Fox News has abandoned its famous marketing tagline, “Fair & Balanced,” New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported Wednesday. A spokesman for the network confirmed that to Sherman, but did not immediately reply to Slate’s request for comment.
Citing unnamed network executives, Sherman wrote that the decision was made last August by Fox News co-president Jack Abernethy after longtime chairman and CEO Roger Ailes was forced out amid a sexual harassment scandal. Insiders told Sherman the move was made because the slogan had been “mocked” and was “too closely associated with Roger.” The network will instead push the tagline, “Most Watched. Most Trusted.”
A Fox News spokesman confirmed to Sherman that the network is Here’s an excerpt from Sherman’s incisive post, which is worth reading in full:
It is hard to overstate the significance of what shedding “Fair & Balanced” means for Fox News. (It would be like the New York Times giving up “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”) Ailes invented the slogan when he launched the network in 1996, and over the years it became a quasi-religious doctrine among Fox’s anchors and viewers. The effectiveness of Fox News as a vehicle for conservative ideology depended on it. “If you come out and you try to do right-wing news, you’re gonna die. You can’t get away with it,” Ailes once told a reporter.
It might seem odd for the network to suddenly care that its venerable slogan is widely mocked, after so many years of emphatically not caring. But it makes sense when you view it in the context of the dramatic changes at the top.
As Brooks Barnes and Sydney Ember detailed in an April New York Times Magazine feature, Rupert Murdoch’s sons have pushed for big changes in Fox News’ culture since taking over the family business empire two years ago. In particular, 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch and his “progressive-minded” wife “have long been embarrassed” by certain elements of the network, NYT Mag reported. The Murdoch sons were instrumental in ousting Ailes and, eventually, Bill O’Reilly, although in both cases they did so only under significant pressure as each man's sexual harassment scandal boiled over into public view. From that NYT Mag piece:
Their father remains very involved, but his sons seem determined to rid the company of its roguish, old-guard internal culture and tilt operations toward the digital future. They are working to make the family empire their own, not the one the elder Murdoch created to suit his sensibilities.
In other words, it isn’t that Fox News changed its mind about “Fair & Balanced.” It’s that the minds who run Fox News have changed.
What hasn’t changed, so far, is the network’s blatant rightward editorial tilt. O’Reilly is gone, but Sean Hannity remains (for now), and O’Reilly’s successor Tucker Carlson is no less partisan than he was. But it’s fair to wonder how long Hannity will stick around in this new climate, working for bosses who don’t pride themselves on trolling liberals and eschewing political correctness.
Fox News has never been fair and balanced. But if it did want to move gradually in that direction, dropping the disingenuous slogan isn’t a bad way to start.