It Isn't Easy Being Fox

Fox News has been in the news a bunch over the last two days, with stories like Roger Ailes' wooing of David Petraeus, and now the discovery by Gabriel Sherman of New York that the network has benched Karl Rove and Dick Morris, though for slightly different reasons. Morris is just an embarrassment because he's always so hilariously wrong about everything, while Rove apparently angered top management by challenging the network's call of Ohio for Obama on election night. "Ailes's deputy, Fox News programming chief Bill Shine, has sent out orders mandating that producers must get permission before booking Rove or Morris." This highlights something we liberals may not appreciate: it isn't easy being Fox.

For starters, MSNBC and CNN don't get nearly as much attention for their internal conflicts as Fox does. That's not only because there's a healthy appetite among liberals for these kinds of stories, but also because there seem to be many people within Fox who are happy to leak to reporters about what goes on there, presumably because they don't like their employer's politics. Without them, we'd never know about these things. But more importantly, Fox has a lot of people and factions to keep happy. To see what I mean, let's start with Ed Kilgore's explanation for the sidelining of Morris and particularly Rove:

Thanks to their high visibility in the 2012 cycle, some MSM and progressive observers seem to be making the mistake of associating Rove and Morris with right-wing influence in the GOP, and assuming that taking them down a notch in FoxLand means some sort of new conservative pragmatism. Are we forgetting who these men are? Rove was the author of every single violation of "conservative principle" by George W. Bush that has enabled wingnuts to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the bitter fruits—substantively and politically—of the Bush/Cheney administration: No Child Left Behind, the Medicare Rx drug initiative, comprehensive immigration reform, and in general Big Spending and Big Government Conservatism. And given his role as the "quarterback" of the entire Super-PAC/501(c)(4) money blitz in 2012, Rove is also nicely positioned to take the fall for a "Republican Establishment" that failed to make ideology and "vetting" the centerpiece of the anti-Obama drive. As for Dick Morris—well, he's the same unprincipled self-promoter he's always been.

Putting Rove and Morris "on the bench" is precisely what you would expect from conservatives looking for a way to shift blame after another electoral defeat. The idea that it means Fox is coming to grips with the error of its ideological ways is leap of logic and faith unjustified by anything we've seen so far.

Let's not forget that for a long time, Rove was for conservatives something like what Nate Silver was for liberals in 2012. Not only did he tell them they were going to win, he did so in a way that made them feel smart, by throwing a bunch of numbers at them and seeming to have a unique, evidence-based explanation for the coming Republican victory (the difference was that unlike Silver, Rove cherry-picks his data and always predicts a Republican victory, whatever the actual facts are). And he was and will always be the architect of George W. Bush's two presidential victories, a considerable achievement. But now he has the stench of defeat about him. So when you put him on the air, it doesn't make conservatives feel reassured, it makes them feel angry. But not the kind of angry Fox likes (i.e. angry at liberals). The bad kind of angry, the kind that might make you turn your TV off.

And keeping conservatives watching is Fox's business. But that isn't always easy, particularly when there are different kinds of conservatives whose immediate goals and beliefs may be in conflict. The one thing that unites them all—hatred of liberals—is what Fox specializes in. But at times like this, with Republicans in Congress going wobbly on taxes and a reexamination of the Republican future in progress, there isn't enough liberal-hating to fill the day. Which can make it tough for Fox to navigate, since as the house organ of the conservative movement, it needs to keep everyone happy. It needs to simultaneously cater to the establishment, to the Tea Party, to the elite, to the base, and to everyone in between. That can be a difficult juggling act. Fox plays a much more central role in the conservative movement than MSNBC does in the liberal movement, which is good for business, but it also brings complications.

But don't worry about Karl Rove. He'll be back on the air before you know it, telling conservatives why their victory is inevitable.

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