Sixteen years in at Fox News, Roger Ailes has shown he knows what he’s doing. Ratings supremacy, a cash machine, relevancy-proving fights with the White House — what more could a cable mogul ask for?
And when he gives interviews to the media, Ailes really knows what he’s doing. Those are his professional roots, after all — helping politicians craft voter-pleasing images.
Behold the genius at work. In a Vanity Fair excerpt of the new book — “Roger Ailes: Off Camera” — by author Zev Chafets, the Fox News chief was quoted as saying all kinds of things about key political figures: Newt Gingrich is a “[jerk],” President Obama is “lazy,” and Vice President Biden is “dumb as an ashtray.”
Oh, that Roger Ailes, everyone exclaimed. He’s really something, isn’t he? What a maverick!
Now it’s happening again. Daily Beast-cum-Daily-Download-cum-CNN talent Howard Kurtz just snared an interview with Ailes. The headliner question is this: “So is he backing away from the incendiary comments?” And the answer is this: “Not a chance.”
To some extent, Ailes’s personal views impact coverage. “I am more conservative than the network,” Ailes tells Chafets. “That’s true. And I do influence things here. But I don’t dictate.”
Yet the focus on Ailes’s rip-roaring personality sucks air away from vital questions that the guy should be answering. Examples: Why was it that Dick Morris was allowed, or perhaps even encouraged, to spread his landslide predictions before Election Day 2012? Does saying that Morris “looked like a jerk” clear him from any responsibility? How did Ailes handle the fallout from the four-minute attack video against President Obama that aired last year on “Fox & Friends”? Speaking of “Fox & Friends,” what consequences befell the folks responsible for the bogus unemployment graphic that made the economy seem much worse than it was? And did Ailes intervene? What about that hole-ridden Oct. 26, 2012, story on Benghazi, Libya, the one that stands as Fox News’s primary reportorial contribution to our understanding of the tragedy?
Screw it — that stuff doesn’t compare to a spasm of junior-varsity name-calling.
When asked about the re-laundering of Ailes’s insults, Kurtz told the Erik Wemple Blog:
I only had a few minutes with Ailes on the phone and got in as many questions as I could. When I followed up on Palin and Morris, he kept moving back to the argument that “nothing’s forever” and that Fox was doing less on politics after the election.
In other words, Ailes is a wily fellow, tough to pin down on matters of coverage, accountability and so on. (And Kurtz does have a record of getting into coverage issues.) His PR shop is a wily organization, tough to pin down on matters of coverage, accountability and so on. Chafets himself says it’s a place “as reporter-friendly as” Tehran. His on-air talent, to boot, will jump at the opportunity to rave on air and on Twitter about their boss.
In all, quite a media operation.