Monday, May 23, 2011


There are a lot of juicy details in Gabriel Sherman's New York magazine story about Roger Ailes and Fox News -- but I think the central premise of the story is a wee bit off. Sherman correctly recognizes that Ailes has created a monster, but he suggests that Ailes, if he had it to do over again, would do things differently. I'm not so sure:

For most of his tenure, the roles of network chief and GOP kingmaker have been in perfect synergy....

So it must have been disturbing to Ailes when the wheels started to come off Fox's presidential-circus caravan.... 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. All he had to do was watch Fox's May 5 debate in South Carolina to see what a mess the field was -- a mess partly created by the loudmouths he'd given airtime to and a tea party he'd nurtured....

"He thinks things are going in a bad direction," [a] 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." ...

But, um, if he's so concerned about the fact that given the knuckledraggers what they want on his channel is driving the GOP so far to the right that it can't win a presidential election, why did his channel's Sunday talk show, Fox News Sunday feature Herman Cain this week? And why was that "Yes We Cain" headline at the top of the Fox Nation page for pretty much the whole weekend? And, as I said a couple of weeks ago, why isn't Ailes embracing the more electable candidates and selling them as knuckledragger heroes? Romney and Pawlenty and Daniels say plenty of stuff that bashes Obama and the Democrats -- why doesn't Ailes use Fox to try to elevate them to hero status when they do that?

Well, he wants to pick our next president for us, but that's just it -- he wants to pick the next president. He's choosy. He has high standards:

"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.

So which potential candidates please his exquisitely sensitive palate? He likes Chris Christie. He likes David Petraeus. That's pretty much the complete list. (He clearly has a man-crush on Petraeus because of his military service -- we're also told of his close friendship with George H.W. Bush -- "a war hero, which especially impresses Ailes." And Christie is a fellow Tri-State Area you-wanna-piece-of-me? blowhard, as was earlier Ailes hero Rudy Giuliani.)

Yes, there's evidence in the story that he's trying to turn Fox an eentsy bit more moderate -- but he was selling Donald Trump hard until the bottom dropped out of Trump's candidacy, and now there's way more Cain-mania on Fox than Mitt-mania or Huntsmania. So maybe -- despite what he or his associates told Gabriel Sherman -- being the guy who picks the next president isn't that important to Ailes. Not as important as tossing red meat to the true believers.

And maybe that's because Ailes himself is one of those true believers:

Going back to the 2008 campaign, [David] Axelrod had maintained an off-the-­record dialogue with Ailes.... But early on, Axelrod learned he couldn't change Ailes's outlook on Obama. In one meeting in 2008, Ailes told Axelrod that he was concerned that Obama wanted to create a national police force.

"You can't be serious," Axelrod replied. "What makes you think that?"

Ailes responded by e-mailing Axelrod a YouTube clip from a campaign speech Obama had given on national service, in which he called for the creation of a new civilian corps to work alongside the military on projects overseas.

Later, Axelrod related in a conversation that the exchange was the moment he realized Ailes truly believed what he was broadcasting.

That's the real Roger Ailes. He's not just the president of the Delusion Club for Wingnuts -- he's also a client.


UPDATE: Yeah, right -- Ailes is really, really concerned about the fact that his channel has turned the GOP presidential race into a clown show -- he's so concerned, in fact, that today his morning show, Fox & Friends, brought Donald Trump back to say that, well, maybe he will run for president after all:

"Who knows if I did the right thing," he said. "I am not seeing a lot out of the Republican candidates."

Asked if there's any chance he'll jump in later in the race, Trump replied, "I can't rule out anything ... [It's] vital that we choose the right person, and at this moment, I don't see that person."

Clowns: Ailes just can't quit them.

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