Fox chief hits back as absent Trump soars in TV debate
A Saudi billionaire who is part-owner of Fox News has hit back at criticism from Donald Trump, reminding the Republican frontrunner that he saved him from financial ruin on two occasions.
Mr Trump posted an image on his Twitter account showing Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns the Fox News network, standing alongside news anchor Megyn Kelly and a woman in a niqab who was described as the prince's sister.
Prince Alwaleed hit back hours later, saying the image of his sister had been photoshopped and claimed he had bailed out the property mogul several times.
"Trump: You base your statements on photoshopped pics? I bailed you out twice; a 3rd time, maybe?" Prince Alwaleed tweeted.
The prince - who is also the world's 38th richest man - is famously liberal, running a business empire involving mixed offices, a rarity in conservative Saudi Arabia.
The billionaire helped Mr Trump plug debts back in 1991 by purchasing his yacht, 'Trump Princess', for £196m. Four years later, he bought a majority stake in the Plaza Hotel as Trump was sinking into bankruptcy.
During a brief interview on his plane in Des Moines, Iowa, Mr Trump told reporters that Prince Alwaleed was the one who needed financial bailouts and said he had never liked the royal. Seconds later, he admitted the two had never met.
Republican candidates have traditionally needed the backing of Fox News to win the party's nomination for the presidency.
Mr Trump, by contrast, is seeking victory without it, and experts say he is making calculated attacks on the media empire in an attempt to burnish his credentials as the party's anti-establishment candidate.
Anti-Muslim sentiment has also been a repeated theme of Mr Trump's campaign. In December, he called on Muslims to be banned from the US after 14 people were killed in an Isil-inspired terrorist attack in California.
Trump appeared to be the big winner across social media during the seventh Republican presidential debate - despite his absence.
In all, he commanded 36pc of the Twitter traffic during the debate, according to the social media company.
He tweeted: "Great Twitter poll - and I wasn't even there. Thank you!"
He was also the most searched-for candidate on Google during the debate, according to data supplied by the search engine, which co-sponsored the event with Fox News.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also gained traction on Google.
After Fox News issued a sarcastic news release about the contretemps with their host, Trump organised and then hosted his own event in Des Moines, a fundraiser for veterans. He was rewarded with positive social media buzz.
Not long after he took the stage at his event at Drake University, a group of protesters chanted loudly.
Trump responded: "I love the protesters in the big arena because the cameras [don't move away from] my face."
That quip won him praise on social media, and his Twitter sentiment measured largely positive during the event, according to social media analytics firm Zoomph.
"An unbelievable night in Iowa with our great Veterans!" Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) tweeted on Thursday. "We raised $6,000,000.00 while the politicians talked!"
However, he failed to garner as much attention on Twitter as the last time he was on a debate stage. According to Brandwatch, Trump received roughly 130,000 Twitter mentions during the debate. This marked a roughly 40,000-tweet decline from the previous debate which he attended.
While Trump led the field in terms of mentions, Yik Yak, a location-based mobile app popular with millennials, said yesterday that Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky had the highest approval rating with app users, at 73.6pc. At the debate, Cruz came out swinging against Trump in his initial comments, mocking the tycoon's penchant for brash criticism.
"I'm a maniac, and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly," joked Cruz, in an effort to, as he put it, get "the Donald Trump portion" of the programme out of the way.
Cruz's joke became one of the standout moments in the first half of the debate, gaining momentum on Twitter among news outlets and average Twitter users. The debate moved on to discussion of substantive issues. Foreign affairs, national security, immigration, reproductive rights and healthcare were the most tweeted-about topics.
But no one appeared to emerge as a central challenger to Trump during the two-hour face-off in Des Moines. And Trump's refusal to participate in the debate out of anger that Kelly was a moderator prompted a flurry of last-minute phone calls with Fox News chairman Roger Ailes that failed to resolve their dispute.
A Fox News statement said Trump requested Fox contribute $5m to his charities in exchange for his attendance, which the network turned down. The debate was the type of event Republicans would routinely have without Trump on stage, and it lacked the electricity he brings to the party's search for a nominee for the November 8 election.
Without Trump, Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie found themselves with more room to make their case to voters seeking a mainstream candidate. Both men have an eye on the February 9 first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, which comes on the heels of the Iowa caucuses on Monday and where an establishment Republican might have a better chance of standing out. (© Daily Telegraph, London, and agencies)