A couple of big news stories broke earlier this week. First, emails and texts implicated top aides and allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in snarling traffic in a small town to punish its mayor for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Second, details began leaking from an upcoming book by Gabriel Sherman about Fox News boss Roger Ailes—among them, that Ailes had tried to persuade Christie to run for president in 2012.
Ailes still runs Fox News. And Christie is by every indication considering running for president in 2016. So how is Fox to cover the scandal gathering around him? Apparently, not too much!
On Wednesday, the scandal gathering around an early frontrunner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination dominated newspaper headlines, politics news sites, and TV news. Except on Fox, whose programs covered the story relatively little or not at all (Although, according to Buzzfeed, Fox covered the story for eight minutes more than Al Jazeera America.) According to the Huffington Post‘s monitoring, the scandal was not at all mentioned by prime-time talkers Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, and took a back seat to other stories on Greta Van Susteren’s and Megyn Kelly’s shows.
By Thursday, Fox was giving the story considerably more airtime, but not to the degree that CNN and MSNBC did. It led its 9 a.m. news block with the story, for instance, but soon turned to stories about two Obama administration scandals, the IRS audit and HealthCare.gov investigations (the IRS, in particular, came up repeatedly in Fox News discussions of the bridge scandal ). And as Christie gave a marathon, almost-two-hour apology news conference, Fox News was the first cable-news network to cut away, just over an hour in. It gave a few minutes to political analysis—at one point, an anchor almost apologetically explained that the network needed to cover the story because of Christie’s political profile—then moved on to other news.
Gauging the motivating factors in Fox’s coverage of a Christie scandal is a bit of a bank shot, given the internecine politics of the conservative base to which Fox appeals. On the one hand, it’s not just liberals who are happy to see Christie twist in the wind; plenty of conservative Republicans see him as too moderate or, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, too tight with President Barack Obama. On the other hand, he’s not just a leading prospective candidate but a favorite of many establishment Republicans—like Ailes.
If you work at Fox, how do you not do that math? I don’t claim, or purport to know, whether or not Ailes is giving orders as to how or how much Christie is being covered. But part of the question in the Chris Christie controversy is this: Even if the boss never orders it directly, isn’t it possible his employees will act on what they think he probably wants anyway? That’s not only a question in Trenton.