When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump launched a crusade against Fox News and its star anchor, Megyn Kelly, last summer, many political insiders saw the move as the beginning of the end of Trump's upstart campaign.
Why would anyone seeking the Republican presidential nomination attack a network that reaches huge swaths of the Republican primary electorate?
One answer is that Trump was angry with Kelly and Fox News after the anchor asked him a tough question during a Republican presidential debate in August.
But in a newly published article Sunday in New York Magazine, author and journalist Gabriel Sherman reveals how Trump came to possess ultra-insider information about Fox News and its founder, Roger Ailes, that could be damaging if it were ever to be made public.
It's this leverage, Sherman writes, that has so far discouraged Fox News from launching an all-out war on Trump.
Below is an excerpt from Sherman's piece:
It was also thanks to some information he had gathered that Trump was able to do something that no other Republican has done before: take on Fox News. An odd bit of coincidence had given him a card to play against Fox founder Roger Ailes. In 2014, I published a biography of Ailes, which upset the famously paranoid executive. Several months before it landed in stores, Ailes fired his longtime PR adviser Brian Lewis, accusing him of being a source. During Lewis’s severance negotiations, Lewis hired Judd Burstein, a powerhouse litigator, and claimed he had “bombs” that would destroy Ailes and Fox News. That’s when Trump got involved.“When Roger was having problems, he didn’t call 97 people, he called me,” Trump said. Burstein, it turned out, had worked for Trump briefly in the ’90s, and Ailes asked Trump to mediate. Trump ran the negotiations out of his office at Trump Tower. “Roger [Ailes] had lawyers, very expensive lawyers, and they couldn’t do anything. I solved the problem." Fox paid Lewis millions to go away quietly, and Trump, I’m told, learned everything Lewis had planned to leak. If Ailes ever truly went to war against Trump, Trump would have the arsenal to launch a retaliatory strike.
Sherman's reporting may also help explain why Trump was so willing to drop out of a major Fox News debate in Iowa in January, a decision that might have hobbled the campaign of a typical GOP candidate.
In March, Trump participated in a Fox News debate in Detroit, where he flagrantly violated the debate rules by consulting with his campaign manager during a commercial break. Fox did not penalize the Trump campaign.
As CNN reported, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski refused to leave the stage when Fox News staff asked him to.
Fox said the consultation happened quickly, and other campaigns' managers were allowed to talk to their candidates as well once the channel realized what was going on.
Even though Trump is accused of breaking debate rules to consult with Lewandowski during other debates, Fox News was the only network to then invite other campaigns backstage, CNN reported after the early March debate.
A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign declined to comment on Sherman's report.
This post has been updated with comment from Fox News and details about the Detroit debate incident.