Donald Trump and Fox News both know the value of a good feud.
Trump likes a fight — real or not — so much that he once deigned to do battle with the WWE’s Vince McMahon. Fox News’ relationship with some Democrats has been such that the White House once accused it of acting like an arm of the Republican Party.
What appears on the outside to be a bona fide conflict between Trump and Fox News is actually a circle game that serves the interests of both.
The feud started in August, when Trump objected to debate questions about women from anchor Megyn Kelly. On Tuesday, Trump bailed on Thursday’s Republican debate after Fox News issued a statement ridiculing him. And on Wednesday, he and Bill O’Reilly got Biblical as they shouted over each other on “The O’Reilly” factor.
That’s right, Trump went on Fox to complain about Fox — just like he went on WWE to fight the head of the WWE. This is one of those Nas vs. Jay-Z everyone-gains-something kinds of feuds.
Trump gets yet more free press. Fox News gains journalistic credibility by refusing to meet his demands that Megyn Kelly not moderate Thursday. Its leader, Roger Ailes gets to insert himself into a presidential race he has had little role in before now — he has publicly backed Kelly, and insiders say he was behind the missive that provoked Trump into abandoning the debate.
“If you know anything about Roger Ailes, you know that he has the back of everybody at Fox,” Kelly’s co-moderator Chris Wallace told TheWrap. “On air and off. The idea that he would give in to a threat or some kind of remark from a politician, it’s just not who Roger is.”
Wallace said he was “proud but not surprised” that Ailes defended Kelly and that his boss “hires people and trusts them and has their backs.”
But Ailes is doing more than protecting one of his biggest stars.
“In this particular instance, Fox is operating well within journalistic bounds,” Andrew H. Salomon, associate professor of journalism at SUNY Purchase, told TheWrap. “Fox, if there is a high road here, is certainly on it, because they’re arguing for media independence. From my perspective, they should be praised for that.”
Never one to concede any ground, high or low, Trump has scheduled his own event for Thursday, a benefit for veterans organizations.
Trump pulled out of the Iowa debate Tuesday after a heated back-and-forth with Fox News, which hit peak trolling when the network released a statement saying: “We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president.”
Trump said Wednesday that the statement was what ultimately led him to pull out.
Fox has stuck up for Kelly. “We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute,” the network said in a statement, “but it should be clear to the American public by now that this is rooted in one thing — Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage.”
The beef started during last summer’s debate, when Trump took offense at a question from Kelly. Trump attacked “The Kelly File” host via Twitter and various interviews for several days, while Kelly took a professional approach. Kelly went on a pre-planned vacation and Trump welcomed her back with the following tweet:
.@megynkelly must have had a terrible vacation, she is really off her game. Was afraid to confront Dr. Cornel West. No clue on immigration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2015
Ailes said in a statement at the time, “Trump’s surprise and unprovoked attack on Megyn Kelly during her show last night is as unacceptable as it is disturbing. Megyn Kelly represents the very best of American journalism and all of us at FOX News Channel reject the crude and irresponsible attempts to suggest otherwise. I could not be more proud of Megyn for her professionalism and class in the face of all of Mr. Trump’s verbal assaults.” Shortly after, Trump proclaimed he was done with Fox News.
Five days later Trump appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor,” and there was speculation he would face off with Ailes. Things calmed for a while — only to flare up again this week.
If Trump and Fox News ever make up, they can always form an alliance to clothesline Vince McMahon.