Roger Ailes apparently objects to staffers having family ties to the public figures they cover -- at least when those public figures happen to be Democrats.
According to New York magazine's blockbuster profile, the Fox News boss was upset that one of his executives -- whose brother was serving as an Obama foreign policy adviser -- was too close to the incoming administration:
Then, three weeks after the election, David Rhodes, Fox's vice-president for news, quit to work for Bloomberg. Rhodes had started at Fox as a 22-year-old production assistant and risen through the ranks to become No. 2 in charge of news. His brother was a senior foreign-policy aide to Obama, and Rhodes told staffers that Ailes had expressed concern about this closeness to the White House. Rhodes privately told people he was uncomfortable with where Fox was going in the Obama era.
That story may seem surprising to anyone who remembers the 2000 presidential election. Back then, Ailes seemed to have no problem with John Ellis -- who happened to be a vocal supporter of his cousin, George W. Bush -- leading Fox News' "decision desk." It was Ellis and his team who made the election night recommendation to call Florida (and, therefore, the election) for Bush -- a decision Fox would ultimately have to retract. At the same time, Ellis was using his position at Fox to feed information to the Bush campaign.
As Howard Kurtz reported at the time:
Even as he was leading the Fox decision desk that night, John Ellis was also on the phone with his cousins--"Jebbie," the governor of Florida, and the presidential candidate himself--giving them updated assessments of the vote count.
Ellis's projection was crucial because Fox News Channel put Florida in the W. column at 2:16 a.m.--followed by NBC, CBS, CNN and ABC within four minutes. That decision, which turned out to be wrong and was retracted by the embarrassed networks less than two hours later, created the impression that Bush had "won" the White House.
Which is why media circles were buzzing yesterday with the question of why Fox had installed a Bush relative in such a sensitive post.
Ellis, who lives in Irvington, N.Y., was among those briefing Fox News President Roger Ailes last Tuesday night, but he was not a total Bush loyalist. At 7:52 p.m., Fox called Florida for Al Gore based on Ellis's recommendation, though Fox was not the first to make that projection. After Fox's report, according to the New Yorker, Jeb Bush called and asked Ellis: "Are you sure?"
The Gore call, based heavily on exit polls from Voter News Service, also turned out to be wrong and was retracted by the networks two hours later.
At 2 a.m., Ellis called his cousins to say it was "statistically impossible" for Gore to win Florida. "Their mood was up, big-time," Ellis told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer. "It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth--me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other the president-elect. Now that was cool."
Today, Media Matters released emails obtained from a Fox News source, showing Washington managing editor Bill Sammon directing staff not to use the phrase "public option" when discussing health care reform legislation. The emails, which were sent during the height of the health care debate, echoed Republican pollster Frank Luntz's appearance on Hannity where he encouraged host Sean Hannity not to use "public option," but instead use the term "government option" because "if you call it the 'government option,' the public is overwhelmingly against it."
It is not the first time that Media Matters obtained leaked Fox News documents that paint a picture of network management attempting to slant the news toward the right (and often succeeding.)
As the then two-month-old Media Matters noted on July 14, 2004, just months before the 2004 election:
As The Washington Post reported on July 11, [documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald's new film Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism] features "a handful of memos from a top FOX executive that appear to suggest tilting the news." Media Matters for America has analyzed 33 such internal FOX memos, issued by FOX News Senior Vice President, News Editorial John Moody and Los Angeles Bureau Chief Ken LaCoste between May 9 and June 3, 2003 and March 12 and May 5, 2004.
In the memos, some of which appear in Outfoxed, Moody instructs employees on the approach to take on particular stories. His instructions reflect a clear interest in furthering a conservative agenda and in supporting the Bush administration. The Post quoted Larry Johnson, identified by the paper as "a former part-time Fox commentator who appears in the film," describing the Moody memos as "talking points instructing us what the themes are supposed to be, and God help you if you stray." On July 13, Salon.com reviewed the film, and provided "some of the most notable excerpts" from the memos, referred to as "marching orders" by Jon DuPre, whom Salon identifies as "formerly of Fox News."
Some highlights from the leaked memos that Media Matters analyzed at the time (emphasis added):
Moody on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal:
[T]he pictures from Abu Graeb [sic] prison are disturbing. They have rightly provoked outrage. Today we have a picture -- aired on Al Arabiya -- of an American hostage being held with a scarf over his eyes, clearly against his will. Who's outraged on his behalf? It is important that we keep the Abu Graeb [sic] situation in perspective (5/5/04).
Moody on abortion:
[Le]t's spend a good deal of time on the battle over judicial nominations, which [th]e President will address this morning. Nominees who both sides admit are [qu]alified are being held up because of their POSSIBLE, not demonstrated, views [on] one issue -- abortion. This should be a trademark issue for FNC today and in [th]e days to come (5/9/03).
Two style notes: [Eric Ru]dolph is charged with bombing an abortion clinic, not a "health clinic." ...[TO]DAY'S HEARING IS NOT AN ARRAIGNMENT. IT IS AN INITIAL HEARING (6/2/03).
Moody on the 9/11 Commission:
The so-called 9/11 commission has already been meeting. In fact, this is its eighth session. The fact that former Clinton and both frmer [sic] and current Bush administration officials are testifying gives it a certain tension, but this is not "what did he know and when did he know it" stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate. Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let's not desecrate that (3/23/04).
Remember that while there are obvious political implications for Bush, the commission is looking at eight years of the Clinton Administration versus eight months (the time prior to 9/11 that Bush was in office) for the incumbent (3/24/04).
There's a lot more to read in this one. Be sure to jump back in time a bit and check out Media Matters' original research on the subject here.
Don't forget, Media Matters has also launched firstname.lastname@example.org, an email address where conscientious Fox News employees can anonymously send evidence of their employer's complete disregard for journalism.