The cover of New York magazine this week features another Fox News/Republican party exposé from reporter Gabriel Sherman (see also: “Chasing Fox,” Sarah Palin), this time focusing on the network’s boss Roger Ailes, who never fails to make an interesting (and infuriating) subject with his problematic philosophies and politics, in addition to his insanely successful business sense. The latest dive into his dastardly psyche centers mostly around Ailes’s ideas for the Republican Obama challenger come the 2012 election. Anyone who has been paying attention knows: The field is a mess, full of half-serious psychos or has-beens with delusions and little chance at victory. Along with the candidate of Ailes’s dreams, Sherman reveals some background on Fox’s internal struggle with Glenn Beck, a potential pivot for the network and, in its most gossipy sections, the true feelings Ailes has toward Sarah Palin. (Predictably, Fox sources are already refuting the Palin parts.) We’ve got more of the juicy details inside Press Clips, our daily media column. Plus: Adweek keeps swinging and The New Yorker strikes a deal.
Ailesments: Sherman’s account calls Ailes by his rightful title: “the head of the Republican Party,” at least “in a sense,” because he’s “employed five prospective presidential candidates [at Fox News] and done perhaps more than anyone to alter the balance of power in the national media in favor of the Republicans.” But that doesn’t mean the future looks bright:
It was that, with an actual presidential election on the horizon, the Fox candidates’ poll numbers remain dismally low (Sarah Palin is polling 12 percent; Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively). Ailes’s candidates-in-waiting were coming up small. And, for all his programming genius, he was more interested in a real narrative than a television narrative–he wanted to elect a president.
Ailes hoped New Jersey’s big, sexy Chris Christie would run, but Christie says he won’t, and the same goes for David Petraeus, who has instead chosen to work for Barack Obama’s CIA. As for the rest of the field — including Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin — Ailes doesn’t have high hopes:
“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 “Republican close to Ailes” is already being refuted, with Fox News Channel vice president of programming, Bill Shine, running to the New York Times for damage and drama control, with typical Fox bombast, threatening the anonymous source:
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.’ “
Regardless of which characterization of Ailes’s feelings toward Palin is accurate, Fox News needs Palin on their side, especially if she decides not to run and is looking to extend her television presence throughout the election cycle.
Still, Sherman’s piece expands up on Ailes’s disappointment in her decisions, using the Arizona shooting mess as a particularly telling anecdote:
Ailes began to doubt Palin’s political instincts. He thought she was getting bad advice from her kitchen cabinet and saw her erratic behavior as a sign that she is a “loose cannon,” as one person close to him put it. A turning point in their relationship came during the apex of the media debate over the Tucson shooting. As the media pounced on Palin’s rhetoric, Palin wanted to fight back. She felt it was deeply unfair that commentators were singling her out. Ailes agreed but told her to stay out of it. He thought if she stayed quiet, she would score a victory.
“Lie low,” he told her. “If you want to respond later, fine, but do not interfere with the memorial service.”
Palin ignored Ailes’s advice and went ahead and released her now-infamous “blood libel” video the morning Obama traveled to Tucson. For Ailes, the move was further evidence that Palin was flailing around off-message. “Why did you call me for advice?” he wondered out loud to colleagues.
Other potential headaches in the world of Ailes include his relationship with his boss Rupert Murdoch, and more specifically Murdoch’s children, as we’ve detailed before. Here’s Sherman:
In the summer of 2008, Ailes confronted Murdoch after he learned Murdoch was thinking of endorsing Obama in the New York Post; Ailes threatened to quit. It was a politically vulnerable time for Ailes. Murdoch’s children were agitating for a greater role in the company. Ailes surely understood that their politics, along with those of then-News Corp. president Peter Chernin and communications adviser Gary Ginsberg, differed greatly from Murdoch’s. The tensions surrounding Ailes played out in the publication of Michael Wolff’s Murdoch biography. Matthew Freud, husband of Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth and a London-based PR executive, encouraged Wolff to portray Fox as a pariah wing of the News Corp. empire. Ailes was furious with Wolff’s account, which was critical of Fox, and Rupert, seeking to quell the turmoil, offered Ailes a new contract. This corporate victory, not to mention Fox’s profits, ensured that Ailes remained unscathed by the succession games playing out among the Murdoch children.
So while his job may be safe, Ailes may be a bit unfulfilled, and with worse days to come if the Republicans don’t sort themselves out. Especially if it’s true that, as Obama advisor David Axelrod thinks, Ailes “truly” believes in what he’s putting on the air. Scary as that seems, Ailes could be forced to use dollar bills to dry his tears come next November.
Elsewhere in media…
Wolff-like: The recently redesigned Adweek, which is shifting from a dry trade publication to a fiery media reporting machine under the watch of Michael Wolff, continues to throw some bombs this week with blunt, adversarial coverage, some successful and some less-so.
Most notable is this piece, asserting that Scott Horton’s National Magazine Award-winning story about Guantamano Bay was shopped around to various other media outlets who all decided that it was probably untrue. Horton’s article appeared in Harper’s, where he wrote that the suicide deaths of three detainees could have been a huge government cover-up because the men were actually killed during torture.
From a media reporting standpoint, though, what’s missing is an examination of why the Horton piece was awarded a reporting honor anyway — and above formidable challengers, even favorites — despite its holes. Adweek stops short of examining whether the National Magazine Awards knew of the veracity questions and vouched for it anyway, or if they were completely in the dark about potential issues with the piece. As is, the reporting, especially from a media-focused publication, feels unfinished.
Still less impressive is another take-down of a female editor, this time Tina Brown, in an article that could very well be called “Tina Brown Newsroom Sounds Like a Tina Brown Newsroom.”
And, least surprising of all, Michael Wolff hates The Daily.
Big Buy: USA Network bought all of the ad space in a special “Talk of the Town” edition of The New Yorker. Our unscientific estimates determined that no one who reads The New Yorker watches USA, nor will they after being berated by entire magazine of similar ads.
Bruni Back: The New York Times media reporter has a scoop this afternoon about the New York Times. Frank Bruni, the political reporter-turned-restaurant critic and man about the publication, will become an op-ed columnist twice a week, leading the paper’s new Week in Review section on Sundays. Bruni is the first gay op-ed columnist in Times history, the Times reports.