When [Bill] Shine assumed command at Fox, the 2016 campaign was nearing its end, and Trump and Clinton were all but tied. That fall, a FoxNews.com reporter had a story that put the network’s journalistic integrity to the test. Diana Falzone, who often covered the entertainment industry, had obtained proof that Trump had engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with a pornographic film actress calling herself Stormy Daniels. Falzone had worked on the story since March, and by October she had confirmed it with Daniels through her manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, and with Daniels’s former husband, Mike Moz, who described multiple calls from Trump. Falzone had also amassed e-mails between Daniels’s attorney and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, detailing a proposed cash settlement, accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. Falzone had even seen the contract.
But Falzone’s story didn’t run—it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.
Despite the discouragement, Falzone kept investigating, and discovered that the National Enquirer, in partnership with Trump, had made a “catch and kill” deal with Daniels—buying the exclusive rights to her story in order to bury it. Falzone pitched this story to Fox, too, but it went nowhere. News of Trump’s payoffs to silence Daniels, and Cohen’s criminal attempts to conceal them as legal fees, remained unknown to the public until the Wall Street Journal broke the story, a year after Trump became President.
In January, 2017, Fox demoted Falzone without explanation. That May, she sued the network. Her attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, declined to comment but acknowledged that a settlement has been reached; it includes a nondisclosure agreement that bars Falzone from talking about her work at Fox.
After the Journal story broke, Oliver Darcy, a senior media reporter for CNN, published a piece revealing that Fox had killed a Stormy Daniels story. LaCorte, who by then had left Fox but was still being paid by the company, told Mediaite that he’d made the call without talking to superiors. The story simply hadn’t “passed muster,” he claimed, adding, “I didn’t do it to protect Donald Trump.” Nik Richie, a blogger who had broken the first story about Daniels, tweeted, “This is complete bullshit. Ken you are such a LIAR. This story got killed by @FoxNews at the highest level. I know, because I was one of your sources.”
Richie told me, “Fox News was culpable. I voted for Trump, and I like Fox, but they did their own ‘catch and kill’ on the story to protect him.” He said that he’d worked closely with Falzone on the article, and that “she did her homework—she had it.” He says he warned her that Fox would never run it, but “when they killed it she was devastated.” Richie believes that the story “would have swayed the election.”
Officially, Trump’s day begins at 11 a.m., with his national-security briefing. But Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters, who has spent more than a year tracking how closely Trump’s tweets correspond to Fox News, told me that “the real briefing is on ‘Fox & Friends,’ four hours earlier.” Judging from the timing of Trump’s tweets, Gertz believes that the President records “Fox & Friends” and views it from the beginning, often with a slight delay. As Trump watches, he frequently posts about points that he agrees with. Since August, 2018, Media Matters has tallied more than two hundred instances of Trump disseminating Fox News items to his fifty-eight million Twitter followers. “Trump serves as a carnival barker for Fox,” Levin says, giving invaluable promotional help to the channel.
Fox hosts sometimes reverse their opinions in order to toe the Trump line: Hannity, who in the Obama era called negotiations with North Korea “disturbing,” now calls such efforts a “huge foreign-policy win.” But Gertz has come to believe that Fox drives Trump more than Trump drives Fox. During the recent standoff with Congress over funding for a border wall, Fox anchors and guests repeatedly pushed Trump to reject compromises favored by Republicans in Congress and by his own staff, and to pursue instead an extreme path favored by Fox’s core viewers. [Continue reading…]