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 That decision, which turned out to be wrong and was retracted by the embarrassed networks less than two hours later, created the impression that Bush had "won" the White House.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."
After New York magazine reported that Fox News president Roger Ailes thinks Sarah Palin is an "idiot," Fox issued a prickly denial. Fox News vice president of programming Bill Shine gave this statement on the matter to The New York Times:
"I know for a fact that Roger Ailes admires and respects Sarah Palin and thinks she is smart. He also believes many members of the left-wing media are extremely terrified and threatened by her. Despite a massive effort to destroy Sarah Palin, she is still on her feet and making a difference in the political world. As for the 'Republican close to Ailes' for which the incorrect Palin quote is attributed, when Roger figures out who that is, I guarantee you he or she will no longer be 'close to Ailes.' "
This quote drew a good deal of attention, given that, as a Fox News contributor, Palin is Ailes' employee. But from a journalistic standpoint, another point in the story is even more noteworthy. New York also reported that Ailes recently "encouraged" Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) to "jump into" the presidential race.
This illustrates a stunning level of political activism from the head of what is purportedly a newsgathering operation. Imagine how conservatives would react if it were reported that Ailes' analogue at ABC News, Ben Sherwood, had pressured a prominent Democrat to challenge Obama in a primary.
Despite the damage this reporting does to the charade about Fox News being "fair and balanced," Fox hasn't seen fit to deny these aspects of New York's article. Media Matters' calls to Fox News for comment were not returned.
If Fox isn't willing to dispute this report, that goes a long way toward settling the matter officially: Fox News isn't news. It's GOP political activism.
So much for the old saying about there being no such thing as bad press. Fox News this week continues to take a pounding at the hands of national, glossy magazines. Earlier this week it was New York magazine detailing the ego-clashing turmoil inside Roger Ailes' shop, and how the network's hard-right Obama hysteria is making it hard for the Republican Party to challenge Obama in 2012.
Now comes an expose from Rolling Stone, "How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory." Heavy on the Ailes biography, the feature details how the former Republican consultant used his partisan background to mold Fox and its "round-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion," turning the so-called news outlet into "one of the most powerful political machines in American history."
Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson notes how Ailes is "deeply paranoid" (he's convinced he's on Al Qaeda's hit list) and recounts this strange tale from the days of Fox News' founding in the 1990's:
Murdoch installed ailes in the corner office on Fox's second floor at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. The location made Ailes queasy: It was close to the street, and he lived in fear that gay activists would try to attack him in retaliation over his hostility to gay rights. (In 1989, Ailes had broken up a protest of a Rudy Giuliani speech by gay activists, grabbing demonstrator by the throat and shoving him out the door.) Barricading himself behind a massive mahogany desk, Ailes insisted on having "bombproof glass" installed in the windows – even going so far as to personally inspect samples of high-tech plexiglass, as though he were picking out new carpet. Looking down on the street below, he expressed his fears to Cooper, the editor he had tasked with up-armoring his office. "They'll be down there protesting," Ailes said. "Those gays."
Media Matters called this long ago when we announced that under the hyper-partisan stewardship of Roger Ailes, Fox News had ceased to function as a news organization and instead had morphed into a purely political entity. Untethered in the age of Obama, Fox News swiftly cut any remaining ties it had with traditional journalism, pushed aside the Republican National Committee, and hurtled head-long into the business of pure attack politics, with the ultimate goal being to retake the White House.
It became Fox News, the Opposition Party. And Roger Ailes, GOP kingmaker. Or so that was the plan.
Now, as Republicans sputter in their attempt to find viable candidates to challenge Obama next year, we're discovering Ailes is an incompetent kingmaker (see, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump), and that unhinged Fox News is completely wrong for the role of the Opposition Party.
Ailes might know cable television and how to foment a constant state of on-the-air panic about Democrats. But his efforts to lead a 2012 electoral charge against Obama appear to be faltering, with election observers suggesting the Republican field of candidates for next year's primary season is embarrassingly thin, as more and more would-be opponents beg off the challenge of taking on Obama.
We'll leave the specifics of 2012 campaign and the candidates to the prognosticators. What's worth noting now, though, is the extraordinary damage Ailes has done to Republican chances next year, and how under his leadership, the conservative movement has chased itself down a very narrow rabbit's hole that only feral Obama-haters can begin to make sense of.
New York magazine nicely captured the state of affairs with this cover line for its recent issue, which featured an Ailes profile:
Fox News Made a Circus Out of the Republican Party. And Boy, Does Roger Ailes Regret It Now
It's become clear that Fox News' radical brand of anti-Obama programming cannot sustain a political movement that needs to attract independent voters for a national campaign. There's no evidence, for instance, that middle-of-the-road voters think Obama "virtually spat in the face" of Israel last week, or that he is a socialist, or a Nazi or a racist.
In other words, they're not nuts.
From the May 25 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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As Media Matters has documented, Glenn Beck has repeatedly pushed the lunatic theory that, based on a 2008 campaign speech by President Obama calling for a "civilian national security force," Obama wants to create "his own army." It now turns out that Beck's current boss at Fox News, Roger Ailes, has reportedly pushed a similar theory, claiming that Obama proposed a "national police force."
Note to Bill Shine, Fox News' executive vice president for programming, stop digging.
Responding to New York magazine's Roger Ailes profile this week about how the Fox News CEO has become a central player in Republican presidential politics, as well as the fact Ailes reportedly thinks Fox contributor Sarah Palin is an "idiot," Shine lashed out out with a statement [emphasis added]:
I know for a fact that Roger Ailes admires and respects Sarah Palin and thinks she is smart. He also believes many members of the left-wing media are extremely terrified and threatened by her. Despite a massive effort to destroy Sarah Palin, she is still on her feet and making a difference in the political world. As for the 'Republican close to Ailes' for which the incorrect Palin quote is attributed, when Roger figures out who that is, I guarantee you he or she will no longer be 'close to Ailes.' "
Read that highlighted part again and try to figure out one word that Palin's publicist would have changed. The point being, legitimate and independent news executives don't talk like this. They don't speak in hyper-partisan language about the evil "left-wing" media being out to destroy helpless Republicans.
But people with the title of "executive vice president for programming" at Fox News certainly do.
New York magazine is out with an extensive profile of Fox News chief Roger Ailes that details the significant role he plays in conservative politics. Furthering the evidence that Fox News is simply a campaign arm of the GOP, the piece quotes an anonymous Republican aide who states that "You can't run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger," and notes that Ailes actively encouraged Republican Governor Chris Christie to run for president. Ailes also apparently doesn't think too highly of his employee, Sarah Palin, who, according to a source close to Ailes, he thinks "is an idiot." From the article:
A few months ago, Ailes called Chris Christie and encouraged him to jump into the race. Last summer, he'd invited Christie to dinner at his upstate compound along with Rush Limbaugh, and like much of the GOP Establishment, he fell hard for Christie, who nevertheless politely turned down Ailes's calls to run. Ailes had also hoped that David Petraeus would run for president, but Petraeus too has decided to sit this election out, choosing to stay on the counterterrorism front lines as the head of Barack Obama's CIA. The truth is, for all the antics that often appear on his network, there is a seriousness that underlies Ailes's own politics. He still speaks almost daily with George H. W. Bush, one of the GOP's last great moderates, and a war hero, which especially impresses Ailes.
All the 2012 candidates know that Ailes is a crucial constituency. "You can't run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger," one GOPer told me. "Every single candidate has consulted with Roger." But he hasn't found any of them, including the adults in the room--Jon Huntsman, Mitch Daniels, Mitt Romney--compelling. "He finds flaws in every one," says a person familiar with his thinking.
"He thinks things are going in a bad direction," another Republican close to Ailes told me. "Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of Obama is a disaster. He thinks Palin is an idiot. He thinks she's stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven't elevated the conservative movement."
The entire article is worth a read and includes revelations that Ailes threatened to quit in 2008 if News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch endorsed Barack Obama, and that Ailes thought that Obama's call for a new civilian corp meant that the president wanted to create a "national police force," a conspiracy theory that Glenn Beck has since adopted.
Check the whole thing out here.
Any claim Fox News has to being a legitimate news organization is premised on the supposed wall that separates their "news" and "opinion" programming.
When Fox execs or network personalities are challenged on the conservative tilt of the network, they often trot out this defense. Writing in October 2009 about the then-blossoming feud between the White House and Fox News, the New York Times' Brian Stelter reported that, "Fox argues that its news hours -- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays -- are objective."
In the article, Fox News senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, is quoted as saying: "The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page."
Special Report anchor Bret Baier spent much of his interview with Jon Stewart last week championing the supposed division between Fox's news and editorial content. Similar to Clemente, Baier said that Fox "respect[s] the viewers' ability to discern the difference" between their news and opinion programming.
The problem, of course, is that the division between the news and opinion programming at Fox is a farce. In addition to regularly promoting dubious stories and supposed scandals that damage liberals or benefit conservatives, Fox's Washington news bureau is run by a political hack.
It's not realistic to think that all journalists are automatons that have no political leanings -- they are human. A problem arises when their politics infect their news coverage, and that's what has clearly happened in Fox News' Washington bureau under the heavy hand of Bill Sammon.
So, for the sake of argument, let's set aside the fact that Sammon has fundraised for conservative groups and organizations. Ignore that he wrote numerous fawning books about the Bush campaigns and administration, which were published by a company that exists to prop up the conservative movement. And pay no attention to his Fox News colleagues saying he is "conservative" and "coming from that point of view."
What matters is whether Sammon lets his political leanings infect his supposed "journalism," and over the course of the past few months, that has become undeniably clear.
Last year, a source with knowledge of the situation at Fox's Washington bureau told Media Matters that Sammon shapes the network's news coverage in an "often brutish way." A separate Fox source told Media Matters that they "keep hearing things from staffers about Sammon," and that "when news is being tampered with, you have to worry."
As evidenced by the series of internal Fox emails Media Matters has released over the past several months, Fox's news is certainly being "tampered with."
Contractually, they're supposed to stay married until December, but the possible breakup between Fox News and Glenn Beck is already getting messy, and going public.
The increasingly pitched battle features a surprising number of leaks and anonymous attacks that appear to be coming from within Fox News, as sources there take aim at their own host in the pages of The New York Times, as well as other media outlets.
The swipes are especially unusual because Fox News chief Roger Ailes prides himself on overseeing a loyal team. As one former Fox News source recently told Media Matters, what Ailes "continually preaches is never piss outside the tent."
Suddenly though, there's a whole lot of pissing outside the tent going on. Either that, or more and more people at Fox News already view Beck as being outside that tent.
It's true that we've seen Fox News insiders take (anonymous) swipes at Beck in the press before. Last year, it was reported by the New York Times that Ailes had "complained about Beck's hawking his non-Fox ventures too much on his Fox show." The Times also detailed "friction" between Beck and Fox News journalists, some of whom felt the host embarrassed the organization.
What's different this time is that the swipes appear to be calculated and not coming from the Fox News room, but from its corporate offices.
In their ongoing attempt to smear unions, Fox News hosts and contributors have frequently criticized the annual salaries of union workers and union bosses. Yet most of these Fox News critics and their colleagues make several million dollars a year, while attacking union members for making considerably less.
The New York Times reported today that Fox News president Roger Ailes is identified in affidavits as the News Corp. executive who allegedly encouraged one of his colleagues to lie to federal investigators who were vetting Bernard Kerik's nomination to lead the Department of Homeland Security:
It was an incendiary allegation -- and a mystery of great intrigue in the media world: After the publishing powerhouse Judith Regan was fired by HarperCollins in 2006, she claimed that a senior executive at its parent company, News Corporation, had encouraged her to lie to federal investigators two years before.
The investigators had been vetting Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who had been nominated to become secretary of Homeland Security and who had had an affair with Ms. Regan.
The goal of the News Corporation executive, according to Ms. Regan, was to keep the affair quiet and protect the then-nascent presidential aspirations of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Kerik's mentor and supporter.
But Ms. Regan never revealed the identity of the executive, even as her allegation made headlines and she brought a wrongful termination suit against HarperCollins and News Corporation.
But now, affidavits filed in a separate lawsuit reveal the identity of the previously unnamed executive: Roger E. Ailes, chairman of Fox News.
What is more, the documents say that Ms. Regan taped the telephone call from Mr. Ailes in which Mr. Ailes discusses her relationship with Mr. Kerik.
The Times further reported:
Asked what most viewers and observers of Fox News would be surprised to learn about the controversial cable channel, a former insider from the world of Rupert Murdoch was quick with a response: "I don't think people would believe it's as concocted as it is; that stuff is just made up."
Indeed, a former Fox News employee who recently agreed to talk with Media Matters confirmed what critics have been saying for years about Murdoch's cable channel. Namely, that Fox News is run as a purely partisan operation, virtually every news story is actively spun by the staff, its primary goal is to prop up Republicans and knock down Democrats, and that staffers at Fox News routinely operate without the slightest regard for fairness or fact checking.
"It is their M.O. to undermine the administration and to undermine Democrats," says the source. "They're a propaganda outfit but they call themselves news."
And that's the word from inside Fox News.
Note the story here isn't that Fox News leans right. Everyone knows the channel pushes a conservative-friendly version of the news. Everyone who's been paying attention has known that since the channel's inception more than a decade ago. The real story, and the real danger posed by the cable outlet, is that over time Fox News stopped simply leaning to the right and instead became an open and active political player, sort of one-part character assassin and one-part propagandist, depending on which party was in power. And that the operation thrives on fabrications and falsehoods.
"They say one thing and do another. They insist on maintaining this charade, this façade, that they're balanced or that they're not right-wing extreme propagandist," says the source. But it's all a well-orchestrated lie, according this former insider. It's a lie that permeates the entire Fox News culture and one that staffers and producers have to learn quickly in order to survive professionally.
"You have to work there for a while to understand the nods and the winks," says the source. "And God help you if you don't because sooner or later you're going to get burned."
The source explains:
"Like any news channel there's lot of room for non-news content. The content that wasn't 'news,' they didn't care what we did with as long as it was amusing or quirky or entertaining; as along as it brought in eyeballs. But anything—anything--that was a news story you had to understand what the spin should be on it. If it was a big enough story it was explained to you in the morning [editorial] meeting. If it wasn't explained, it was up to you to know the conservative take on it. There's a conservative take on every story no matter what it is. So you either get told what it is or you better intuitively know what it is."
What if Fox News staffers aren't instinctively conservative or don't have an intuitive feeling for what the spin on a story should be? "My internal compass was to think like an intolerant meathead," the source explains. "You could never error on the side of not being intolerant enough."
Paging Roger Ailes... Boss Rupert Murdoch's newest pet project -- the tablet-only Daily -- seems to have made digs at Fox News contributor Sarah Palin part of its much-speculated-about editorial voice.
A Saturday rundown of potential Republican presidential nominees said of Palin:
The former vice presidential candidate's strengths -- her cult-like appeal to anti-elitist tea-partiers, her fundraising prowess -- are still vastly outweighed by her countless liabilities. For instance, try to pin her down on an issue of any gravity or complexity (the war in Iraq, say, or health care policy) and, political coaching be damned, you'll still get a meandering rant that sounds like it was cobbled together with some kind of Reagan-themed magnetic poetry set.
Days earlier, Daily op-ed columnist Michael Maiello wrote that Palin "really just doesn't have a grasp of recent history," citing her response to President Obama's Sputnik reference in the State of the Union address:
Former half-term Alaska governor and failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is deeply concerned that President Obama has learned the wrong lesson from Russia's successful 1957 launch of Sputnik. It wasn't an advance that in turn motivated the United States, she suggested, but a failure: "Yeah, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union." I could suppose she means that Russia flew too high, Icarus-like, and was brought low as its wings were melted by the heat of its outsized ambitions. But I'd be wrong. She really just doesn't have a grasp of recent history.
We're still deciphering what Murdoch meant when he said The Daily's editorial stance would be "very patriotic," though for the moment, it doesn't seem to include knee-jerk support for Palin.