlement. Fox issued a statement, stating that "we sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve." Carlson, in return, says that she's ready to move on with her life.
On the flip side, we have Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren, the infamous dowdy, eccentric host of On The Record, who will be stepping down after 14 years and leaving the network, to be replaced by Brit Hume. Susteren released a statement announcing her departure: "Yes, I have left the Fox News Channel. On Thursday night, I made my decision and informed Fox News of my decision that I was leaving Fox News Channel per my contract...Fox has not felt like home to me for a few years and I took advantage of the clause in my contract which allows me to leave now... [which] had a time limitation, meaning I could not wait. I love my staff, I love my colleagues, and I love the crews. That is the hardest part of this decision as they are wonderful people. And most of all? I love the viewers -- even the ones who have gotten mad at me over the years and taken swipes."
Though both of these announcements were made on the same day, Fox insists that Susteren leaving was in no way caused by the settlement.
For years, I think, we have been able to witness the steady and sharp decline of Fox News. When it first appeared, we tossed it off as a passing fancy. When it topped the ratings, people went mad. And now, though still immensely well-watched, the on-air personalities are beginning to get fed up. With the news of Carlson's suit, Ailes' sacking as a result of said suit, Megyn Kelly announcing that Ailes also propositioned her, Susteren leaving, and rumors of Bill O'Reilly's supposed retirement, the network is in a state of extreme disarray.
Could this be the straw that finally breaks the elephant's back? Will this drama and reprehensible behavior be too much for the viewers and, like Susteren, will they leave in disgust?
To lose your top talent right before a major, and especially dramatic, presidential election is unheard of and extremely inopportune. The poison seems to have trickled down from Ailes and is affecting the future of the entire conglomerate. To bail at a time when analysts can savor every bit of meat means that something dark is brewing for the network as a whole. Like Icarus in Greek Mythology, Ailes and his golden Fox News wings flew too close to the sun and melted, DOA on impact.
The real question at the heart of this is whether this will change the upcoming election? Fox News has always been an important voice for the Republican candidate and, if the network loses its top talent and standing, the scales may tip in favor of Clinton even more so. Could this possibly be the hidden pipe bomb that will explode the Trump juggernaut? Whether you want to admit it or not, people hang on every word these people utter. If they're presented with all new talent, in the shadow of Ailes' sexual misdeeds, will the viewers respond with vehemence?
Now is the time where we need to look at this network objectively and see how much influence Ailes' personal agenda has shaped the network. With him gone, there are two routes the company can go: proceed with "business as usual", or rethink the bias that is the lifeblood of the network. Their decision will influence both their loyal viewers, as well as independent analysts who write off Fox News as a conservative earpiece. On the other side of the coin, Arianna Huffington's departure leaves the liberal Huffington Post without a figurehead as well.
I truly hope that these occurrences will shake up the network and lead to some real soul-searching on the part of its leadership team. I don't criticize Fox because of my beliefs, I criticize them because they have failed to remain objective, which is the key cornerstone of a news organization.
With Greta Van Susteren and Gretchen Carlson taking an exit, we may finally see the curtain go down on the Fox empire.
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