Chris Timmons: Fox News says, “Who needs journalism?”

To sum up The Donald’s motives for participating in the GOP presidential primary, according to the professional prognosticators:

Donald Trump is a carnival barker riding the presidential primary process for an eventual deal that would boost his business margin.

Or land another TV show.

Or add another $3 billion to his “brand.”

The Donald is out to make “America Great Again” — for himself.

This writer will not dispute the notion.

Before the political circus stops, though, Trump will have outmaneuvered all the staid institutions that impose order and their boring sort of earnest sanity and conformity on the presidential primaries. They include the party establishment, “legacy media” such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, super PACs, the donor class, and especially, cable networks.

That Trump is breaking the proverbial china — providing a dissonant chord to the settled tone (writer defiantly: yes, I am mixing metaphors, and a sentence apart, too!), and disrupting the faux outrage of the “gaffes industry” that cable networks employ to fill the vacuum of empty 24/7 chatter and turn politicians into robots — is a public service.

On the other hand, what is disconcerting about Trump can be seen in the recent spat with FOX News’ CEO, Roger Ailes.

As noted in New York magazine, Trump and Ailes recently made up after Fox News host Megyn Kelly, during the first GOP presidential primary debate in Cleveland, asked Trump several tough questions about his business dealings and his past barbs lodged at women.

Trump felt unfairly attacked (wrongly, and bizarrely, by the way: presidential debates are a long away from TMZ fare). He pounced on Kelly (“blood coming out of her whatever”) on Fox News, and his supporters did too in letters and online comments.

For a few hours, Ailes held his ground and refused to bow down to an entertainment buffoon in the name of serious journalism.

But several facts got in the way:

  • There were the post-debate ratings (24 million viewers on the night of the debate, up from its 11.8 million showing in 2012 during the same GOP primary debate).
  • There was Trump granting post-debate interviews to MSNBC and other networks instead of Fox News.
  • There was Trump declaring on conservative radio he would never “do Fox again” (is that technically another sexual pun?).
  • There was the potential loss of credibility among a significant amount of Fox’s regular viewership and Trump’s celebrity chops to draw the hotly desired 24- to 54-year-old demographic viewership.

All those considerations reigned during the initial lofty impulse to be gallant for Kelly and defend the integrity of Fox’s journalism product.

Too bad.

It would have done wonders for Fox News’ reputation.

Often called “Faux News” for its biased reporting and loud opinion machine, the Fox News organization could have used the boost. It certainly needs greater appeal and to go beyond its reputation as a conservative enclave.

Interestingly, according to Forbes magazine, Ailes appears to betting on a scenario where Trump becomes a franchise Fox entertainment property. Expect a “Celebrity President” type of deal, says the magazine.

After the debate and insult, Kelly had a viewership of 10 million, a significant boost from her nightly average of 2.3 million watchers. So the incentive to appease Trump could not be more urgent for Ailes.

But for a network frequently thrashed by its opponents for its lack of seriousness, is Ailes finally saying: Well, you’re right, folks?

For those who respected Fox as an alternative, this is a bad move. It is also a bad move for journalism since the “fair and balanced” trope of Fox, while a slogan, worked as a useful counter-statement to the false objectivity of the traditional news establishment, and, as successful tongue-in-cheek.

Well, no more, because The Donald and Ailes know entertainment is big business, and tough-minded journalism, who needs it?

Sorry, Megyn.

Chris Timmons is a writer living in Tampa, Fla. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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