Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote incisively about Fox News’ indecisiveness in dealing with its sexual abuse crisis.
And she did so in the most-effective way possible: Quoting Rupert Murdoch’s own words.
The issue, of course, is Fox’s decades-long record of sexual harassment of women working there. President and co-founder Roger Ailes went first, costing millions in settlements. On-air ratings rainmaker Bill O’Reilly was next. And, this week, President Bill Shine, whose exit prompted a Murdoch memo to the Fox staff.
But Sullivan, my former editor, hoists Murdoch by his own petard.
“If you think Fox News is changing, Rupert Murdoch’s internal memo shows it isn’t. At all.
“In just 56 words, the top dog at 21st Century Fox managed to fudge, obfuscate and — most of all — reaffirm his allegiance to the only values that matter: profits.”He did that by breaking most of the common-sense rules of modern crisis management. Apologize, take responsibility, get as much bad news out at once as you can [i.e., don’t let it dribble out, as Fox has, thus prolonging the crisis], and, finally, demonstrate that you understand the problem and will fix it.Sullivan hones in:
“Nowhere in Murdoch’s note is a word about the treatment of women and minorities at Fox. Nothing about cleaning up its tainted culture.Nothing about the remarkable turmoil over the past year, as Fox’s founder, Ailes, and its biggest on-air star, Bill O’Reilly, have left under pressure, and as superstar Megyn Kelly decamped for NBC. (Ailes and O’Reilly consistently denied all charges of sexual harassment.)But it’s in the two last sentences that Murdoch delivers the major point. And here, finally, is something that rings true.
“Fox News continues to break both viewing and revenue records, for which I thank you all. I am sure we can do even better.”
Just ratings and profits, and the insatiable desire for more. All this after doing a great deal to deliver the Oval Office to Donald Trump, and continuing to serve as the presidential Pravda.”
Fox remains a huge money-maker. And its critics likely already tuned in elsewhere. Murdoch and his primogeniture sons have more money than a dozen Bill O’Reillys would cost them. But they can’t be immune to the crisis that’s now going on a full year.
Rumors abounded this week that another Fox star, Sean Hannity, was leaving, though he denied it. [When your agent is shopping you around television, that’s easy to do.] This all comes, as Sullivan noted icily, at a time when President Trump himself demonstrated that if you hear it on Fox, it must be true.
As with the United Airlines crisis, this situation can’t be because the Murdochs and Fox don’t understand how to manage a crisis — or can’t hire experts to help them. This revolves around ego and a determination not to let critics do high fives. It’s spiteful — and bad business — and damaging in the long-term.
Don’t try this at home.