I’ll make this quick.
When it comes to pointing out the ways in which the national news media have changed for the worse over the past 20 years, one of those examples I go back to again and again is Fox News’s ruthlessly vindictive internal public relations department. Chances are you know about the existence of this particular Area 51 of Fox News HQ even if you’ve never had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of its wrath. FNC runs its PR arm the way E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy ran the White House Plumbers, a fact befitting Roger Ailes’s former association with the Nixon White House: Its hostility toward those deemed enemies is matched only by its savagery in publicly eviscerating them. Cross Fox News — fire off a crack at one of its hosts, take issue with its “fairness and balance,” criticize it in a public forum — and the knives come out in short order. The result is always a bloody mess, the goal being one thing: to make an example of you as a lesson to others who might be thinking of mouthing off or getting out of line. Fox News’s PR bureau is all about intimidation — it always has been.
This is what makes Fox News’s recent, brutal ousting of Brian Lewis and the network’s decision to turn on him for the apparent crime of apostasy so damn entertaining. See, Lewis was FNC’s executive president of communications. In other words, he ran the smear unit — and now he’s being smeared by it. The short version of what happened: Lewis abruptly got the sack at the end of last month after more than 17 years with the network; he was one of the original executives who’d stood at Ailes’s side when he started the thing. No one was sure what was behind the firing, but some outside of Fox believed it had to do with an unauthorized biography of Ailes now in the works and Lewis’s leaking of information to its author. Message discipline and absolute Omerta-style loyalty is non-negotiable in Ailes’s kingdom, but so is the illusion of absolute loyalty as far as the outside world is concerned. Once rumors started circulating that one of Ailes’s closest people had turned state’s evidence and was a rat, the very PR machine that Lewis once used to take down traitors like Joe Muto — the “Fox News Mole” — ramped up against him. And that’s why, yesterday, Fox’s people began publicly distancing Lewis from Ailes, saying that the two were never really that close, while Fox News media relations officially released a statement saying that Lewis was fired for “issues relating to financial irregularities.” (Lewis says that’s not true.)
The irony is just fucking beautiful. Delicious even. If there aren’t leaked reports of little boy porn found on Lewis’s laptop by the end of the week, I’ll be shocked.
For years now, Fox News has responded to almost every form of negative publicity in the same way: by circling the wagons then lashing out like a petulant child in the direction of the perceived attack, like some little asshole bully on a playground whose skin is paper thin and whose only defense against criticism is to hurl vitriolic insults in a quest for revenge. It’s blacklisted reporters who’ve dared to print negative stories and rather than issuing the standard “no comment” on internal matters and external insults, it’s fired off snotty press releases aimed at putting the offender in his or her place. Tying up the very end of most of these press releases: a clever little bow of backhanded faux-graciousness. A patronizing dismissal: “We wish him well.”
And for years the man behind this was Brian Lewis.
Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it?
I wish him well.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.