ELIANA JOHNSON - How Trump Blew Up the Conservative Media

Months before Donald Trump blew up American politics with his surprise win in November, he did the same thing to the conservative media. Through much of the campaign, two very different media moguls with colliding visions for the Republican Party vied for Trump’s soul: Roger Ailes, the longtime president and CEO of Fox News, and Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of the populist online tabloid Breitbart. Both were angling to be the media Svengali whispering in Trump’s ear.
At one point, it seemed they might have been allies: Bannon worked to insinuate himself at Fox, and Ailes’ network aired some of his populist documentaries. Then came the first Republican primary debate in August 2015, when Megyn Kelly, Fox’s feisty prime-time anchor, hammered the candidate from all sides. It was at that moment that Bannon says his relationship with Ailes began to sour. “The big rift between Breitbart and Fox was all over Megyn Kelly. She was all over Trump nonstop,” Bannon said in an interview. He says he warned Ailes that Kelly would betray him. “I told him then, I said, ‘She’s the devil, and she will turn on you.’”

By the summer of 2016, Ailes’ life lay in ruins: A blockbuster sexual-harassment lawsuit from former Fox host Gretchen Carlson forced his resignation from the network he had founded 20 years earlier. Since then, his legacy has been systematically dismantled, as several of the stars Ailes brought to the network have departed or been shown the door: Greta Van Susteren, then Kelly and, on Wednesday evening, Bill O’Reilly, whose dismissal under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations, some dating back decades, mirrored that of Ailes months earlier.
Trump, who once seemed to augur a renaissance for conservative media, has instead triggered a civil war in its top ranks. Ailes stepped down July 21. That night, Trump officially accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland. Three weeks later, he tapped Bannon to be the CEO of his campaign. That short period did more to alter the trajectory of the Republican Party than any event since the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964, handing the GOP to a populist television star whose style was a rebuke to the intellectual roots of the American conservative movement. The shock played out most immediately in right-wing media, where Trump’s ascension marginalized the elite intellectual outlets that did so much to shape the modern Republican Party. It also settled the tug of war between Ailes and Bannon over who would hold the most sway over the least ideological president in history: Ultimately, Trump rejected the corporatist conservatism that had come to define Fox, draping himself instead in Breitbart’s nationalist populism throughout the campaign.

This account, the result of conversations with nearly two dozen sources inside various news organizations, reveals how Trump’s nomination and subsequent election scrambled the pecking order across the conservative media landscape in ways its leaders are still grappling with… read more

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