Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Did Rudy Giuliani's most destructive act take place in 1996?

We hear a lot in recent days about Rudy Giuliani's acts in the end stages of Donald Trump's political career, from his activity in Ukraine that helped lead to Trump's impeachment to his current inept attempts to throw out hundreds of thousands of Democratic votes as Trump refuses to accept his overwhelming loss (in the Electoral College as well as the popular vote) to President-Elect Joe Biden.

But what I've been thinking about today is the action of Mayor Giuliani's that may have done as much as any other to lead Trump to the White House in the first place.

In 1996, the Fox News Channel was started by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, with its main studio in New York. However, it was not immediately available in any major television markets, including New York City. There was no internet method of getting video news in 1996, so Fox News was even more invisible than Trump's current favorite online right-wing channel, OANN, to the vast majority of Americans. The only cable provider in NYC was Time Warner, and they said they had a waiting list of 30 other cable stations vying for space and they didn't have room for a nascent cable news channel from the Australian owner of the New York Post.

"It began with a phone call to Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on Sept. 20 [1996], an entreaty that would soon mire City Hall in a feud between two media conglomerates. On the line was an old friend of the Mayor, Roger Ailes, a former Republican political consultant who is now chairman of the 24-hour news channel started by Rupert Murdoch." --New York Times, November 4, 1996

It could be just that Ailes was an old friend, or that Rudy's second wife, Donna Hanover, was then working at Murdoch's local station, WNYW-5, or that Rudy saw Fox as a national stage for his own presidential ambitions, or that he was unselfishly trying to save a few hundred NYC media jobs for a fledgling cable station, but the fact remains that he went to bat -- hard -- to get Fox News on New York's only cable provider, engaging much of the mayor's office and staff to do so, and he was ultimately successful. 

On a personal level, this has stuck in my head (and craw) because in the same year, 1996, Rudy sold the television station I watched most regularly, the city's PBS station WNYC-31, to a private buyer who immediately stopped showing BBC & PBS programming (he also sold my favorite radio station, WNYC-FM and AM, but those airwaves were bought by a foundation that kept the call letters and they have remained the city's main outlets for National Public Radio content.)

We'll never know if the struggling brainchild of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes would have survived its infancy if it hadn't been able to move into the New York cable market, but maybe more importantly, we'll never know if tri-state real-estate con man Donald Trump would have become PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP without the Trump/Fox feedback loop that created his political "philosophy" and gave him a similarly-brainwashed audience for his political ambitions. Even though Trump had shown some of his political leanings publicly as early as 1989 when he lobbied heavily for the killing of the (innocent) Central Park Five, he was mainly a tabloid punchline for his marriages and affairs and bankruptcies and real-estate battle with Leona Helmsley; it's hard to imagine Trump becoming TRUMP without Fox News. It's hard to imagine now, but there was a real possibility that Fox News never would have appeared on the television screens in the Trump Tower penthouse without the heavy-handed intervention of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. It may be one of his greatest crimes.

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