If ever there were an internal memo that said it all, a remarkably brief one from Rupert Murdoch to Fox News staff on Monday is it.
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.
Let’s take it apart. First line: “Sadly, Bill Shine resigned today.”
Well, no. Shine was fighting for his corporate life as recently as last week, reportedly asking the ruling Murdochs for a signed statement in support of his continued leadership of the embattled network. He had been in the co-president job for less than nine months.
By any interpretation except a purely technical one, Shine was fired.
Second line and third lines: “I know Bill was respected and liked by everybody at Fox News. We will all miss him.”
Again, no. Shine, by all reports, was a primary enabler of the abusive Roger Ailes, who also “resigned” last summer after many women who had worked for him accused him of creating a disgusting culture in which sexual favors were expected as payment for career advancement.
Shine may have had a pleasant personality and may not have harassed women himself, but according to the well-sourced reporting of New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman and others, he covered for and helped Ailes at many junctures.
Former Fox booker Laurie Luhn received millions of dollars after claiming that she was psychologically abused in a sexual relationship with Ailes. It was Shine, she said, who arranged for their trysts. And former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros claimed in a lawsuit that when she complained to Shine about Ailes’s retaliatory behavior, he told her to let it go.
Fox News continues to break both viewing and revenue records, for which I thank you all. I am sure we can do even better.
Fourth line: “Suzanne Scott becomes President, Programming and Jay Wallace, President News.” It looks like progress and reform that Fox has appointed a woman to a top position, but that is undercut because it was Scott who carried out Fox’s sexist dress and appearance rules for women employees.
“Her role was to enforce Ailes’ strict miniskirt dress code,” Sherman told me. “She was feared and disliked, and seen as an extension of Ailes’ punitive management.” And, he stressed, other Ailes enablers remain in positions of power at Fox News. A Fox News spokeswoman declined to discuss Murdoch’s memo but said there had never been an edict against women wearing pants on air.
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.
This disaster is far from over. Lawsuits and complaints from former employees continue to emerge. And federal prosecutors are investigating whether the company broke securities law in its payouts to women in the sexual harassment scandal.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, British regulators soon will decide if the Murdochs are appropriate owners for Sky, the hugely profitable satellite and cable network that they so desperately want to acquire to further enhance the bottom line.
What’s happening at Fox may look like a thorough housecleaning.
But it’s really more like a cleaning crew who believes that dimming the lights and sweeping the dirt under the rug are acceptable substitutes for what’s really needed: a mop, a bucket and some industrial-strength disinfectant.
Margaret Sullivan is a Washington Post columnist.