The high price of Fox hunting
The famous bimbo eruptions are back (as if they had ever really gone away), and for once Bubba appears to be in the clear. No new accusations of rude behavior have been lodged against him. “He’ in and she’ in” has been going on since the creation of Eden, when the original snake in the grass challenged the doofus Adam for the attentions of the manipulative and comely Eve. The bump and clatter of “he’ in and she ’in” will no doubt disturb the peace and quiet of the globe long after the feminists and their tort lawyers have been put down for their naps in a thousand and one graveyards.
Bubba, as old-timers will remember, cut such a wide swath of fun and fornication in Arkansas that he summoned his chief of staff, Betsey Ross Wright (born on the Fourth of July) to come with him to Washington to manage what she called “bimbo eruptions.” She was a particularly gifted operator, but she was merely one woman standing athwart a wave of bimbos. She established what the Clinton campaign called “a rapidresponse team” to answer the accusations of a legion of women, but the team was not rapid enough, and Bubba was finally brought to his knees by a pretty face framed by a beret, and the rest is history that could be captured in a bad movie. Bubba became an object lesson for what can happen when a libido is uncaged. Now the bimbo eruptions have moved away from the White House — Barack Obama and George W. were never thought to be vulnerable to wives or women not their own — and into the other places where bimbos abound. Bubba survived his eruptions, but accusations against Roger Ailes, the founder, and Bill O’Reilly, the meal ticket, now threaten Fox News as a major player in the nation’s politics. If, as the canard goes, “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people,” the temptations of the pampered flesh in television news are great unto inevitability. (For the record, both men deny that anything naughty ever happened.)
The New York Times opened the floodgates of media recrimination and bimbo remuneration on April Fool’s Day with a story that Fox had paid several women with accusations of sexual harassment by Mr. O’Reilly $13 million to go away and take their complaints with them. These were neither admissions of wrongdoing nor putting a price on naughty behavior, but just a cost of doing business. But they will be treated a such by media rivals waiting for years to see Fox gets its comeuppance.
Rupert Murdoch, the originator of Fox News and the last of the great media barons, didn’t want to pay the money without a fight and warned his sons, Lachlan and James, the barons only of daddy’s money, that paying off bimbos or even distinguished talent without a fight would only invite more litigation. What has been revealed are details of the payments for settling with O’Reilly accusers. “You can assume maximal guilt, as The New York Times and other Fox haters do,” observes the Hollywood Reporter, “or you can assume, as many lawyers do, that when there is money to be had plaintiffs come out of the woodwork.” There’s lots of woodwork in the newsrooms of networks and big national newspapers.
Rupert Murdoch sees much of the litigation as an assault on the empire he has acquired (Fox News, 21st Century Fox, The Wall Street Journal), with annual profits of $1.5 billion, more than any media empire before it. Mr. Murdoch is the mogul that William Randolph Hearst, the thinly disguised “Citizen Kane” of the movie, only wanted to be. Now that Fox News is awash in the turmoil of the O’Reilly departure, Mr. Murdoch is said to have told his sons, “I told you so.”
James Murdoch says he wants to build a “new Fox,” by which he no doubt means a Fox that would be respected on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where his friends live. Aspiring to “respectability” is never pretty. That would be a victory only for the politically correct.
The result is very likely to be the demise of Fox News as we have known it. The new Fox will have its teeth pulled, and a set of not-so-sharp choppers put in place. This would be the dream come true for the elite media. Rupert Murdoch has built an empire of such size, wealth and power that it will take his sons, with a talent for spending Daddy’s money, a considerable period of time to cut it to the size of CNN or MSNBC, and irrelevance. While it lasted, Fox reduced the odds and made the media fight fair and almost even.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Time