In an upcoming biography of Fox News president Roger Ailes, author Zev Chafets reports that Ailes hasn't donated to any Muslim charities, and connects that decision to comments tying all Muslim charities to terrorism. Ailes' brand of Islamophobia is mirrored in Fox News' coverage, which has repeatedly tried to connect all Muslims and Muslim institutions with terrorism.
In his new book Roger Ailes: Off Camera, an early copy of which was obtained by Media Matters, Chafets describes Ailes' charitable giving as being spread among a variety of religious charities. Despite giving to charities of various faiths, Chafets reported that Ailes has not given to any Muslim charities, quoting Ailes as saying he would only support those organizations "if they disarm" (emphasis added):
"I've been kicked out of every damn church I've ever belonged to," says Roger Ailes. It is a buccaneer's boast, meant to convey a hard-core irreverence. Ailes is not, by any means, a conventional born-again Christian of the Mike Huckabee variety, let alone Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell. He wouldn't use the word himself, but he is ecumenical. He donates considerable sums each year to a small Protestant church near his home in Garrison, although he is not on its membership rolls. He donates upward of 10 percent of his net income to charities, many of them religious, including an annual fifty grand to the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and another fifty grand to Catholic charities. He told me he'd be glad to give to Muslim charities, too, "if they disarm."
The implication that all Muslim charities are connected to terrorism is in line with the Islamophobic rhetoric that regularly appears on Fox News. Fox hosts and guests have a long history of invoking terrorism to attack Muslims and Islam:
From the March 6 edition of Current's The Young Turks:
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Fox News continues to use offensive terms to refer to undocumented immigrants despite recent comments from CEO Roger Ailes agreeing that Fox needs a new message on immigration. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox News figures and guests have used slurs such as "illegals," "illegal aliens," and "anchor babies" at least 90 times since the 2012 election -- terms that are banned on Fox News' online site for Latinos.
Fox News CEO Roger Ailes recently attacked President Obama in an interview with The New Republic, claiming that Obama "likes to divide people into groups ... He's too busy getting the middle class to hate rich people, blacks to hate whites. He is busy trying to get everybody to hate each other." Yet Ailes has drummed up race-baiting and class divisions throughout his career as a political consultant and head of Fox News.
Ailes suggested race-baiting tactics during his time as a political consultant to high-profile Republican candidates. As an aide to Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign, Ailes reportedly suggested the campaign find a "good, mean, Wallaceite cab-driver" (referring to segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace) to bring up race at televised town hall meetings. He worked as an aide for George H.W. Bush in1988 and reportedly said of their racially divisive strategy against opponent Michael Dukakis: "The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it." Ailes was a media consultant for the 1989 campaign for Rudy Giuliani, whose attacks on opponent David Dinkins -- who would become New York City's first African-American mayor -- were described as having "prey[ed] upon the fears of the Jewish community."
Ailes' Fox News tenure has been marked by race-baiting and racially charged commentary. Perhaps most infamous is the work of former Fox News host Glenn Beck, who called Obama a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." Fox also relentlessly pushed the phony New Black Panthers scandal. Salon.com's Joan Walsh described Fox's treatment of the story as part of "Fox News's 50-state Southern strategy."
Fox News under Ailes has frequently promoted its own brand of division when it comes to undocumented immigrants, union members, lower income Americans, and unemployed Americans. For instance, Fox has adopted the narrative that the country is comprised of "makers" and "takers," a term the network has used to disparage nearly half of Americans who are supposedly mooching off government assistance.
As a TV pro, Roger Ailes is routinely praised in the press for his Midas touch. According to years of fawning coverage, Ailes has an uncanny ability to tap the programming pulse of the public. If that's true, now would be a good time for him to find his magic stroke because he just signed a contract reportedly worth more than $20 million annually, and two of his most important properties are flailing.
Fox's latest Nielsen numbers are bad. Really bad. Its worst in 12 years. And early indications are the slump may be part of a larger, systemic problem that could cause bigger headache as fast-climbing MSNBC continues to post gains.
President Obama's first term proved to be a ratings winner for Fox News as the channel gleefully projected the inner demons of the right wing and marketed itself as the final defender of freedom. Early 2013 indicators though, suggest that ratings cycle may be played out.
Question: Does Ailes the programming guru have a Plan B?
That's not the Fox chief's only problem. Ailes also runs Fox Business, whose cable ratings remain anemic, and whose entire audience of 25-54 viewers can often fit inside a hockey arena, despite the fact Fox Business is available in 60 million homes coast to coast.
But that problem pales to the one looming at Fox News. According to Nielsen numbers, not only did MSNBC enjoy big gains in January, but for the Monday-Sunday primetime shows Fox logged its worst ratings since August 2001. (For Monday-Friday primetime, it was Fox's worst showing since May 2006.) Fox is still the most-watched cable news channel, but the margins are shrinking in a hurry, especially in the coveted 25-54 demo during primetime. (On The Record With Greta Van Susteren appears to be just weeks away from losing the 10 p.m. demo battle to MSNBC's The Last Word.)
Wasn't it fitting that Sarah Palin's exit from Fox News was made official the same week President Obama celebrated his second inauguration? Didn't it just seem apt that the once-future star of Fox News and the Tea Party movement lost her national media platform just days after the president she tried to demonize for four years basked in the glow of his easy re-election victory?
The move represents the end of a brief, ill-conceived era within the conservative media movement, and specifically at Fox, where in the wake of Obama's first White House win Palin, along with preposterous cohort Glenn Beck, was irresponsibly tapped to become a high-priced pundit who trafficked in hate.
At Fox, Palin represented a particularly angry and juvenile wing of the conservative movement. It's the part that appears deeply obsessed with Obama as a person; an unhealthy obsession that seemed to surpass any interest in his policies. With lazy name-calling as her weapon of choice, Palin served as Fox News' point person for misguided snark and sophomoric put-downs. Palin also epitomized the uber-aggressive anti-intellectual push that coincided with Obama's swearing in four years ago.
And for a while, it looked like the push might work. In 2010, it seemed like Palin and Beck might just succeed in helping Fox change the face of American politics with their signature calling cards of continuous conspiracies (Beck) and perpetual victimization (Palin).
But it never happened.
In the wake of Beck's cable TV departure in 2011, Obama's re-election win in 2012, and now Palin's farewell from Fox last week, it's obvious the blueprint drawn up by Fox chief Roger Ailes was a programming and political failure. Yes, the name-calling and conspiratorial chatter remains at Fox, but it's no longer delivered by Palin who was going to be star some loyalist thought the channel could ride all the way to the White House.
Let's also note that Fox's Palin era was marked by how the Beltway press often did everything in its power to prop her up as a "star" reaching new heights, when with each passing month Palin's standing with the public seemed to register new lows.
Suffering an election hangover after having been told by Fox News that Mitt Romney's victory was a sure thing (a "landslide" predicted by Dick Morris), some Republicans have promised to break their addiction to the right-wing news channel in the coming year. Vowing to venture beyond the comforts of the Fox News bubble, strategists insist it's crucial that the party address its "choir-preaching problem."
This grand experiment of marrying a political movement around a cable TV channel was a grand failure in 2012. But there's little indication that enough Republicans will have the courage, or even the desire, to break free from Fox's firm grip on branding the party.
For Fox News chief Roger Ailes, the network's slash-and-burn formula worked wonders in terms of catering a hardcore, hard-right audience of several million viewers. (Fox News is poised to post $1 billion in profits this year.) But in terms of supporting a national campaign and hosting a nationwide conversation about the country's future, Fox's work this year was a marked failure.
And that failure helped sink any hopes the GOP had of winning the White House.
From the farcical, underwhelming GOP primary that Fox News sponsored, through the general election campaign, it seemed that at every juncture where Romney suffered a major misstep, Fox misinformation hovered nearby. Again and again, Romney damaged his presidential hopes when he embraced the Fox News rhetoric; when he ran as the Fox News Candidate.
Whether it was botching the facts surrounding the terrorist raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, parroting the Fox talking point about lazy, shiftless voters who make up "47 percent" of the electorate, or Romney's baffling embrace of reality TV show host-turned Fox News pontificator Donald Trump, the Republican candidate did damage to his chances whenever he let Fox News act as his chief campaign adviser.
Fox viewers didn't fare much better. Fed a year's worth of misinformation about the candidates, and completely misled about the state of the race (all the polls are skewed!), Fox faithful were left crushed on Election Night when Romney's fictitious landslide failed to materialize.
"On the biggest political story of the year," wrote Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, "the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media."
A Fox News contributor who network CEO Roger Ailes reportedly uses to communicate his views on-air suggested that he might support new gun laws in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
Peter Johnson, Jr., a Fox News legal analyst, said that "the government has the right to register and regulate... firearms" and suggested that we should consider restricting ownership of assault weapons in light of recent events during a monologue on the December 18 edition of Fox & Friends.
JOHNSON: People have the right under the Second Amendment to own firearms. The government has the right to register and regulate those firearms. At the same time we need to be thinking about where should we be allocating law enforcement resources. How can we better register?
Let's look at AK-47s and AR-15s. The numbers show that it's a small portion of the deaths and violence in America. But it's a high portion, it's a high proportion of these mass violence episodes. Let's look at everything in a dispassionate, smart, objective way that protects Americans and protects the Constitution both.
During the same segment, Johnson suggested that Americans should also examine the "entertainment industry" because of their support for "videos." The Washington Post has noted that data show no correlation between video game spending per capita and gun-related homicides.
Johnson's role at Fox is reportedly much greater than a typical contributor. In addition to his regular appearances on Fox & Friends, Johnson serves as Ailes' personal attorney, confers regularly with the Fox chief and is reportedly the outlet Ailes uses to channel his views on the network.
In a New York magazine post, Gabriel Sherman pointed out that while Fox News resisted calls to discuss gun policy in the wake of the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox's parent company, News Corp., was expressing support for more restrictive gun laws. Sherman noted that the difference between Fox's pro-gun history and Murdoch's call for action on gun control "highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and [Fox News CEO Roger] Ailes":
Certainly Fox's decision to avoid widespread policy talk could be seen as an editorial impulse to keep the focus trained on the tragedy's human dimension. But Fox's coverage also highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and Ailes. Gun culture is alive and well at Fox News. Roger Ailes and Sean Hannity are reportedly licensed to carry concealed handguns in New York City. Fox personality Eric Bolling is a vocal Second Amendment proponent on air. "Not only do they carry guns, they don't allow an honest debate on TV," a Fox News insider said. In the past, when Ailes has clashed with Murdoch on politics, Fox News's outsize profits have helped Ailes prevail. Earlier this fall, Ailes signed a new four-year contract, and he retains complete editorial control over the network.
A Fox News spokesperson declined to comment on Ailes's Second Amendment views.
While Ailes's network said it wasn't the right time to talk about legislation, Murdoch had no hesitation. Within hours of the attack, he took to Twitter to call for an automatic-weapons ban. "Terrible news today. When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy," he wrote, referring to Australia's move to ban assault weapons in 1996 after a man used two semiautomatic rifles to kill 35 people and wound 21. That massacre came six weeks after the horrific mass school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, in which sixteen children and one adult were murdered. (Despite Murdoch's plea, automatic weapons are already illegal in the United States; Adam Lanza used semiautomatics.)
Sherman further reported that the lack of gun policy coverage on Fox stemmed from an order from David Clark, executive vice president of Fox's weekend coverage, who reportedly instructed producers to avoid the subject. According to Sherman's sources within Fox, the decision not to address gun policy "created a rift inside the network."
Fox has a history of top-down orders to affect how news is reported on the network. Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon has attempted to slant Fox's coverage on everything from climate change to health care reform and influenced Fox's coverage of President Obama's 2009 Cairo speech on America's relationship to the Muslim world.
Media critic David Zurawik criticized Fox News for its dishonest attempt to portray itself as a nonpartisan media outlet. Zurawik pointed to Fox's defense of Mitt Romney's false claim that Jeep was moving production to China, and Fox CEO Roger Ailes' attempt to convince Gen. David Petraeus to run for president as evidence of the network's political activism.
In a column on the media-based website Daily Download, Zurawik pointed out that the network's attempt to defend Romney from criticism of his claim that Jeep was shipping jobs to China during the presidential campaign "cuts to the heart of the lie Fox News tries to sell about its news operation being as journalistically sound and non-idealogically driven as anything on the networks or CNN":
No, the news about Fox News that mattered Wednesday was connected to PolitiFact naming the Mitt Romney campaign ad that said Jeep was going to move production and ship jobs to China "Lie of the Year." Lie of the year.
And why that matters in any discussion of Fox is that the Murdoch channel "fact checked" the ad during the campaign and vouched for its essential accuracy -- not once but twice. And furthermore, Fox did it in one instance with Jim Angle, who is part of the news operation -- not the host of an evening show -- doing the vouching. The channel's website describes Angle as "chief national correspondent."
That cuts to the heart of the lie Fox News tries to sell about its news operation being as journalistically sound and non-ideologically driven as anything on the networks or CNN. Sure, Fox executives have said to me, the prime-time shows have opinion in them - just like opinion pages in a newspaper. But not our news programs and the reports by our correspondents.
Except, I guess, when it's an election year, and things are going badly for the Republican candidate. Then, you use your chief national correspondent to vouch for the accuracy of the ad that is the "Lie of the Year."
Zurawik also pointed to recent reports that Ailes attempted to convince Petraeus to run for president as further evidence of Fox's political activism. Although Ailes reportedly dismissed the comments as a joke, Zurawik noted "there is nothing funny about a report by one of the nation's finest journalists that shows Fox trying to influence and corrupt the American political system."
From the December 8 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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Fox News has reportedly decided to limit Karl Rove's appearances on the network. This raises the question of whether Fox's corporate cousin The Wall Street Journal will decide to take similar action.
According to a December 4 report from New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman, producers must now get permission from Fox News executive vice president for programming Bill Shine before booking Rove. Notably, the new rule comes not due to Rove's panoply of ethical misdeeds, but rather because of the political analyst's on-air election night meltdown, in which he insisted that the network had been wrong to call Ohio for President Obama.
Sherman wrote that his sources say that Fox News chief Roger Ailes had worried that the incident had diminished the network's brand; it "provided another data point for Fox's critics." A Fox spokesperson who confirmed the booking rule told the New York reporter that "Shine's message was 'the election's over.'"
Rove spent the election cycle using his weekly Journal column to forward the financial interests of the political groups he founded, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. After significant criticism, the paper finally began disclosing Rove's ties to those organizations. His column continues to appear in the Journal, and in mid-November he provided the paper's website with an extensive interview touching on the futures of the Republican Party and super PACs, the Latino vote, and the current budget negotiations.
It remains to be seen whether the Journal has similar concerns regarding Rove's impact on their brand. A request for comment to the paper and its opinion page editor, Paul Gigot, was not immediately returned.
So it seems that Karl Rove and Dick Morris are on the outs at Fox News. New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman reports that Roger Ailes wants the two pundits off the air, for the time being, and that Fox News producers "must get permission before booking Rove or Morris." The reasons for their benching? "Morris's Romney boosterism and reality-denying predictions became a punch line" within the network, and "Ailes was angry at Rove's election-night tantrum when he disputed the network's call for Obama."
At last we're getting a clearer picture of what it takes to face a reckoning at Fox News. Glaring conflicts of interest, grossly unethical behavior, and naked GOP boosterism adorned with a journalistic fig leaf are just fine. To reap the Ailes whirlwind, you have to become such a transcendent embarrassment that the network has no choice but to treat you as a liability.
It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but there exists some precedent. The most prominent example is, of course, Glenn Beck, whose short-lived Fox News tenure was an ongoing exercise in damage control. Beck managed to stay in Ailes good graces owing to high ratings and ad revenue, but as he grew increasingly unhinged (caliphate, anyone?) and big-name advertisers fled en masse, they had a falling out and Beck was shown the door. "Half of the headlines say he's been canceled. The other half say he quit. We're pretty happy with both of them," Ailes told the Associated Press.
And then there's E.D. Hill, the Fox News anchor who in 2008 memorably characterized a fist bump between Barack and Michelle Obama as "a terrorist fist jab," generating howls of outrage from all corners. Her program was canceled within two weeks, and later that year the network declined to renew her contract.
On the other hand, there are plenty of Fox News personalities who have very publicly disgraced themselves and the network and who remain secure in their jobs. Look no further than the cast of Fox & Friends. Their 2008 stunt in which they smeared two New York Times reporters by Photoshopping yellow teeth, big noses, and receding hairlines into their publicity photos should have sent heads rolling. And yet, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade are still on the air. Eric Bolling declared himself a birther on his Fox Business Network show: "There is a legitimate question as to whether or not the president of the United States is allowed to be president of the United States." He's since moved up to the big leagues and now co-hosts The Five on Fox News.
All this to say that, despite Morris' and Rove's benching -- which has every appearance of being temporary -- there is still no real culture of accountability at Fox News. The only way to get in trouble is to make such a spectacle of yourself that the network brass are forced to act (sagging ratings seem to be a precondition as well). And even then, there's a good chance you won't face any consequences whatsoever.
You might even get promoted.
Two former network news presidents offered criticism following the revelation that a Fox News contributor had urged Gen. David Petraeus to run for president at the request of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
"That just isn't what a news guy does," said Michael Gartner, who served as NBC News president from 1988 to 1993. "Twenty years ago it wouldn't have been done. But that was a different era."
The critiques come in response to a December 4 report from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward that Fox News contributor K.T. McFarland, on instructions from Ailes, had urged Petraeus to run for president during a recorded 2011 interview in Afghanistan.
McFarland suggested that Ailes would leave Fox to work on Petraeus' campaign and that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch might "bankroll" the effort.
During the same interview with Petraeus, McFarland said of Ailes, "he loves you, and everybody at Fox loves you. So what I'm supposed to say directly from him to you, through me, is first of all, is there anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?"
Media critics have nonetheless responded harshly to the McFarland-Petraeus interview, with Dylan Byers at Politico writing that no other major news outlet would tolerate such behavior from their top executive, and Erik Wemple at the Post writing that it indicated "Fox News is corrupt."
David Westin, who served as ABC News president from 1997 to 2010, also offered concern about the exchange to Media Matters.
While Westin said he did not know the details of Ailes' direct involvement, and noted Ailes had told Bob Woodward his comments to MacFarland had been "more of a joke" than a serious request, Westin did offer criticism of such communications between news person and news subject.
"The report had someone from Fox News, now it was a contributor, not on staff, but a contributor, saying things to a subject of news coverage that normally a journalist wouldn't say," Westin said late December 4. "You need to keep some distance from the people you're covering and you don't want to be partial for them or against them either way, so what I read would be something that normally a journalist wouldn't do."
No one seemed to believe that Ailes had breached media ethics. Nor was anyone surprised that Ailes had asked Fox News analyst K.T. McFarland to ask Petraeus if there was "anything Fox is doing right or wrong that you want to tell us to do differently." Indeed, it is just what people have come to expect from the veteran Republican strategist who, in 2005, sent a note to then-Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice offering "help off the record" any time.
If there is a line of demarcation between the conservative Fox News and the liberal MSNBC, this is it: MSNBC may be hyper-partisan, but -- at least for now -- it is not a political operation.
It's a perverse sort of dynamic in which the president of a news organization is shielded from revelations of unethical behavior by his long-established record of unethical behavior. And while it's certainly true that Fox News is first and foremost a political operation, that doesn't explain entirely why Ailes is free to behave the way he does. The network also has a dysfunctional (one could argue nonexistent) culture of accountability.
Ailes has long benefited from Fox News' low standards for professional conduct. Most significantly, this isn't the first time he's been caught trying to persuade Republicans to run against President Obama. New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman reported last year that Ailes personally "called Chris Christie and encouraged him to jump into the race. Last summer, he'd invited Christie to dinner at his upstate compound along with Rush Limbaugh, and like much of the GOP Establishment, he fell hard for Christie, who nevertheless politely turned down Ailes's calls to run." (Ailes later denied the Christie report. He also claimed his Petraeus pitch "was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have.")