The aura of invincibility that Roger Ailes quickly tried to create at Fox News last week after news broke about Rupert Murdoch's executive succession plans has now evaporated. The implications may be long lasting, not only for the cable channel, but also for the Republican Party.
Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, Ailes has ruled the Fox News fiefdom within Murdoch's sprawling 21st Century Fox media empire and built it into a hugely influential moneymaker. The Ailes programming fingerprint has always been omnipresent at Fox.
But now as Murdoch signals his eventual withdrawal from corporate leadership and hands the reigns over his sons, James and Lachlan, Ailes is suddenly left without his key ally and now faces a somewhat uncertain future. (Fox's contract with Ailes, who is 75, expires next year.) The Fox boss now has to report to Murdoch's children, both of whom he has sparred with in the past and who have reportedly signaled their distaste for Ailes' brand of toxic programming. In previous corporate scuffles, Ailes always emerged victorious because he had Rupert's final support.
"For Ailes, it was a stinging smack-down and effectively a demotion," wrote Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman in New York. "Roger Ailes Burned By Murdoch Sons In Fox News Power Shift," read the Talking Points Memo headline. (Also note that Ailes is losing another longtime corporate ally, Chase Carey, who's resigning as chief operating officer.)
For the Republican Party, the swirling questions inside Fox News mean this campaign season might be the last one Ailes pilots as the head of Fox News, or at least as the head of Fox News as we currently recognize it. (If the Murdoch sons eventually set out to alter the network, will Ailes have the power to stop them?)
Having seamlessly turned Fox News into the marketing and 'policy' wing of the Republican Party, the current campaign season could mark the end of an era if Ailes' internal power is eroded. Some inside the Republican Party and conservative movement might actually be wondering if that's a good thing.
How fitting is it that the same week Ailes struggles to maintain his power base, Donald Trump's looming presidential campaign emerges into full view? A longtime Fox favorite, Trump, who personifies the often tasteless brand of divisive rhetoric that Ailes helped hallmark, is poised to unleash a presidential push that could do deep damage to the Republican Party.
If forced to pick a Republican candidate to endorse, Trump likely would not be Ailes' choice. (The Fox boss prefers to side with possible winners.) But the content of Trump's message is undeniably Ailes-esque. Trump's a cartoonish nativist birther who thinks climate change is a hoax. He's loud, offensive and ill informed, which means Trump functions as the Fox News id. He's the guttural roar of Fox's aging, white audience.
"Trump is what Ailes did to the GOP," tweeted Sherman.
A report from New York magazine indicates that Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes is leaning towards Gov. Scott Walker for the Republican presidential nomination, while personally involving himself in the network's attacks on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
The report, from media writer Gabriel Sherman, is tied to the recent shakeup in the corporate leadership of Fox News parent 21st Century Fox. Rupert Murdoch is stepping down from 21st Century and installing his son James, who presided over publications involved in the phone hacking scandal in England, as the company's new CEO. But Ailes will reportedly continue to report directly to Rupert Murdoch, and not to James, who he reportedly once described as a "fucking dope."
Sherman reports that Fox insiders say that Ailes -- a long time conservative activist who worked on Richard Nixon's presidential campaign -- "simply isn't dazzled by any of the GOP contenders" for president "so far" and has even personally clashed with Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, chiding Christie for appearing with President Obama during Hurricane Sandy as "the fat kid in high school chasing the popular kid" (At the time of the hurricane Murdoch said that Christie had to "take blame" if Obama was re-elected).
Yet Ailes is "said to like" Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is "a ready-made Fox hero" for his Midwestern roots and union-busting agenda. Sherman also notes that Walker's "hard-line" immigration position is "in sync with Fox's." Fox has been a reliable ally for Walker in his fights against public sector labor unions, and on-air hosts have described the governor as a "sexy guy" and someone who makes "my toes curl." In turn, Walker advised fellow Republicans to use Fox to get their "message out."
Media Matters has extensively documented the "Fox News primary" in which Republican presidential candidates vie against each other for the network's attention in order to build a following and campaign funds from the network's heavily conservative audience. Some of the current candidates, like Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson, were Fox News employees. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a run, also worked for Fox.
Fox's role as kingmaker of the Republican field is more pronounced in this cycle as the network is determining who qualifies to participate in the first official television debate in what some at Fox have described as "Fox's Cleveland primary." Sherman notes that after the failed 2012 election, "many GOPers privately blamed Fox for turning debates into a reality-show spectacle."
Sherman also reports that Ailes is eager to tell the story of "Hillary Clinton as Über-villain" in the 2016 election, harkening back to a 1994 interview in which Ailes accused Clinton of a "suicide cover-up - possible murder." An associate of Ailes told Sherman that it would be "Freddy Krueger time" at the White House if Clinton is elected.
According to Sherman, Ailes "helped edit" Fox's prime time special promoting author Peter Schweizer's error-riddled and dishonest book, Clinton Cash. A Media Matters analysis showed that the network gave Clinton Cash $107 million in free publicity over five days, despite the numerous false and inaccurate claims in it.
From the February 1 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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From the January 28 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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The Islamophobic rhetoric spewed by right-wing media in response to the deadly attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris is just the most recent in a long history of conservative anti-Islam vitriol.
Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes has reportedly contacted Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich about his interest in returning to the conservative network as a guest host.
Kasich is one of the most successful Fox News candidates. He joined the network in 2001 as a former congressman and left in 2009 to successfully run for governor. Kasich was a frequent guest host for The O'Reilly Factor and the host of the programs From The Heartland and Heroes.
Fox News hosted Kasich on November 4 after he won his reelection campaign. Co-anchor Megyn Kelly told Kasich that it "wasn't that long ago that you were here at the Fox News Channel. Everyone loved you. Now you go to Ohio. The people love you. Are you going to make a pitch on a national level and hope they love you and put you in the White House?"
Kasich dodged by the question by responding that "what I'm really bucking for in the short term is to wonder if I can come back and host O'Reilly again at least once or twice. It would be a lot of fun. I don't think they've ever had a sitting governor do that."
Kelly replied: "I think you're one of the few people he actually would allow to take over that show. I'll ask him."
The race is on to win the support of Fox News ahead of the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Republican Senator Rand Paul, often listed among likely 2016 presidential contenders, is apparently trying to court News Corp. executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, hosting the media mogul at this weekend's Kentucky Derby.
The New York Times quotes Paul saying he "thought it would be fun to have [Murdoch] come down," and Murdoch explained his presence by clarifying he had never been to the Derby and offering that he finds Paul to be a "very interesting man." But as the Times explains, the context for the day at the track is much grander than the two men's mutual interest in the event: the looming 2016 presidential race and Paul's desire to win the support of "arguably the most powerful broker in Republican politics."
The Times lays out how Paul's "libertarian brand of politics" has prompted some concern among commentators at the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel. Indeed, Murdoch himself has spoken out against Paul's views on foreign policy, telling Fortune magazine [subscription required] last month, "I agree with [Paul] on a great number of things but disagree strongly on some things -- too strongly perhaps to vote for him." According to the Times, the day at the Derby was "part getting-to-know-you and part political audition, and marked a potential turn in the race for president."
Murdoch and Paul's Kentucky Derby hangout isn't their first meeting, either. Paul reportedly met with Murdoch and Fox News chief Roger Ailes last November -- according to Politico, that meeting was similarly part of Paul's effort to "smooth concerns among Republicans and influencers about whether he shares his famous libertarian father's views on issues like national security."
Winning the support of Murdoch and his sprawling media empire -- particularly Fox News -- has been a top priority for Republican candidates for the past decade, and with good reason.
In response to Media Matters' documentation that a group pushing climate change denial has also rejected the known health impacts of tobacco and secondhand smoke, Fox News is suggesting that secondhand smoke is not dangerous.
On the April 9 edition of Special Report, Fox News correspondent Doug McKelway pointed to a report by the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which was written in an attempt to debunk the United Nations' recent consensus report, to claim that "a torrent of new data is poking very large holes" in climate science. In an accompanying article at FoxNews.com, McKelway responded to a Media Matters blog post documenting that the group behind the report, the Heartland Institute, has previously denied the health impacts of tobacco, by claiming that the "Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study":
The NIPCC ["Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change"] report was immediately assailed by administration supporters. The website Media Matters reported that the NIPCC study was published by the conservative Heartland Institute, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke. (In fact, Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which found "no statistically significant relationship between lung cancer and exposure to passive smoke.")
Media Matters had actually pointed out that the Heartland Institute once claimed that smoking "fewer than seven cigarettes a day" -- not just secondhand smoke -- was not bad for you, while simultaneously being funded by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. Regardless, secondhand smoke is unequivocally dangerous and causally linked to cancers including lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, the American Lung Association, and the Centers for Disease Control. McKelway cherry-picked one study that found no statistically significant link between secondhand smoke and cancer but did find a trend of "borderline statistical significance" among women who had lived with a smoker for 30 years or more. Meta-analyses have previously found that the "abundance of evidence ... overwhelmingly support the existence of a causal relationship between passive smoking and lung cancer." The Environmental Protection Agency states that it does not claim that "minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk," but that nonetheless secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in U.S. nonsmokers:
The evidence is clear and consistent: secondhand smoke is a cause of lung cancer in adults who don't smoke. EPA has never claimed that minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk. Even though the lung cancer risk from secondhand smoke is relatively small compared to the risk from direct smoking, unlike a smoker who chooses to smoke, the nonsmoker's risk is often involuntary. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke varies tremendously among exposed individuals. For those who must live or work in close proximity to one or more smokers, the risk would certainly be greater than for those less exposed.
EPA estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers in the U.S.; of these, the estimate is 800 from exposure to secondhand smoke at home and 2,200 from exposure in work or social situations.
Clinging to persecution fantasies that seem to grow darker each year, conservative voices continue to hype doomsday scenarios in which President Obama is scheming to confiscate firearms, socialize American medicine, silence his critics through brute political force, and wage violent class warfare. Allegedly under siege at every turn as their freedoms are stripped away, conservatives embrace an imagined status as perennial victims.
The result? Wallowing in self-pity and convinced of the dark forces moving against them, conservatives launch attack after attack, insisting they're fighting forces at home akin to Hitler's Nazi storm troops. They complain louder and louder that America has become like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler when 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Nazi analogies aren't new and conservatives didn't trademark them. But the cries have become far more frequent during Obama's sixth year in office.
Four years ago, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes accused the management of National Public Radio of having "a kind of Nazi attitude" for firing commentator Juan Williams. Former Fox host Glenn Beck frequently immersed himself in offensive Hitler rhetoric during Obama's first years in office, while the then-burgeoning Tea Party movement did the same. And so did Rush Limbaugh, who obsessed over Obama-Nazi comparisons in 2009: "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."
In 2009, the Anti-Defamation League, led by Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman, documented the Tea Party's growing reliance on "Nazi comparisons" as a way to express its anti-Obama rage. Yet today the Nazi claims arrive effortlessly and on a depressingly regular basis as conservatives line up to compare this president, his allies, and this country to one of the worst chapters in civilized history.
The thoughtless rhetoric not only captures how detached Obama's critics have become from reality (not to mention the blanket insensitivity involved), but it also reveals the bizarre view conservatives have of their alleged political strife.
Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson recently claimed America is now "very much like Nazi Germany" in that it has a government "using its tools to intimidate the population." Carson defended the insulting comparison by suggesting American conservatives are being targeted and intimidated by the government: "Maybe if I don't say anything, I won't be audited, people won't call me a name."
Audited? Name-calling? Historical note: Those were certainly among the least painful afflictions Jews suffered during the Nazi reign of terror. "I know you're not supposed to say 'Nazi Germany,'" said Carson. "But I don't care about political correctness."
In his new biography of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman lays out how Fox hired journalist Peter Boyer after Boyer published an Ailes-friendly profile in The New Yorker.
According to Sherman, Ailes "was pleased" with the profile, while neighbors in Ailes' New York hometown -- who were feuding with the Fox head -- "felt Boyer got spun." A year and a half later, after a stint at Newsweek, Boyer was snapped up by Fox News and added to their investigative reporting team.
Boyer's role in Sherman's book was highlighted earlier this week by Gawker, which took aim at New York Times book critic Janet Maslin's "inexplicably hostile takedown" of the Ailes biography. According to Gawker, Maslin has "maintained a 30-year friendship with" Boyer, a fact they contend should have been disclosed in her review, given Boyer's role in Sherman's narrative. (The Times responded that Maslin's relationship with Boyer was "completely irrelevant".)
So who is Peter Boyer? While he carried an impressive resume to Fox News (18 years at the New Yorker, stints for PBS, NPR, the NY Times and others), he also has a history of friendly treatment of prominent conservatives.
From the January 16 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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Despite Fox News' best efforts to hamper it, Gabriel Sherman's new biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes has been the focus of widespread media attention this week.
Sherman's The Loudest Voice In The Room paints an in-depth look at Ailes as someone who operates Fox News more as a political entity than a journalistic one.
In a wide-raging interview Tuesday with Media Matters, Sherman discussed his quest to "show all sides" of Ailes; how Fox News has morphed into "Ailes' personal megaphone"; how the network has "become damaging to the Republican brand"; the "political campaign" Fox has waged to distract people from the book; and the Fox chief's place in history as "one of the great American hucksters."
Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
You said on Reliable Sources that Fox News is a political operation that employs journalists. I think that's an interesting description. How have you seen that hurt its credibility, and can it really operate that way?
Well I think that over time things have changed. In the early years of Fox, the blueprint was more tabloid and populist than baldly conservative but as Ailes has amassed more power, the true nature of the organization he was building has come into clearer view and it's become harder and harder for the network to maintain the fiction of "fair and balanced." And the model, the idea for Fox was always to have the culture of a political campaign. Ailes runs it like a political campaign. There's a secret organization, a secret group of executives inside the network called the G8, which is a riff off of the G6, which was from the George H.W. Bush campaign. So you see how Ailes has brought the culture of a political campaign into the news business. And now, in the Obama years, the last -- since 2008, we've seen Fox has sort of come into full bloom. And it's revealed itself for what it is, which is that it's Roger Ailes' personal megaphone.
And did that hurt its efforts to complete its mission, or did that not really affect it for the people that watch Fox?
Well the audience is very -- it's still the most dominant cable network. The audience is loyal. There's been some dips, especially after the 2012 election. I think one of the most important developments is that as Fox has fully evolved and emerged as Ailes' megaphone, it has hurt Fox's ability to win national elections. From 2000 til 2008, Fox was able to really cheerlead and be a platform for the Bush White House. But as the network has become more extreme, it's become harder and harder to resonate -- it's become damaging to the Republican brand. And that's where you see the limits of Ailes' power. 2012 was a very revealing moment of that.
The Republican Party has leadership problems. Aside from Chris Christie, just in general, losing the last two presidential elections and the other Republican Party problems, how much do they hurt Ailes and Fox, and their effectiveness? Or how much did Ailes and Fox hurt the Republican Party and its efforts, as you said, to win elections?
I would put the responsibility on Ailes and the network he runs because what makes the best television is the most conflict, some of the most extreme voices are the ones that break through on Fox and as his network has effectively become the brand of the Republican Party, you know I said that it has surpassed the Republican Party. So the brand of Fox has become the brand of the Republican Party and that has hurt the party on issues from immigration, on issues of marriage equality, on issues of climate change, and spending.
The idea that in one meeting Ailes said that Obama hates capitalism. Now you could have a lot of -- there can be a debate about the economic policy of this administration, but the notion that they hate capitalism just doesn't -- it's just not supported by the observable reality. I mean Obama has sort of governed as a pretty conventional Democrat, down the middle Democrat with some liberal views. But the idea that he is -- if you believe that Obama, that Ailes defines, is this extreme, statist, you know, radical politician, and that brand is too extreme for the Republican Party to win national majorities.
Right now, Fox News is Chris Christie's best friend.
As New Jersey's Republican governor struggles to regain his political footing in the wake of the George Washington Bridge dirty tricks scandal, Fox News has been one of the few places to mount any kind of sustained defense on his behalf. That defense has alternately come in the form of downplaying the scandal at first, invoking Benghazi as often as possible, blaming a "feminized atmosphere" for the governor's troubles, and championing Christie's alleged brand of "leadership" in response to the scandal.
The strategy might be scattershot but at least Fox is coming to Christie's side at a time when many conservative voices are not.
Which leads to the question: is Fox chairman Roger Ailes once again advising Christie? It's worth asking given that Fox is now acting as Christie's de facto War Room, stressing the governor's talking points and doing its best to deflect attention away from the growing questions about why so many of his senior aides knew about the four-day scheme to choke off Fort Lee, N.J. with nightmarish traffic, yet Christie, he says, remained clueless.
And if Ailes is pitching in, it wouldn't be the first time he sat down with Christie in the role of an informal political advisor.