For Roger Ailes, there's no such thing as punching down. His public relations team is famously ferocious, and now that the longtime head of that team, Brian Lewis, has been fired, he's being subjected to the same punching.
After 17 years working for Ailes, Lewis was fired July 25 and escorted out of the Fox building. For media reporters who've dealt with Fox's PR team, this was a huge deal. It "means Ailes is more isolated than ever before," writes New York's Gabriel Sherman, whose book on Fox News and Ailes is due out in January. "A frequent joke around Fox was that while everyone is scared of Roger Ailes, the only person Roger Ailes is scared of is Brian Lewis." Politico's Dylan Byers called Lewis Ailes' "right hand."
Fox News Alert! No way, Greta Van Susteren says. "Brian Lewis is NOT the #2 at Fox News Channel, is NOT the right hand man to Roger, and is NOT largely responsible for building the network and its success," Van Susteren writes on her blog. "If he was the #2 at Fox News and and largely responsible for its success, that is a Fox News Alert to this prime time anchor of 11 1/2 years!" She's not the only on-air star trashing Lewis. Fox contributor Donald Trump said Sherman's report for New York "is total bullshit." Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano scoffed at the report. The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld tweeted, "Oh what a surprise: mag writer finds canned bitter ex-employee to be canned and bitter. Stellar journalism!"
Van Susteren, especially, might be underplaying Lewis's role at Fox. "Frankly, I don’t think I could pick Brian out of a line up!" she writes. (At least they're on a first-name basis?) As Politico points out, "Lewis joined the network as vice president of media relations six months before its launch in 1996. He was promoted to senior vice president in 2000 and executive vice president in 2006." Sounds like a pretty important guy.
And Lewis might be surprised so many Fox stars don't remember him. He suggested they were fans of his work in 2008, when The New York Times' David Carr detailed the aggressive tactics of his team. "Yes, we are an aggressive department in a passive industry, and believe me, the executives and talent appreciate it," Lewis said. "We are the biggest target in the industry and we accept that... We embrace controversy." In another bit of irony, Politico reports that when speaking with Fox executives, "Others cautioned that The Hollywood Reporter has long been a go-to source for Fox News PR." If that's true, then Fox News PR is using it to blast the former head of Fox News PR.
But Sherman reports there were signs of trouble in the relationship between Lewis and Ailes. When Fox News decided to go after Fox mole Joe Muto — not just firing him, but trying to get him arrested — Lewis, objected. Muto's revelations were inconsequential, he told Sherman in April 2012. Sherman asked Lewis, "Isn’t this punching down?" "Dude, I know. I was overruled," Lewis replied. Now it is his turn.