The Mis-Casting of Hope Hicks as Fox Communications Director
There’s a difference between sizzle and substance. Fox ignores that at its peril.
There was a certain irony in the news that broke Monday, that Hope Hicks will become executive vp and head of corporate communications for the new Fox once it is untangled from the current Disney/Fox merger. In fact, ironies abounded, though they were probably lost on Hicks herself.
For one thing, a major media organization’s chief spokesperson will now be the woman whose last job was defending the coiner of “Fake News.”
For another, a woman who admitted telling “white lies,” when asked about her White House work by the House Intelligence Committee, will be Fox’s most prominent mouthpiece.
For a third, a person who was sued by a handful of plaintiffs for violating their First Amendment rights (she was accused of helping block them from Donald Trump’s Twitter account) will be the spokesperson for a company whose existence depends on the First Amendment, even when it seems more like a Trump apologist than antagonist.
All this may come as no surprise to Fox bashers, as anyone following Twitter could tell. News of the former White House communications chief’s upcoming job resulted in an avalanche of negative responses.
“Is Hope Hicks going from the White House to Fox considered moving jobs?” one cynic tweeted. Quipped another: “She admitted to lying for Trump in her last job, so she’s perfectly qualified to lie for Trump in her new job.”
For those used to dealing with corporate spokespeople, who’ve followed their travails as they confront a panoply of issues that go far beyond excusing their bosses, her hire was eyebrow-raising, to say the least.
In an internal memo, Fox told its staffers: “Hope most recently served as White House Communications Director and Director of Strategic Communications for U.S. President Donald Trump. In these roles, she oversaw the administration’s communications strategy and led a team responsible for creating and coordinating key messages relating to economic issues, domestic policies and international affairs.”
“Coordinating key messages” seems almost farcical given Trump’s mastery of the tweet and Hicks’ inability to rein him in. At one point, she reportedly attempted to organize a “tweet committee” that would vet anything he wrote before he hit “send.” That fizzled before it was seriously considered.
And yet her closeness to Trump is considered her greatest credential. “Her most important role [in the White House was] her bond with the candidate,” Paul Manafort, not the most stellar of witnesses, told The New York Times in 2016. “She totally understands him.”
This may be reassuring for her new employers, who’ve dealt with enough personal crises — the Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly scandals, the British telephone hacking — that they may wish for a hand-holder of their own; but Hicks won’t just be switching one boss for another (or rather, two others: Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan). She will be at the forefront of helping their company navigate a host of government regulations; working with stockholders; liaising with the Fox board; tackling matters of international diplomacy; and, of course, dealing with the inevitable future scandals that might tarnish Fox News — part of the new company, along with Fox Broadcasting, TV and Sports. For all this, she seems woefully unqualified.
Media companies today are not only trying to figure out the complexities of the internet age but also facing some of the most daunting challenges in their history — from hacking to piracy to diversity to sexism to racism and ageism, along with a fleet of other issues that require enormous sensitivity to shareholders, the public and societal change. Many have turned to Washington hands for help: Zenia Mucha worked for New York Gov. George Pataki before joining ABC and Disney; Obama press secretary Jay Carney now reps Amazon. Warner Bros. — under another former White House spokesman, executive vp Dee Dee Myers, who served in the Clinton administration — recently announced a significant new diversity push; other companies are hiring political and nonprofit experts to map out this uncharted terrain. But it’s hard to imagine Hicks having the faintest notion where to start, let alone doing so with conviction.
How does a woman so closely connected to an anti-immigrant, anti-diversity and gender-purblind president transform herself into an avatar of change?
Originally a low-level staffer with Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, Hicks, 29, moved from there to Donald Trump’s real-estate operations before joining his campaign. Admittedly, she had a modicum of public relations experience: She’d spent three years working for Matthew Hiltzik, the former Miramax Films senior vp who now has his own company; and her dad, a longtime public relations executive, is managing director of the Washington-based communications firm Glover Park Group.
Despite that, the Times wrote in 2016: “She is arguably the least credentialed press secretary in the modern history of presidential politics.”
Two years later, Hicks has run the Washington gauntlet. She’s dealt with crises public and private, from allegations of Trump’s affairs to his spats with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un; from an excruciating Access Hollywood audiotape to Trump’s blasts at Mika Brzezinski. Only Trump knows how much savvy she showed through all this; but the public knows she showed very little when it came to defending White House staff secretary Rob Porter, following allegations he had been abusive to his two ex-wives. When it emerged that she and Porter had been having an affair, she resigned her White House post, exiting on March 29.
All this might add up to a useful résumé for a crisis-PR firm like Los Angeles’ Sitrick & Co. But it doesn’t in any way prepare her to represent a major media corporation at a time of enormous upheaval. Hiring her was a mistake. In selecting her as one of their first key employees, the Murdochs have sent an unfortunate message to the world: that the new Fox is nowhere near as impressive as the old, even if it’s just as politically conservative.