Could The Adult In The Room Bring Down The House?

When I had the opportunity to briefly see one Preston Padden in action during our shared time as fellow FOX executives I saw first-hand someone who possessed the poise of a politician and the nuanced skills of a lawyer–basically, someone who could have easily been an elected official had he chosen that path.  And yet, Preston was remarkably astute and inquisitive about details and not above wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt imploring stations with the message “Cowabunga, Dudes!!  Put FOX On The Upper Tier!” to high-level meetings that resulted in dozens of newer FOX affiiliates gaining better channel positions–and ultimately, ratings.

With a little help from myself and a few similarly auspiced allies, he was personally responsible for immediate equity and parity for a fledgling network punching above its weight.  Many of the younger and more maverick FOX executives who churned out the content and defiance that made a fourth network possible would reverently call him “the adult in the room”–even the few who also qualified as such acknowledged that.

So when I happened to see this story drop the other day from BROADCASTING AND CABLE’s veteran writer Jon Lafayette, I took immediate notice:

Fox Corp.’s license to operate WTXF Philadelphia is being challenged by The Media and Democracy Project, a group whose members include Preston Padden, a former high-profile Fox executive.

The group charges that Fox’s broadcast license should not be renewed because the company’s leadership manipulated its audience by knowingly broadcasting false news about the 2020 election that contributed to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6, 2021.

Among the issues the FCC would consider in any review of character qualifications related to news distortion include the seriousness of the misconduct, the nature of any participation by company managers and owners in the misconduct, any efforts to remedy the wrong, and the company’s past record regarding compliance with FCC rules and policies.

When FOX News settled the defamation case brought against them by Dominion Voring Systems, the company that was specifically called out as contributing faulty equipment and tallying that election deniers–which FOX believes makes up a substantial portion of their “gold card” viewership–contend resulted in Joe Biden’s “rigged” ascension to the presidency, the Murdoch family was revealed to have been in direct communications with their executives about what they saw was potential mortal damage to its business should it choose to report merely the facts.   Less politically right-leaning observers threw up their hands in disgust when Dominion took the $787,5 million dollars rather than attempt to win in court. Everyone has their price, many lamented, and Murdoch’s billions were more than enough to find the pain point that allowed “bygones” to be the result.  And for what is effectively a private business, so long as both parties sign off, bigger picture issues aside, life, such as we know it, goes on.

Except Padden, who for many years represented independent television stations’ interests in Washington, knew that something else was going on that involved something higher than merely a business arrangement.  Those stations were also airing FOX News content, as Lafayette continued:

In his declaration, Padden said WTXF and other Fox stations air Fox News Sunday, produced by Fox News Channel, and the show repeated some of Fox News’s false narratives about the election.

“In my opinion, as a result of Fox’s knowingly false narrative, large numbers of that radicalized population ransacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, causing injury, property damage and attacking the very foundation of our democracy. In my opinion, Fox contributed to that tragedy,” Padden said. 

Padden stated that Rupert Murdoch is responsible for what airs on Fox News and Fox stations. 

“During my 7 years at Fox, ultimate decision-making authority for the operation of every part of the company — every division, every business unit, every subsidiary — rested with Rupert Murdoch,“ Padden said. “It was his ‘candy store.’ I get the impression that more recently he has begun to share power with his son, Lachlan Murdoch. But I can state without fear of contradiction that Rupert and Lachlan retain ultimate decision-making authority for every part of the company, including Fox News Channel and Fox Television Stations.”

And as someone who saw this first-hand then and in later years, I can swear on a stack of bibles that Padden’s observations are accurate.   But Murdoch couldn’t care less what I, or, for that matter, many other people think these days.  He did, however, still care about what Preston Padden was thinking nearly a quarter-century after Padden stopped being his employee  And the Dominion lawsuit brought that fact to life, which Lafayette threw further light upon:

Padden said that in 2020 and 2021 he emailed with Murdoch, expressing concerns over the content on Fox. He said that without his knowledge some or all of those emails were produced by Fox as part of discovery in the Dominion case.

The emails show Murdoch knew Fox’s reporting was false but he allowed it, Padden said.

“For example on November 6, 2020, Mr. Murdoch wrote me: “Seems Trump listening to terrible advice from Guiliani versus Trump family wanting to wave white flag? Not sure of this but sounds likely,’ ” Padden said.

Now all I can offer, which I’ve previously done, is my informed observation that the current batch of FOX executives either did not provide any conclusive evidence that the specific audience gains which the likes of OAN and Newsmax were gaining in the aftermath of the election which had Murdoch, his talent and their supporters so castigated were directly attributable to the losses FOX was having–even though Nielsen data allows such calculations to be made–or were simply being ignored.  Had Preston and I still been in touch, I would have offered him that counsel, with the knowledge that it might have had at least been able to have been acknowledged by Rupert and Lachlan.  But time and life priorities cause the best of us to drift apart.

Predictably, FOX is dismissive about all of this, and when one visits the Media and Democracy Project home page and observes their menu, which apparently extend to issues such as climate change and abortion rights, there’s not a lot of research or narrative that serves as backup.  So it’s no surprise that the tone Lafayette takes in reporting what constitutes as FOX atttiude these days is a lot more confrontational than that Bart Simpson T-Shirt Padden was willing to wear under his expensive jackets back in the day:

The Media and Democracy Project petition to deny the license renewal of WTXF-TV is frivolous, completely without merit and asks the FCC to upend the First Amendment and longstanding FCC precedent,” Fox said in a statement. “WTXF-TV / FOX 29 News Philadelphia is one of the finest local news stations in the country, broadcasting over 60 hours of local news and locally produced programming every week.”

Lafayette summised matter-of-factly:

MAD is calling on the FCC to initiate an evidentiary hearing into Fox’s conduct. It claims the FCC “has the duty to hold Fox accountable and send a strong message that intentional, knowing news distortion will not be tolerated on America’s airwaves.”

Nearly all petitions to deny TV station license renewals fail and the Media and Democracy Project does not cite ways in which Fox violated the law or FCC regulations.

So even with the likes of Padden on their side, this particular effort, timed to the August 1st expiration of WTXF’s current license, is at best a longshot.  And Lord knows should the 2024 election go the way many observers believe, the chance of any evidentiary hearing along these lines occurring is far less, unless, of course, someone with an ax to grind against an organization for as valid a reason such as, say, how flattering the graphics may be in comparison to the image seen in the Dorian Gray mirror he may parade around in front of while wiping himself after a particularly aggressive tweetstorm while checking up on one’s golf shirt collection may be in charge.

So Preston, not that you asked, but if you or someone else needs my help should you at least be able to get that hearing, I’m free.  Way more free than I prefer to acknowledge most days.  Today, probably far freer than ever.  I know with every shred of my being I’m more than capable of expanding upon my thoughts as you so eloquently did to your e-mail buddy.  I just want the chance to do so for something that still apparently matters.

I realize this is a volunteer organization you’re involved with these days, but it’s pretty clear you still know a lot of people in high places.  So all I’m requesting in return is a legitmate lead or a connection to someone who has one.

From one adult to another–how about it?    Drop me an e-mail if possible.  I’d be honored.  You still have a pretty impressive contact list.

Until next time…




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