Shortly before the disgraced and ousted Fox News founder and CEO passed away earlier this month, he had reached out to President Donald Trump’s chief strategist to join him in launching what he hoped would be the next right-wing media empire, The Daily Beast can confirm.
On Wednesday morning, Axios first reported on that in “his final days, Ailes sent a message to Steve Bannon in the White House that he'd love to team up on a new conservative media powerhouse”—a news and commentary entity that would ideally outflank Fox News from the right.
Since his ouster amid sexual-harassment allegations and scandal, Ailes had felt his former network—which he masterminded and perfected as a conservative messaging operation—had drifted too far left and politically correct for his comfort.
But Bannon had “no desire to leave the White House. So Ailes' last big idea remained just that,” according to Axios’ Mike Allen.
Two sources with direct knowledge of this discussion between Ailes and Bannon told The Daily Beast that Bannon was indeed interested in the ambitious project and flattered by Ailes’s outreach, but elected to stay working in the West Wing for the time being.
According to one source familiar with the preliminary plans, Ailes had wished for Bannon to join him as an equal partner—or at least one of his top lieutenants—in getting the potential comeback and dream project off the ground. To an extent, Ailes wanted Bannon to also serve in some capacity as a news director of the right-wing media entity, which Ailes envisioned as a TV, radio, online, and multimedia empire shortly before his death.
Another source jokingly referred to the unrealized project as what could have been “Bannon TV.”
"It would have been wild," the source added.
“[Bannon]’s loyal to the president and is passionate about his work serving his administration,” another source said, regarding Bannon’s decision to at the time stay in the Trump White House.
Over the years, Bannon—who previously led the influential right-wing, pro-Trump outlet Breitbart—maintained a close relationship with the late Fox News architect.
According to Politico, Bannon had previously worked, and directly coordinated, with Ailes and his team to try to discredit and undermine Ailes’s enemies, including journalist Gabriel Sherman. Bannon, as is his professional and personal style, advised Ailes to completely “go to war.” Furthermore, Bannon had a cozy on-air relationship with Fox News, which covered and boosted his conservative documentaries.
However, Politico also reported last month that Bannon said that Breitbart’s relationship with Fox began to sour after former Fox News host Megyn Kelly grilled candidate Trump during an early GOP primary debate.
“The big rift between Breitbart and Fox was all over Megyn Kelly. She was all over Trump nonstop,” Bannon recalled. “I told [Ailes] then, I said, ‘She’s the devil, and she will turn on you.’”
In a way, Bannon’s assessment wasn’t wrong about Kelly’s loyalties. Her allegations of sexual harassment significantly contributed to Ailes’s downfall and has left Fox in her rearview mirror on her way to NBC stardom. Since at least July 2016, Bannon had been warning of Kelly’s “insatiable ascent,” dubbing her the “‘Eve Harrington’ of Fox News” at his flagship Breitbart.