Creators of TV Shows Open Fire at Fox Over Defense of Policy

Posted June 19, 2018 8:19 p.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2018 8:24 p.m. EDT

For years, the Murdoch family has been able to maintain a separation between its Fox News network and its sprawling entertainment empire.

But that corporate buffer seems to be disintegrating, with several prominent creators of hit TV shows expressing disgust in recent days with the 24-hour news channel’s coverage of the Trump administration’s border security policy.

Steve Levitan, the creator of “Modern Family,” which airs on ABC but is produced by Fox’s television studio, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that he was “disgusted to work at a company that has anything whatsoever to do with @FoxNews.” Film director Paul Feig echoed those sentiments, writing that he had made two films for the 20th Century Fox movie studio but “cannot condone the support their news division promotes toward the immoral and abusive policies and actions taken by this current administration toward immigrant children.”

Those tweets came several days after Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy,” said he was “embarrassed” to work at 21st Century Fox after the Fox News host Tucker Carlson told viewers not to trust other news networks.

The criticism has erupted as the future of 21st Century Fox remains in limbo. Both The Walt Disney Co. and Comcast are bidding tens of billions of dollars for control of most of the entertainment assets owned by Rupert Murdoch. Fox News would not be part of either sale and would remain under Murdoch control. But with the Fox entertainment empire on the brink of being severed from the Murdochs, there appeared to be a newfound willingness to take on Fox News, an enormously profitable arm of 21st Century Fox. The Murdoch-owned company has varied offerings, ranging from its Hollywood-based television and movie studios, the cable channels FX, FS1 and National Geographic, and the TV operator Star India.

Whether this was a temporary show of unrest or it signaled a more prolonged period of intra-company squabbling remained to be seen, but any sale of Fox’s entertainment assets to either Disney or Comcast could take at least a year to be completed.

In recent days, several Fox News commentators defended the zero-tolerance immigration policy that has resulted in more than 2,300 children being taken from their parents after crossing the border. On Monday, Laura Ingraham, on her show “The Ingraham Angle,” described the centers where the children were being held as “essentially summer camps.”

“Since more illegal immigrants are rushing the border, more kids are being separated from their parents and temporarily housed in what are essentially summer camps, or, as The San Diego Union-Tribune described them today, as looking like basically boarding schools,” she said, pointing to an article about one site in Southern California.

Ingraham then said that “liberals have seized on the ‘separated children'” — putting the term in air quotes — “and turned the entire image into a political weapon, attempting to emotionally manipulate the public perception of immigration enforcement.”

Later in her show, Ingraham noted that there were “a lot of people very upset” about her “summer camps” comments. She then again referenced The San Diego Union-Tribune article and said, “I will stick to there are some of them like boarding schools.” She also called for looser rules to allow Americans to adopt children from Central America.

Fox News declined to comment on the outcry from entertainers, but the news network did defend Ingraham from the call for an advertiser boycott by David Hogg, a survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“Fox News will never tolerate or give in to attempts to silence diverse viewpoints by agenda-driven intimidation efforts,” the network said in a statement. Twenty-First Century Fox declined to comment.

Tucker Carlson said on his show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” that Democratic politicians and media personalities had given more attention and funding to migrant children than to American children removed from parents serving prison terms.

“This is one of those moments that tells you everything about our ruling class,” he said. “They care far more about foreigners than about their own people.” A day earlier, conservative commentator Ann Coulter was a guest on the Fox News show “The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton,” where she referred to migrant children who had been seen in widely circulated footage as “these child actors weeping and crying on all the other networks 24/7 right now.”

Turning to face the camera, she asked President Donald Trump to “not fall for it.”

As Hilton began to interject, Coulter described “how these kids are being coached, they’re given scripts to read by liberals,” citing a story published nearly seven years ago in The New Yorker magazine, which she later posted on Twitter.

Hilton said in a statement that he did not endorse Coulter’s comments “or anything else said by anyone other than myself.”

Suketu Mehta, who wrote the article in 2011 about an immigrant from Africa, said in an email that Coulter “grossly misrepresents my writing” and that his article “substantiates none of her despicable stances on Trump’s child hostages.”

“My article illustrates the complexities of the asylum system,” Mehta wrote, “and how even those with a legitimate claim to asylum are forced to create or embellish narratives that will satisfy the whims of a broken system.”

On Tuesday, the filmmaker Judd Apatow implored those working for Fox’s entertainment companies to condemn Fox News for how it was handling the border debate.

“If EVERY Fox Star and show runner said this policy was evil and protested to the Murdoch family it would make a huge difference in this national debate,” he tweeted.

MacFarlane weighed in soon thereafter, criticizing Carlson. Adam Scott, the star of the Fox comedy “Ghosted,” said he was “disgusted by @FoxNews and their support for & blatant lying about state-sponsored child abuse.”

Levitan, the “Modern Family” creator, said there were many people at the TV studio who shared his concerns with Fox News “but aren’t in the position to speak out.”

He said he had “no problem” with The Wall Street Journal, another Murdoch-owned property, but added that “@FoxNew’s 23-hour-a-day support of the NRA, conspiracy theories and Trump’s lies gets harder to swallow every day as I drive onto that lot to make a show about inclusion.”

Levitan then said he would leave Fox’s TV studio; he later clarified that he would “take some time” to decide whether to stay. The brewing enmity between Fox’s generally left-leaning entertainment talent and Fox News could create even further fallout during what is already an uncertain time at the studio. Ryan Murphy left Fox earlier this year for a $300 million contract with Netflix, in part because of the uncertainty created by the 21st Century Fox sale.

The future of the company’s top executives is also in some doubt. Fox’s TV studio heads, Dana Walden and Gary Newman, both have agreed to stay at the company in the short term but it is not certain whether either would continue to work at the studio under new ownership.