Bill Shine, the former co-president of Fox News, has accepted a top job in the White House communications department, several major news outlets have reported. This is the same Shine forced out at Fox News earlier this year because he allowed a culture of sexual harassment and bullying to run rampant under its former chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes.
Under Shine, high-profile anchor Gretchen Carlson sued the network and subsequently settled for $20 million in damages, and Bill O’Reilly was forced to resign after it became public that Fox News had kept him on as its top draw after he and the network paid about $13 million to settle sexual harassment allegations five of his former co-workers. (After he left the network, it was revealed he’d also paid about $32 million to settle sexual harassment allegations against a separate co-worker.)
President Donald Trump’s decision to install Shine sends a clear message to women all across the country. It also deepens the symbiotic ― some might say incestuous ― relationship between this White House and the conservative media giant Shine used to run.
It’s hard to see this staffing decision as anything other than a slap in the face to American women. And it’s not like this is the first time this White House hired a staffer with a track record of mistreating women: Trump famously defended his staff secretary, Rob Porter, after Porter was forced to resign amid allegations of spousal abuse. Hardly surprising, coming from a man who has himself been accused of sexual assault by more than 20 women.
Hiring Shine, who oversaw a network where sexual harassment ran rampant, makes it clear that Trump’s defense of Porter was not a one-off: He is eager to surround himself with men who demean and harm women, and all too willing to hand those men even more power.
“Trump is eager to surround himself with men who demean and harm women, and hand those men even more power.”
I appear on Fox News almost every day to provide a liberal response to the network’s increasingly Trumpian perspective. I appeared with Anthony Scaramucci on Martha McCallum’s show the night before he was named the White House communications director last year ― a post he infamously held for less than two weeks. I debated John Bolton on Fox Business hours before he was announced as the new White House national security advisor. I have had a front-row seat to the revolving door between the White House and Fox News, and what I’ve seen is deeply troubling.
In the last 18 months, Trump has hopscotched from scandal to scandal and crisis to crisis, his poll numbers temporarily flat-lining. But like a villain in a B-grade horror sequel, he keeps coming back, ready to wreak more havoc.
Trump has not survived solely on his political acumen and his very real ability to read a crowd; he has been aided by the conservative media machine. He has enjoyed the advantage of endless friendly coverage by Fox News and been propped up by its relentless boosterism. No single media source has more power to influence the thoughts going on the president’s head than that of Shine’s former employer. Fox News has shifted from a conservative-leaning network to a booster club for Trump’s every whim.
The close relationship between Fox News and the president should send a shiver down the spine of anyone who understands the power and reach of the network’s messaging. It has become entirely too common to hear Sean Hannity or Fox & Friends repeat verbatim the attacks and conspiracy theories laid out by the president. Likewise, it is all too common to hear Trump himself parroting the language you’ll hear on Fox News shows.
Jokes about state-run media sound a lot less like jokes these days: According to aides in the White House, Hannity is Trump’s the de-facto chief of staff.
Fox’s grip on the president is undeniable. That’s why he so often tweets about a topic mere moments after it’s been spotlighted on Fox & Friends. That’s why lobbyists, politicians and pundits use the network to directly appeal to him. Installing Shine will only tighten the network’s grasp, and will likely make the White House’s communication even more Fox-like than it already is.
Regardless of your politics, this co-mingling of the government and the fourth estate is unacceptable. As much as I like Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd, there’s no way that President Barack Obama would have ― or should have ― met with them to discuss an ongoing special counsel investigation of his administration, or dialed into their shows to use them as his own personal platforms. Trump has weaponized the media in a way that no other president, outside of Richard Nixon, could have envisioned.
What we’re witnessing, live and in color, is the rapidly accelerating splintering of this country, which in no small part can be traced back to Fox News. Hannity and his ilk have convinced their audience that they ― and now, the president ― are the sole purveyors of truth in a world of liberal-created chaos. Fox News has fed its viewers a steady diet of stories that sow division and spew politically strategic hatred, and has filled its airwaves with opinion masquerading as news.
Now the man who perfected the art of stoking that fear and capitalizing on that confusion will be a key player in a White House that prides itself on chaos. What could possibly go wrong?
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated O’Reilly was forced to leave Fox News after his $32 million sexual harassment settlement became public. He had already left the network by the time that was revealed; what prompted his departure was news that the network kept him on after they’d paid $13 million in other settlements over sexual harassment claims against co-workers.
Michael Starr Hopkins is a Democratic strategist and a former public defender.