When opportunity knocks, even briefly, you damn well make sure that you open the door and at least try to take advantage of it. That’s how I’ve approached my career and, for the most part, that philosophy succeeded me. At least until COVID made the very act of knocking on any door a non-starter for some people who once claimed to be my friends. Fortunately, despite every effort to the contrary by some of those to continue to exist in a 2020 world out of overwhelming paranoia, most of the rest of the world has now gotten back to some sort of normalcy. Including intimate gatherings with prominent writers.
So as I had vowed nearly a month ago when I penned this piece about Rupert Murdoch, whose “departure” from FOX happened to coincide with the impending release of Michael Wolff’s revelatory new book, The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty, I made dang sure to be part of the invited audience for the first of what is projected to be a series of such gatherings, sponsored by THE ANKLER. At a tidy little Santa Monica bookstore that’s the antithesis of the few remaining Barnes and Nobles, Wolff was interviewed Monday night by Janice Lin, the co-owner, chief executive and editor in chief of parent company Ankler Media. And truth be told, I am as much of a fan of Lin’s history as I am of Wolff’s. As THE NEW YORK TIMES’ Katie Robertson explained in a 2021 story announcing the evolution of THE ANKLER:
Janice Min, a media executive in Los Angeles, is joining forces with Richard Rushfield, a show-business columnist, to start a new media business that will be spun off from his popular subscription newsletter, The Ankler.
Ms. Min, who transformed The Hollywood Reporter from a struggling trade publication into a successful, large-format glossy, will become the co-owner, chief executive and editor in chief of the newly formed Ankler Media. Mr. Rushfield, the founder of The Ankler, which bills itself as “the newsletter Hollywood loves to hate and hates to love,” will be the company’s editorial director and chief columnist.
I personally loved what THE REPORTER, far and away the scrappier and less stodgy trade daily of the post, had resurrected itself into becoming, and drove much of the pivoting of entertainment trades into the digital world, a more aggressive competitor to the insurgent DEADLINE than had been VARIETY! With all of those brands now under one roof at Penske Media, there was a distinct need, not to mention fiscal opportunity, for a true competitor. Naturally, I quickly became a fan, and I now consider Rushfeld’s weekly podcast to be must-hear content.
And Wolff was the perfect kickoff guest for these talks. Lin takes full credit–and some blame–for believing Wolff was the perfect person to try and insintuate himself into the world of Donald Trump. And she knew that because of how Wolff had insinuated himself into the world of the Murdochs in 2008, when he wrote what his back cover blurb claims to be the seminal biography of Rupert Murdoch, THE MAN WHO OWNS THE NEWS. Wolff’s disarming yet inviting demeanor, on full display in Santa Monica as Lin peppered him with questions, has earned him storied presence in both worlds, both as antagonist and father confessor. His Trump White House trilogy: FIRE AND ICE, SIEGE and LANDSLIDE, were both engaging and chilling, as they meticulously and accurately chronicled how the preposterous presidency came to become a possibility, then a reality, then a movement. Much of that came from Trump’s own mouth, which is connected to a brain that Wolff suggests is barely functional enough to read a headline and incapable of processing any feedback. Wolff seems to take pleasure in the fact that he pissed off Trump with his candid profilings and inclusion of their many talks in those books, yet despite that history now that this equally honest and self-inflicting update to Rupert and THE FOX NEWS empire is out, and portrays both man and company in hardly the most favorable light, he’s back in Trump’s good graces to some extent.
Many of the names Wolff names are well-known; certainly the Murdoch family and the late FOX NEWS architect Roger Ailes. I may have had a front-row view to a lot of what went, certainly at the tome when THE MAN WHO OWNS THE NEWS was published, but I was a spectatpr. Wolff not only got a backstage pass, he indeed has become part of the play–the narrator of a story not of a sly FOX, as more reverent and detached salutes to Murdoch offer, but of a lion in winter, increasingly restless and detached from family and now several ex-wives, often incoherently mumbling which toadies are left to deal with to carry out his orders, and a get off my lawn attitude about old-school media and journalism which is right up there with a love of 8-track tapes in today’s world.
We also learn new details and names. With Ailes, who Wolff interviewed at length shortly before his 2017 death, we see that his vision is firmly etched in the year 1965–the year before voting reform acts were passed. We gain new insight into the rise and fall of Tucker Carlson, including his financial struggles after crapping out at CNN and MSNBC. We learn about Viet Dinh, the chief legal figure at FOX and Lachlan Murdoch’s consigliere, often needing to defend him against his siblings. We learn that Kimberly Guilfoyle was part of the FOX NEWS Rat Pack long before she hooked up with Junior, eschewing underwear all the way. We learn that James Murdoch, now divorced from the business and his brother after a tumultuous period where the boys, a mere fifteen months apart, did indeed jockey for power and love much like Kendall and Ronan Roy, sees himself as a potential white knight, hoping to one day glean control and wipe what he perceives to be the sh-t stain off the FOX NEWS brand and make it a force for global good.
And we learn about Irina Briganti, the PR guru with deep throat ties to the NEW YORK TIMES, who helped take down the likes of Carlson with the support of James and Elisabeth Murdoch and who has been dismissed by many of the on air personalities as “that fat bitch”. We also learn more about Ailes’ de facto successor, Suzanne Scott, who somehow still continues in her role as head of FOX NEWS with barely a shred of Ailes’ expertise and involvement and who allowed all of the discourse and panic that led to the actions and inactions that she believed would mollify her audience and ultimately helped stoke January 6th.
As I’ve written before, for want of one simple Nielsen audience flow study that would have shown whether or not the actual viewers FOX lost post-election in 2020 were the SAME viewers who now were improving the minimal audiences of NEWSMAX and the not yet publicly rated OAN might have changed the mood and mindset enough for the drumroll of misinformation to at least have been questioned. Roger Ailes hated Nielsen–my one significant interaction with him was consoidating more than 100 individual contracts spread across the News Corporation businesses into one, because once he learned that was the case and calculated how many hundreds of millions of dollars were being needlessly spent by divisions who didn’t have any idea others were paying full freight for the same thing, he demanded that get fixed. But he was also an astute student of the data and weaponized it when necessary, particularly when it would cast MSNBC or CNN in a bad light. Roger knew what an audience flow was, and respected his researchers enough to ask for it on occasion. I have my doubts that Suzanne Scott, a production veteran who was effectively an order taker, even would know what this study is, or if she did, would have empowered her research team to investigate it. And I’m fairly sure whoever does have that title now was nowhere strong or close enough to the others on the Second Floor to even suggest it might be a decent idea. Mind you, I’m not saying I would have been the only person with enough chutzpah to have done that. Dozens of other competent and respected people, including several Ailes employed as personal consultants, would have. None of them are part of today’s FOX NEWS.
So yes, I’m personally invested in the works of Wolff and Lin, and I don’t apologize for being a fan of both. I don’t apologize for how I see things, and I’m inspired by personalities like Wolff, Lin and Rushfeld. I was inspired by the business sides of Ailes and Murdoch, even if how they view and treat women other than the likes of “KG” is revolting. And I’m eager to see if any of the predictions that Wolff offers in THE FALL’s final paragraphs do come to pass once Rupert does pass. SUCCESSION’s plot line barely scratched the surface of the gamesmanship and backstabbing that awaits. And I’m sure hoping Wolff will write about it in detail, and that Lin and her team will document its evolution as meticulously and completely as any media trade has, or will. Boy, I’d love to be a small part of that, not even as much as I was of the Murdoch regime.
Heck, as KG herself says, THE BEST IS YET TO COME!!!!!!!
Until next time….