The high price of Fox hunt­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - BY WES­LEY PRU­DEN

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

Bill O’Reilly

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