One of the 2016 election’s more interesting subplots is Donald Trump’s running feud with Fox News, which has been characterized by the inability—or unwillingness—of the channel’s chief executive, Roger Ailes, to control Trump’s relentless attacks on Fox’s anchors and hosts. According to a lengthy feature by Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine, Fox and Ailes have a very good reason to treat Trump as gently as possible: The Republican frontrunner is likely privy to Fox News’ darkest secrets, thanks to his involvement in the channel’s negotiations with former Fox executive Brian Lewis, who was unceremoniously fired in 2013 after Ailes began to suspect Lewis was leaking information to the media.
When Fox News president Roger Ailes fired his close advisor Brian Lewis last year, the channel claimed—via a series of coordinated leaks to Fox-friendly outlets—that Lewis was terminated over “financial irregularities” and unspecified “breaches of his employment contract.” Lewis fired back, and eventually settled with Fox for $8 million in November.
Remember Brian Lewis, the former vice president of media relations for Fox News and even more former confidante of Fox News president Roger Ailes? This past November, Fox paid approximately $8 million in hush money to settle a dispute over his dramatic firing, in which the network had accused Lewis of “financial irregularities” and Lewis had countered, through his attorney, with a threat to tell “the truth” about Fox News.
Roger Ailes’ secrets command a heavy price. Last week, the New York Times reported that Fox News had reached an out-of-court settlement with Brian Lewis, the former Ailes aide who was abruptly fired in late July. A Fox News executive with knowledge of the negotiations told Gawker that Lewis was paid approximately $8 million in hush money.
Fox News’ abuse of reporters is legendary. But their treatment of Matthew Flamm, a media reporter for Crain’s New York, should be flagged for eternity for its absurdity. As first reported by NPR’s David Folkenflik (and noted in The Washington Post), the channel’s PR team planted a fake tip, using a fake email address—but using a real Fox News producer’s name—about Bill O’Reilly anchoring election coverage of the 2008 primaries, for the sole purpose of humiliating Flamm.
Ousted PR attack dog Brian Lewis has laid low in the month since Fox News president Roger Ailes ejected him from the channel after accusing Lewis of “financial irregularities” and “multiple, material and significant breaches of his employment contract.” He has spoken on the record just once — to rebut Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman’s account of Lewis calling Bill O’Reilly a “chucklehead.” Now he’s lawyering up. According to a source familiar with his legal situation, Lewis has retained Manhattan entertainment lawyer Judd Burstein, whose online list of clients includes past clients Donald Trump and the Backstreet Boys and present ones Oscar de la Hoya and Donny Deutsch.
Why did Fox News president Roger Ailes fire his top lieutenant? The sudden ousting of PR chief Brian Lewis, who had pioneered the channel’s aggressive public relations strategy since its founding in 1996, inspired plenty of speculation and spin — some of it from the network’s on-air talent — about Lewis’s reputation at the channel, Fox’s vague claims of “financial irregularities,” and what the channel called “multiple, material and significant breaches of [Lewis’s] employment contract.”
Fox News executive and Roger Ailes acolyte Brian Lewis was fired and escorted out of the cable news station’s Manhattan headquarters earlier this month, marking an unprecedented departure from the channel’s tightly-knit leadership. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lewis was let go amidst unspecified “financial issues” and “complaints about complacency.” Whether that implies something boring (Lewis’s salary) or interesting (actual malfeasance), Fox’s notoriously cruel PR team is—for now, at least—in the hands of its most notorious flack: Irena Briganti.
Oh Fox News PR machine, how we've missed your vicious personal attacks on anyone speaking ill of the Mothership! It's been literally months since one of Roger Ailes' specially trained attack flacks unloaded against a reporter or a PR person or anybody else for the crime of calling Fox News a den of writhing right-wing pus-sucking leeches, or words to that effect. Well now they're up against 6'6, 250-pound man who specializes in snatching balls. Finally, a fair fight: NBA Hall-of-Famer, erstwhile (former) Alabama Republican and free-speaking man Charles Barkley pointed out the obvious:
Kudos to Fox News PR chief Brian Lewis for being the only media company flack to make the PRWeek "PR Power List" this year. He "has assembled arguably the most aggressive PR team that has ever existed," PRW writes. "In spite of criticism, Lewis and his team keep the message consistent." That message: Fall in line or be destroyed. [PRW (my former employer) via TVNewser]
"The Irena Briganti that I know is funny, hard-working and always willing to help out a colleague-no matter how busy she is," wrote Fox Television flack Erica Keane yesterday, in response to our "smear" of Briganti, Fox News boss Roger Ailes' PR attack-dog-in-chief. But Keane is in the minority in her assessment of Briganti's charm. Our post on her generated perhaps the biggest outpouring of responses we've had since Bloomberg staffers got the chance to vent about horrid boss Matthew Winkler. There was a wellspring of resentment against the Fox News flack just waiting to come out-and much of it came to us unsolicited. Everyone from journalists to Briganti's fellow News Corp. employees weighed in. "She-devil" is among the more middle-of-the-road descriptions. After the jump, all you'll need to know about Briganti's reputation-and her handful of obligatory defenders: