Wannabe kingmaker Roger Ailes is facing an open revolt.
More and more despondent conservatives are expressing alarm over the unfolding Republican primary season and what they see as the party's dwindling chances of defeating President Obama in November. Spooked at the general elections prospects facing frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (especially Gingrich), members of the so-called Republican Establishment seem to want to reboot the election season and try their nominating luck again.
Sorry, it's too late.
If the current state of concern transforms into a larger, enveloping blame game, Fox News chairman Ailes ought be a looming target. True, conservatives in recent years have shown virtually no interest in critiquing, let alone trying to reign in, Ailes' empire. Still, it's becoming increasingly clear that Fox's programming and the radical, fear-based agenda it's setting for Republicans is now doing lasting damage to the Grand Old Party.
That's because Fox News isn't simply offering a rightward take on the day's events, or innocently providing Republican-friendly commentary, of course. It's leading an exhausting, day-in, day-out attack campaign against Obama, Democrats and all their liberal allies. (Real or imagined.) Its relentless, paranoid crusade falls well outside the mainstream of American politics, which is why the Republican primary season, so proudly sponsored by Fox News, is shaping up to be such an embarrassment.
Make no mistake, kingmaker Ailes has made sure his channel's profoundly un-serious stamp permeates this year's GOP contest. For more and more spooked Republicans though, it's a stamp of failure and looming defeat.
For Ailes and company, that slash-and-burn formula works wonders in terms of super-serving its hardcore, hard-right audience of three million viewers. But in terms of supporting a serious, national campaign and a serious, national conversation? It's not working. At all.
"This is the most humble day of my life."
That's how Rupert Murdoch began his July 20 testimony to Parliament about the phone hacking and bribery scandal that had already resulted in the resignations and arrests of key News Corp. officials.
Murdoch's son, James, was equally contrite. "I would like to say as well just how sorry I am and how sorry we are, to particularly the victims of illegal voicemail interceptions and to their families," he told the committee. "It is a matter of great regret to me, my father and everyone at News Corporation. These actions do not live up to the standards that our company aspires to everywhere around the world."
The story had begun spiraling out of Rupert Murdoch's control two weeks earlier, when the Guardian reported allegations that employees of Murdoch's London tabloid News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone voicemails of a British schoolgirl who had gone missing, and who was later found dead.
"I cannot think what was going through the minds of the people who did this. That they could hack into anyone's phone is disgraceful," lamented Prime Minister David Cameron as the scandal quickly engulfed the U.K., and spread throughout Murdoch's global media reach. "But to hack into the phone of Milly Dowler, a young girl missing from her parents, who was later found to be murdered, is truly despicable."
Allegations of phone hacking within Murdoch's newspapers had been simmering for years in the U.K., and News Corp. had been forced to make public apologies for the systematic invasions of privacy, often sponsored by News of the World and targeting celebrities, athletes and members of the royal family.
And while parts of the Dowler story have since been called into question, News Corp. agreed to pay her family 2 million pounds, and Murdoch himself delivered an apology in person. Moreover, the story set off a cascade of damning revelations that have continued to this day.
Evidence quickly tumbled out indicating the hacking been widespread, and that multiple, high-ranking executives had known about the intrusions. That meant previous explanations to Parliament, when Murdoch managers claimed the crimes had been limited, had been misleading at best. At worst, Murdoch chiefs lied to lawmakers in an effort to cover-up massive wrongdoing.
For years, Media Matters has documented the stream of purposeful misinformation that flows from Murdoch's American properties, most notably Fox News, where the misinformation has taken an epic turn for the worse under President Obama. Yet the corporate spectacle on display this year is even more troubling. This has been Murdoch overseeing a corrupt enterprise and one whose transgressions extend well beyond tapping into phone messages.
And for that dubious distinction, as well as for starring in a media unraveling that has attracted multiple police and government investigations on several continents, Rupert Murdoch and his international media behemoth are the recipients of this year's Misinformer of the Year award.
The precarious state of the Republican primary season continues to draw much media chatter, as the party faithful seem to lurch from one imploding candidate to the next. Now, with Clinton-era player Newt Gingrich suddenly vaulting to the top of the polls, even conservatives are acknowledging what a wreck the season may turn out to be. Today, CNN's Erick Erickson posted a lament at RedState today about the possible GOP "suicide pact" that's emerging as voters in Iowa prepare to cast ballots in three weeks.
If Erickson and his colleagues are searching for their Dr. Kevorkian, I'd suggest they look no further than Fox News, which, as The New York Times noted this week, "practically owns and operates" the Republican primary.
Here's why Fox News is to blame. From a Yahoo News report this month [emphasis added]:
Recent polling data indicates that while the president suffers from significantly low job approval ratings, voters still give "high approval" to Obama personally, Thompson said.
Voters "don't think he's an evil man who's out to change the United States" for the worse--even though many of the same survey respondents agree that his policies have harmed the country, [Nicholas] Thompson said. The upshot, Thompson stressed, is that Republicans should "exercise some caution" when talking about the president personally.
Thompson is a vice president at the Terrance Group, a national Republican polling and research firm.
Interesting. Counseling Republicans for the upcoming election year, strategists note that Obama is still personally well liked by voters who don't see him as a radical or destructive figure in U.S. politics.
But is that what you see and hear on Fox News day in and day out? Of course not. Instead, Fox News caters to the most devoted of Obama haters who tune in and expect to be reminded, during any random ten or fifteen minute viewing, about how appalling and disliked and dangerous and untrustworthy and traitorous Obama is, and what a perilous threat he poses to American liberty and freedom.
That's the Fox News programming m.o. - to sell fear and maintain a pressing dread that viewers' way of life remains under constant attack from un-American liberals. And in terms of niche cable television, the strategy works.
But now that Fox News has moved in and essentially replaced the RNC as the driving electoral force in Republican politics today, and now that Roger Ailes is playing kingmaker and candidates have to bow down to Fox News hosts in search of votes, campaigns are being forced to become part of the channel's unhinged culture of personal destruction.
The GOP problem for 2012? Voters "don't think [Obama's] an evil man who's out to change the United States."
Note to Republican candidates: If you want to survive through to the primaries do not become the object of Fox News' affection. That seems to be the kiss of death in this year's TV-driven campaign season.
Remember, as Media Matters recently detailed, between June and November this year Cain logged an astounding 69 appearances on Fox, totaling more than ten hours of airtime, as the channel gladly powered his campaign for months at a time. Free of charge. But now his run seems to be all but over.
Not to mention Fox News' other disappointments; the possible candidates who the channel relentlessly hyped and pleaded with to run (Chris Christie, Sarah Palin), only to have them beg off, leaving Ailes' crew crest-fallen.
The futile search for the Fox News Candidate of 2012 continues.
UPDATED: Making matters worse for Ailes and company, out on the campaign trail this week former Fox News pundit Newt Gingrich ridiculed his old employer, telling voters "One of the real changes that comes when you start running for president - as opposed to being an analyst on Fox - is I have to actually know what I'm talking about."
When pollsters and academics single out Fox News viewers and try to determine what they know, or don't know, as compared to other media consumers, the results tend to be embarrassing. (See here, here, here, here, and here.) Then again, that's what happens when a national cable news channel with vast resources devotes itself to misinformation.....it misinforms people.
A new report from Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind Poll continues the awkward Fox News trend, and adds a new twist -- Fox News viewers are less informed than people who don't watch any television news.
From PublicMind Poll, which surveyed adults in New Jersey:
Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who they don't watch any news at all.
Here's an example of how consumers who don't turn to TV news at all are more informed than consumers who regularly tune into Fox [emphasis added]:
But the real finding is that the results depend on what media sources people turn to for their news. For example, people who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all (after controlling for other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors).
Fairleigh Dickinson political science professor Dan Cassino stresses that because of the survey controls that were implemented, it's not true that Republicans in general were uninformed about current events. But rather it was specifically Fox viewers who scored poorly. "The results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don't watch any news at all," he said.
The good news for Roger Ailes? Fox's misinformation is definitely working. The bad news? With survey results like this, Fox becomes the butt of more jokes.
Unfortunately for Fox Business Network, people can't watch two Fox News Channels at the same time.
On Monday, Reuters reported on a memo with the subject line "Fox News and Fox Business" sent to Fox Business staff by the network's executive vice president, Kevin Magee. Following a meeting with Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, Magee told his staff that he had "been asked to remind you all again that they are separate channels and the more we make FBN look like FNC the more of a disservice we do to ourselves."
According to Reuters -- which noted that despite a large initial investment and high hopes of eventually overtaking CNBC, FBN's ratings are still lagging -- Magee also told staff, "if we give the audience a choice between FNC and the almost-FNC, they will choose FNC every time. Earnings, taxes, jobs etc give us PLENTY to chew on."
This is a particularly important time for Fox Business to appear at least vaguely credible as a business news venture. As Media Matters documented earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal's current arrangement with CNBC -- wherein CNBC reportedly receives advanced access to certain original financial reporting from WSJ and all Dow Jones business outlets as well as other perks -- expires in 2012.
While many observers assumed that Fox Business would inevitably form a partnership with WSJ once the CNBC deal expired -- News Corp. owns both Fox and the WSJ -- Journal managing editor Robert Thomson told Media Matters that partnering with FBN would "not necessarily" happen.
The president of the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, which represents 1,500 Dow Jones employees, including many at the Journal, expressed to Media Matters that, "by and large, reporters at the Journal do not like being associated in the minds of news sources or news subjects with Fox News."
The concerns of Journal reporters and FBN's VP are well-founded. Aside from just sharing the Fox name, FBN and FNC often mirror each other, covering the same stories in the same ways, with a lot the same on-air talent.
Three FBN hosts (Eric Bolling, David Asman and Neil Cavuto) also host shows on Fox News, and a fourth (Andrew Napolitano) regularly guests on Fox News and fills in there as a host. Various other FBN personalities, including the "very clearly partisan" host Stuart Varney -- who spent much of 2010 openly rooting for Republican electoral victories on Fox's airwaves -- are fixtures on Fox News as well.
Discussing FBN, a source told Reuters that "it's obvious they don't cover enough financial news." While FBN does devote a lot of their airtime to covering economic stories and issues, their programming, specifically during primetime, frequently veers into subject matter that is hardly related to business or the economy. (For example, it's hard to connect the dots as to how Obama's birth certificate or the "Ground Zero Mosque" have an influence on "earnings, taxes, jobs," but the network has devoted time to both.)
Often, Fox Business Network seems like their top concern is promoting conservative politics, rather than covering the economy.
Right-wing media figures are marking today's 1,000th day of the Obama administration by using a 2009 comment by President Obama to reinforce the right-wing talking point that he has failed to improve the economy. This latest right-wing attempt against Obama continues a historic campaign to bring down his administration; however, economic experts agree that the economy would be much worse without Obama administration policies.
Ending months of speculation, Sarah Palin announced yesterday that she will not be seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2012 (or, as Fox Nation put it, "Palin Passes On Presidency"). The announcement also puts an end to one of the more ethically dubious media spectacles in recent memory, as both Palin and her employer Fox News spent the past year mutually benefiting from stoking speculation that she may run for president.
Last September, Politico reporters Jonathan Martin and Keach Hagey laid out the complicated ethical issues inherent in Fox News employing a stable of potential presidential candidates. Martin and Hagey reported that Fox had emailed them and "indicated that once any of the candidates declares for the presidency he or she will have to sever the deal with the network." They went on to note that "it's such a lucrative and powerful pulpit that Palin, Gingrich, Santorum and Huckabee have every reason to delay formal announcements and stay on contract for as long as they can."
While Hagey and Martin were suggesting that Fox's potential candidates would attempt to stay on contract as long as possible in order to bolster their eventual presidential runs, there's a flipside to Fox's lax guidelines that we saw borne out with Palin. Even people who weren't planning on running would be well-served to delay any formal announcement in order to benefit from the publicity lavished upon possible presidential candidates.
Obviously, had Fox suspended all of its employee-candidates pending their decision, this would never have been an issue. But the network, like Palin, greatly benefited from speculation about Palin's potential candidacy.
In a recent interview, Fox News chief Roger Ailes told the Associated Press that he "hired Sarah Palin because she was hot and got ratings." Ailes' remark has been interpreted as him suggesting that Palin's looks were a factor in her hiring. Whether or not that's the case, Ailes has previously said he's considered whether a woman is "attractive" enough for on-air work.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren defended her boss' comment in a post on her blog. Susteren claimed that Ailes remarks were being misinterpreted and that "his use of the term 'hot' was not meant in a cheap way but rather to describe how everyone in the TV business after the 2008 election was trying to hire the Governor":
I know all the Fox critics will seize on the word "hot" (see below) and accuse Roger of all sorts of things. It will be a field day for the critics - Roger Ailes, Fox News Channel, Governor Palin and the word hot! But if you know Roger and how he wants his cable news network to be and continue to be the most successful (and it is and has been for a long time), you know his use of the term "hot" was not meant in a cheap way but rather to describe how everyone in the TV business after the 2008 election was trying to hire the Governor. TV execs in every network knew she would get the viewers. Yes, she was hot - just as you might describe the new iPhone! (I am sure that comparison to the new iPHone will generate some criticism or discussion.)
When you sought after by all in business, you are hot. I remember after the 2008 election hearing about a bidding war for her among all the networks. In this business, or in any business or sport, when you are part of a bidding war, you are hot...real hot!
If Roger were using the term hot in that 'other way,' and looking to hire that kind of hot, I assure you, he could have hired someone that kind of hot for 1/5 the price of Governor Palin and Roger does watch the bottom line.
Do I think for one second anyone who is a Fox critic or a Roger Ailes critic will believe me? No, of course not. For some people, facts don't matter - it is about who's side are you on Do I care that no one will believe? No, not particularly. And am I posting this to schmooze Roger ? Nope..I have a long term term contract. I don't have to schmooze. (And if you know me, it isn't my personality.) So why bother to post it? I guess some times you just think stuff is so stupid and will be taken out of context and you want to correct it. Sometimes I ignore it, sometimes I don't.
In a January 2011 interview with Esquire's Tom Junod, Ailes said of reporter Amy Kellogg (who graduated with a masters from Stanford and previously held jobs with several television stations before landing at Fox News):
Amy Kellogg came in [looking for a job] and said they thought she looked terrible and we couldn't put her on. She had glasses or something, she had the wrong hair, she had no makeup, she had funny clothes, and I saw through all of it and I said, "Amy, you're very attractive. Do you mind me sending you down to makeup? Let's see if we can do a little work with you." And she said, "No, not at all." Now she's a great, terrific foreign correspondent for us.
From the October 2 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources
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In a Newsweek article titled "Roger's Reality Show," Howard Kurtz wrote that Fox executives acknowledge that the news channel "took a hard right turn." This admission confirms what has long been clear: that Fox's news division has been slanted.
From the September 27 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the September 27 edition of Fox Business' Imus in the Morning:
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During the week of September 12, Fox's "straight news" division launched a weeklong attack on government regulations, including child labor, workplace safety, and civil rights laws. Fox's war on regulation, which mirrors Republican talking points, has now been revealed to be the brainchild of Fox News president Roger Ailes.
Responding to a inquiry from The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz, Roger Ailes confessed his networks' position within the political echo system. "Every other network has given all their shows to liberals," said the Fox News chief. "We are the balance."
The metamorphosis from "Fair and Balanced" to "we are the balance" is a significant admission that extends beyond simply dropping a "d." Ailes publicly embraces the misguided and long-held conservative lore that the entire mainstream media is reporting from the left. Fox's version of "balance" -- according to its president -- isn't to provide its viewers with an equal hearing of all sides. Rather, Fox's purpose is to supply right-wing bias to correct what it (wrongly) perceives to be an error in the media cosmos.
Apparently in pursuit of Ailes' version of balance, he confesses that Fox News promotes his own blend conservative ideology. It was Ailes, according to Kurtz, who "cooked up" Fox's recent Regulation Nation series. Ailes tells Kurtz that he thinks "regulations are totally out of control":
Ailes raises a Fox initiative that he cooked up: "Are our producers on board on this 'Regulation Nation' stuff? Are they ginned up and ready to go?" Ailes, who claims to be "hands off" in developing the series, later boasts that "no other network will cover that subject ... I think regulations are totally out of control," he adds, with bureaucrats hiring Ph.D.s to "sit in the basement and draw up regulations to try to ruin your life." It is a message his troops cannot miss.
This series just happened to be perfectly inline with the Republican Party's message of the week.
How do you run afoul of the network boss? By unbalancing the network and not reporting from a conservative point of view: "Ailes keeps a wary eye on anchor Shepard Smith, who occasionally backs aspects of the Obama record: 'Every once in a while Shep Smith gets out there where the buses don't run and we have a friendly talk.' "
As for the network's involvement in the Republican Primary? Some expressed surprise that Fox hasn't taken sides, crediting the network for its newfound neutrality. They quickly forget Ailes failed to recruit his preferred candidate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, into the race. Now Ailes knows his power is based on Fox's perceived neutrality between Republican candidates. Each of the top Republican contenders made a pilgrimage to kiss their Svengali's ring. Ailes now sits in the middle, with each member of the field knowing that Fox's audience will ultimately pick the Republican who will face off against President Obama.
When the primary contest ends, nobody should be surprised when the network returns to its war on Obama. When the network does, remember Ailes' confessions:
1. - Balance is not providing viewers with the conservative and progressive point of view, instead it is about balancing the phony notion of liberal bias in the mainstream media.
2. - Ailes' narrow ideological leanings create major portions of network coverage such as its "Regulation Nation" series, where Fox personalities -- among other things -- spoke out against child labor laws.
3. - Providing any balanced coverage earns you a sharp rebuke from the boss for getting "out there where the buses don't run."