The idea behind the Fox News channels was by no means a stroke of genius; it was actually a stroke of the blazingly obvious. Why not create a cable news network that was explicitly not another Democrat propaganda machine and directly target the 50 percent of Americans the rest of the media either ignores or treats like dirt? The genius of Roger Ailes came in its execution – everything from the uniquely hot color palette to the uniquely hot journalists to the (at first) unique mix of opinion and straight reporting, all backed by a lean, mean organization that produced great reporting and huge profits. (Disclosure: I occasionally appear as an unpaid guest on Fox and Fox Business and I have friends associated with both).
With the resignation of Ailes – the merits, if any, of the claims against him will be litigated elsewhere – liberals are gleeful that this might finally be their chance to silence the one great television voice of conservatism. It is almost impossible to overstate the impact of Fox on conservatism over the last two decades. Combined with talk radio and the internet, Fox has helped educate and mobilize a generation of conservative leaders and has given voice to tens of millions of people the rest of the media completely disregarded when it wasn’t actively attacking them. It’s been a finishing school for conservatives – many rising conservative stars got their start either on air or behind the scenes. The organization itself is remarkable in its efficiency – when you deal with Fox, they not only get things done right (it’s a high pressure environment and if you can’t cut it, there’s no safe space) but remain remarkably polite. No wonder liberals freak out at the mere mention of Fox; it’s always delightful to see President Faily McWorsethancarter whining about the one big network that refuses to acknowledge his awesome awesomeness.
But the fact is that Roger Ailes was not going to run the networks forever – changes in leadership were coming regardless and that they came during an election year when everyone is looking may make it less likely that we see a lurch to the left its viewers fear. Of course, it would never be called a “lurch to the left” but, rather, a “moderation” or an attempt to “expand the viewership.” Yet it’s hard to see how, or why, one would want to expand the viewership beyond Fox’s tiny little niche of only half the population. Fox has so much influence, and makes so much money, because it’s the only big player the space between the coasts.
However, the left can’t tolerate any dissent, and it will do all it can to try to ensure that Fox becomes yet another dull, goose-stepping transcriptionist for the coastal liberal elite. If Fox wants to stay successful, it will need to resist the urge to be assimilated into the collectivist media collective. There are eager, currently smaller players like the Blaze, NewsMax, and One America Network ready to pounce should the giant stumble after heeding the liberals telling to tie its shoelaces together.
Fox does have problems, but this is an opportunity to address them. Its demographic is skewing older – you see a lot of ads for mail-order catheters. Some of the hosts are looking to move on – there are rumors that after 20 years Bill O’Reilly is ready to retire. And Fox is not immune to the schism within conservatism over the rise of the populist wing of the Republican Party. One big chunk of the audience thinks Fox is too Trumpy, another big chunk thinks it’s nowhere near Trumpy enough.
So, with great presumption, here are some suggestions for navigating the coming changes.
1. Don’t change too much too fast. With all eyes on Fox for the election, this is no time for big changes in the wake of Ailes’s departure. I’m a military guy; leadership is the key to success. Ailes built a solid management team. Keep it in place and don’t allow anyone to distract from the mission with purges of “Ailes’s guys”; focus on performance, not internal politics. Keep the schedule in place too. With all the chaos that has come to characterize 2016, Fox viewers want some stability.
2. Cultivate your current farm team of stars. Recently it seems there are a lot of panels consisting of Fox hosts talking to Fox reporters or other Fox hosts. Let’s see more of great up and coming regulars like (Disclosure: These are all my pals) Katie Pavlich, Guy Benson, Dana Loesch, David Wohl, Ben Shapiro and Larry O’Connor (who ought to be a host right now). And besides being interesting, they skew young. Well, not O’Connor, but the rest of them.
3. Scout for new talent. Fox has always sought out fresh voices, and there are conservative voices out there making waves in radio and on the web who could infuse some new life into some of the older formats. Among other things, Fox producers should be scanning through conservative social media like Twitter to find the people who the people in the Fox target demographic are following. Some may have never been Fox guests; others may not have been on in a while. Here are some you might want to check out (Disclosure: This shameless logrolling for my friends is getting ridiculous): Tony Katz, Stephen Kruiser, Jon Gabriel, Liz Sheld, Owen Brennan, Derek Hunter, Kerry Pickett, David Bruge, Glenn Reynolds, Elisha Krauss, and Kira Davis, among many others.
4. Go steal some talent from the other guys. You’ve done well grabbing stars from competitors in the past. Do some more. It strengthens you while it weakens your opponents’ intermittent, half-hearted attempts at conservative outreach. For example, clearly CNN’s Jake Tapper belongs on Fox. He’s the conservatives’ favorite mainstream media reporter – it’s a sad commentary that a guy who is not a conservative can be generally (though not universally) liked by conservatives simply for trying to play it straight. There are others – bring them home.
5. Get out of New York more. The Big Apple is part of the network’s identity, but more remote broadcasts (or even basing a show or two in Flyover Country) will remind viewer that you are talking to them and not just to Manhattanites.
6. Experiment more. Greg Gutfeld’s special insanity has created a distinctive brand of conservative humor. Turn over an hour at o-dark thirty (Side Note: No one in the military says “zero dark thirty”) to some amusing conservatives (see above), give them a (very) few bucks plus a studio, leave them alone, and see what happens. If it’s good, conservative social media will spread the word and it’ll get DVR’d and take off.
7. Revel in being rebels. Fox is the media outlet that doesn’t run its stories by the establishment for approval. Rub that in your competitors’ faces and be known as the one big media outlet that isn’t a lapdog, especially if we have to endure four years of President Felonia Milhous von Pantsuit’s corruptoriffic antics.
8. Resist the pressure to “moderate.” Because, of course, what the left wants is not moderation but capitulation. No one needs a Fox that does not explicitly welcome conservatives – all the others are trying to look and feel like you, except for their gratuitous slobbering over whichever lib the Democrat cartel tells them to slobber over in its daily media guidance memo. Keep watching social media and let the viewers tell you what’s interesting to them. Don’t let your people forget that their one and only job is to earn Fox’s audience’s approval by ignoring liberal spin and accurately reporting the news. Fox fades if its goal becomes earning the approval of liberals in the mainstream media and at rich peoples’ cocktail parties. If you remember your mission, Fox will be fine.