Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece on Fox News isn't online, but you're not missing much -- it's endless, it's dull, and Ailes plays Auletta like a Stradivarius, feeding him details that make Ailes seem both bred for greatness (dad thickening Young Roger's skin by berating him after he falls in a manure pile while relearning to walk after being hit by a car) and, for all his pugnaciousness, a model of traditional GOP values ("Also on his desk are two Bibles -- 'They're old friends,' he says"). This is the noxious hero-in-a-suit journalism that was perfected at Tina Brown magazines throughout her heyday; the subject of the profile may be a son of a bitch or a nutjob -- and Ailes, with his petty acts of vengeance and permanent sense of grievance, is clearly both -- but his flaws are seen as part of what makes him, you know, larger than life. Feh.

There's one detail in the profile that I find interesting, though: Auletta reports that last year Fox News had profits of $70 million, on revenues of $325 million; CNN's profits were $250 million, on revenues of $1 billion. If this is true, then why does CNN -- and why does anyone else -- give a damn that Fox's ratings are higher? CNN is obviously giving advertisers what they want -- perhaps an environment for their ads that doesn't bear a resemblance to a saloon brawl. Remember, we’re not talking about an evil cabal of liberals conspiring to make Fox less profitable -- we’re talking about the chieftains of big business voting with their wallets for CNN over Fox. If Roger Ailes is so smart -- and so pro-GOP -- why isn’t his network rich?

(UPDATE: I suppose I'm missing the rather obvious point that CNN's reach is genuinely global, and the reach of Fox News isn't, or isn't yet. But it seems to me that a larger operation doesn't guarantee larger profits. And it also seems to me that The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity & Doormat aren't exactly what you want on your U.S. channel as a foundation for going global. CNN became an overseas presence years ago as it was giving Americans something that was more or less real news.)

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