Elizabeth Ailes has a message for journalist Gabriel Sherman. He’s welcome to schlep to a local newsstand to buy a copy of her Putnam County News and Recorder. But that’s the only way he’s going to get his hands on the community paper. “I don’t want to get into a financial transaction with him and his credit card,” says Ailes.
Now that’s some strange language, coming as it does from a woman who is the publisher of the Putnam County News and Recorder. Publishers exist to get into transactions with people and their credit cards.
In this case, though, Ailes is making an exception. Her husband is Roger Ailes, the boss of Fox News; he bought the newspaper in 2008 and transferred ownership and management to Elizabeth. Sherman writes for New York magazine and is busy-busy writing a biography of Roger Ailes. Given the subscription cutoff by Elizabeth Ailes, it’s safe to say that’s an unauthorized biography.
Sherman himself broke the news of the cutoff in a story about a newspaper war between the Ailes family and a start-up weekly publication titled The Philipstown Paper. That Sherman had been turned down in an attempt to get news on Putnam County — What’s up with that ”Winter Hill” development? And how are people honoring longtime Little League coach John Merante? — hit me hard. Accordingly, I asked him for a detailed rundown on how he found out about his subscription rejection. He responded:
I logged in last Wednesday, the day the PCN&R hits newsstands, and realized I couldn’t access the articles behind the pay-wall. The error message said my subscription had “Expired.” It was confusing since I had paid $35 for an annual subscription back in April.
So I called the office to find out what was going on. When the editor, Doug Cunningham, got on the phone, he told me they had canceled my subscription because of my book on Roger Ailes and Fox News. “We don’t want to engage in a financial entanglement with you,” he said. He added that, “with that pending book, we don’t desire to have a relationship with you.” I asked him what the issue was, since I subscribe to Fox News on my cable box and watch the network no problem, so why would he cancel a newspaper? He explained that being able to watch Fox News was an “indirect” relationship. His issue seems to be that I pay the cable company to watch Fox News, but with the newspaper I pay them directly. It was confusing. If they didn’t want my money they could always comp me a subscription, but they wouldn’t do that.
Well no wonder this guy’s writing a book about Ailes! This subscription stuff alone is worth half a chapter. Given the material you reap when writing an unauthorized biography of Ailes, who’d ever assent to doing the authorized version?
And the Fox News chief, long a pioneer in cable, now deserves the same descriptor in the newspaper world. Who ever heard of subscription discrimination before? As TPM reports, Sherman’s wife and a Gawker reporter have both received sub-denials from the Putnam County News and Recorder. Elizabeth Ailes says she didn’t recall “offhand” other folks who’ve gotten the shaft.
The trend raises a number of questions about the Aileses and their newspaper:
1) Is the Putnam County News and Recorder as efficient at handling subscription renewals as it is at handling subscription denials?
2) Did Ailes buy the Putnam County News and Recorder just to deny subscriptions to those he sees as his enemies? In other words, are these the moments he’s been waiting for?
3) How does the Putnam County News and Recorder guard against infiltrators on its subscription rolls? Does it have a watch list? How do you qualify?
4) Could the staff of the Putnam County News and Recorder be straining under the logistics of subscription denial?
When I reached Elizabeth Ailes, she had few words to say on this topic before ending the conversation: “I’m on deadline. I have to go,” she said.