Does Rupert Murdoch now know the panic Richard Nixon must have felt when the Washington Post broke the story in 1972 that a $25,000 cashier's check earmarked for the Nixon campaign wound up in the bank account of a Watergate burglar. Or when it was revealed that Nixon's Oval Office had a taping system that recorded all his conversations. Or when John Dean told investigators he had discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon three dozen times?
Pick your Watergate reference at will, but one thing is certain: The long-simmering phone-hacking story that has been hounding Murdoch for years took a dire turn this week for News Corp. and it suddenly has the possible makings of a career-defining debacle for the partisan media mogul. It's a debacle that features Murdoch starring in the eerily similar role as the one Dick Nixon played.
Like Nixon during his Watergate demise, the hacking story appears to have thrown Murdoch into a free fall with no safe landing spot in sight. There doesn't seem to be any maneuver or strategy available to him at this crucial juncture that will make the blockbuster story go away, even for a price. And like Nixon, whose aides couldn't stop the Watergate bleeding, Murdoch is being hounded by a dogged newspaper determined (and perhaps able) to take him down, as well as by aggressive prosecutors.
And like Nixon's team, Murdoch's News Corp. has recently been unable to make stick the claim that the wrongdoing, and the knowledge of the wrongdoing, does not reach up to the very most senior levels of the company.
In other words, there's a perfect storm where loud portions of the British press, Parliament and the public opinion are raging against Murdoch this week and demanding someone finally take corporate responsibility for News Corp.'s abhorrent behavior, rather than desperately trying to find ways to kick accountability down the road.
It's true that over the years Murdoch has courted controversy and proven masterful at escaping lasting damage to his reputation or bottom line. But Murdoch is a stranger to being boxed in and being left unable to change the larger conversation. And Murdoch is a stranger to finding himself – as he has this week -- virtually without a single independent ally who will publicly vouch for his company.
Notes longtime Murdoch-watcher Jack Shafer at Slate: "I can't think of any jam that Murdoch has gotten into that's tighter than this one."
In case you hadn't heard, it's Chris Christie Cheerleading Week at Fox News. As Media Matters has noted, the on-air push to get the New Jersey Republican into the presidential race has been done in the usual heavy-handed Fox style, with regular bouts of gushing about what a natural leader Christie is. (He's a "warrior"!)
And yes, this obvious partisan push comes in the wake of the revelation that Fox News chief Roger Ailes is a big Christie fan and has been urging him to get into the race. So the way Fox News "journalism" works, is if Ailes is for something, then Fox News is for the same thing.
What that also means in terms of coverage, is that when Fox News gets behind a politician they also hide him (or her) from bad news. The awkward part for Fox is that Christie stumbled into a very large bout of bad news this week when the belt-tightening governor decided to ride in the state's $12 million helicopter to attend his son's baseball game, and then decided to ride in a town car the 100 yards between his helicopter landing spot and the bleachers.
But guess where the Christie `copter tale has not been a big deal? Fox News. According to TVEyes.com, since the story first broke yesterday, Fox News has mentioned the misstep, briefly, on exactly one program.
That's what "news" coverage looks like when Roger Ailes is in your corner.
If Roger Ailes thought Glenn Beck's farewell tour for his final, televised goodbye on Fox News this month would generate a ratings boost as past fans turned in to toast Beck's slow motion send-off, the Fox News chairman must be disappointed because it ain't happening.
Instead, Glenn Beck, which just last year became a ratings monster for Fox News, is going out with a (relative) whimper, not a bang. In fact, Beck's ratings for May were among the worst he's ever posted during his Fox News run. In that sense, Ailes made the right move in cutting ties with Beck: His show's audience has shrunk by nearly one-half since early 2010, at the same time that hundreds of advertisers, put off by the host's hateful name-calling and often bewildering conspiracy theories, have pledged not to do business with Beck:
How much has the advertising exodus cost Fox News? In September 2009, ColorOfChange, which was instrumental in launching the Beck ad boycott, published its analysis. Based on advertising rates it concluded that Glenn Beck was bringing in approximately $600,000 less per-week (or approximately $2.4 million per-month), than it was before the boycott began. Keep in mind, that's when 50 or 60 advertisers had jumped ship. Today, that number hovers between 300-400.
Using that $2.4 million per month estimate, since the fall of 2009, it's possible the ad-starved Beck show booked nearly $43 million less than it would have if it weren't facing a boycott. $43 million.
With that kind of unprecedented Madison Ave. mass migration, Beck would have needed extraordinary ratings to justify continuing his contract. But Glenn Beck just could not consistently deliver those numbers this year.
Additionally, here's a look at how far behind Glenn Beck lagged in terms of the number of ads Fox News was able to even run during the boycott-targeted program.
Beck's program did flash signs of its former ratings life a couple times in recent weeks. The first came on April 6, which was the day Beck announced he was leaving Fox News. His program that night grabbed 2.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings. The second temporary boost came during the three-day period following the news flash of Osama bin Laden death, of May 2, 3, and 4, when news consumers flocked to sources of information, and when Beck attracted audiences of 2.7, 2.4, and 2.1 million viewers, respectively. The problem is neither Beck nor Fox News can recreate those type of one-time news events, which means his program seems destined to limp off the air, a shell of its former ratings self.
In fact, those three bin Laden-spiked programs represented the only times during the previous month that Glenn Beck topped the 2 million audience mark. By contrast, early 2010, Beck's show used to attract 3 million viewers, and for the entire year it averaged an audience of 2.25 million. But those days are long gone.
For the first quarter this year, Glenn Beck drew 1.9 million viewers, a decline of 30 percent from the first quarter in 2010. And specifically in January, Beck's audience was 1.8 million, marking, at the time, his worst Fox News ratings month. In the just-completed month of May though, Beck matched that low water mark, once again drawing 1.8 million viewers.
So yes, Ailes' decision to take Beck off the air looks like a smart one, financially. It was Ailes' editorial decision to put Beck on the air in the first place, along with the host's cavalcade of hateful lies, that was the big mistake.
In Tim Dickinson's Rolling Stone profile of paranoid Fox News chief Roger Ailes, one of the strangest revelations was that when he first moved into the cable channel's headquarters on Sixth Avenue in New York City, Ailes had concerns about his safety. Specifically, he was nervous the gays would firebomb his office.
Or something. (Question: If Ailes planned on running a "fair and balanced" news operation, why would gays object?)
In Rolling Stone, the odd Ailes tale was relayed by Dan Cooper, one of Ailes' earliest lieutenants during Fox News' 1990's launch. Cooper though, soon had a falling out and was banished from Ailes' orbit.
Several years ago, Cooper turned to the Internet to write about his Fox News experiences and began posting chapters to his memoir, Naked Lunch, online. ("The best thing that ever happened to Roger Ailes was 9/11… It gave him the opportunity to throw gasoline on the bonfire he had already set to scorch and destroy traditional liberal values.")
According to Cooper, here's his telling of Ailes' weird obsession with bomb-proof windows:
This unlikely building was the United States headquarters of News Corporation. On the building's second floor, clearly visible through the London Planes, through the row of massive windows, was The Crystal Palace. From the street, looking at the building, and also from the 48th Street side, passersby could see directly into The Crystal Palace, and once settled in, to Roger Ailes at work. Roger liked the vast dimensions of The Crystal Palace, the glass Diller table, and the ocean liner desk he ordered for himself. But Roger feared the fragility, the potential danger, of the glass windows. And so it came to pass that Roger Ailes summoned me to The Crystal Palace, and told me "I want all these windows replaced with bomb-proof glass".
"Of course", I said, and promptly called Rudy Nazath, the architect who was my collaborator on the design of the entire Fox News editorial and production facility in the building.
Rudy told me "There is no such thing as bomb-proof glass. I don't even think there's protective plastic or glass that can prevent an assault rifle if it's fired up close. We can get the heaviest grade bullet-proof glass available, but what do you need it for?" I didn't know.
So I asked Roger. "Roger, do you mind if I ask why the glass should be bomb-proof?"
Roger said "Because as soon as we're on the air, homosexual activists are going to be down there every day protesting". He chuckled "And who knows what the hell they'll do". Roger was worried that gays might bomb him.
In a May 25 Rolling Stone article on the "Fox News Fear Factory," Tim Dickinson reported that Fox News chairman Roger Ailes "has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim -- which is consistent with the ideology of his network" and that Ailes "lived in fear that gay activists would try to attack him in retaliation over his hostility to gay rights." Indeed, Ailes' reported "personal paranoia" has been mirrored on Fox, which has a long history of smearing and attacking Muslims and the LGBT community.
Roger Ailes apparently objects to staffers having family ties to the public figures they cover -- at least when those public figures happen to be Democrats.
According to New York magazine's blockbuster profile, the Fox News boss was upset that one of his executives -- whose brother was serving as an Obama foreign policy adviser -- was too close to the incoming administration:
Then, three weeks after the election, David Rhodes, Fox's vice-president for news, quit to work for Bloomberg. Rhodes had started at Fox as a 22-year-old production assistant and risen through the ranks to become No. 2 in charge of news. His brother was a senior foreign-policy aide to Obama, and Rhodes told staffers that Ailes had expressed concern about this closeness to the White House. Rhodes privately told people he was uncomfortable with where Fox was going in the Obama era.
That story may seem surprising to anyone who remembers the 2000 presidential election. Back then, Ailes seemed to have no problem with John Ellis -- who happened to be a vocal supporter of his cousin, George W. Bush -- leading Fox News' "decision desk." It was Ellis and his team who made the election night recommendation to call Florida (and, therefore, the election) for Bush -- a decision Fox would ultimately have to retract. At the same time, Ellis was using his position at Fox to feed information to the Bush campaign.
As Howard Kurtz reported at the time:
Even as he was leading the Fox decision desk that night, John Ellis was also on the phone with his cousins--"Jebbie," the governor of Florida, and the presidential candidate himself--giving them updated assessments of the vote count.
Ellis's projection was crucial because Fox News Channel put Florida in the W. column at 2:16 a.m.--followed by NBC, CBS, CNN and ABC within four minutes. That decision, which turned out to be wrong and was retracted by the embarrassed networks less than two hours later, created the impression that Bush had "won" the White House.
Which is why media circles were buzzing yesterday with the question of why Fox had installed a Bush relative in such a sensitive post.
Ellis, who lives in Irvington, N.Y., was among those briefing Fox News President Roger Ailes last Tuesday night, but he was not a total Bush loyalist. At 7:52 p.m., Fox called Florida for Al Gore based on Ellis's recommendation, though Fox was not the first to make that projection. After Fox's report, according to the New Yorker, Jeb Bush called and asked Ellis: "Are you sure?"
The Gore call, based heavily on exit polls from Voter News Service, also turned out to be wrong and was retracted by the networks two hours later.
At 2 a.m., Ellis called his cousins to say it was "statistically impossible" for Gore to win Florida. "Their mood was up, big-time," Ellis told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer. "It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth--me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other the president-elect. Now that was cool."
After New York magazine reported that Fox News president Roger Ailes thinks Sarah Palin is an "idiot," Fox issued a prickly denial. Fox News vice president of programming Bill Shine gave this statement on the matter to The New York Times:
"I know for a fact that Roger Ailes admires and respects Sarah Palin and thinks she is smart. He also believes many members of the left-wing media are extremely terrified and threatened by her. Despite a massive effort to destroy Sarah Palin, she is still on her feet and making a difference in the political world. As for the 'Republican close to Ailes' for which the incorrect Palin quote is attributed, when Roger figures out who that is, I guarantee you he or she will no longer be 'close to Ailes.' "
This quote drew a good deal of attention, given that, as a Fox News contributor, Palin is Ailes' employee. But from a journalistic standpoint, another point in the story is even more noteworthy. New York also reported that Ailes recently "encouraged" Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) to "jump into" the presidential race.
This illustrates a stunning level of political activism from the head of what is purportedly a newsgathering operation. Imagine how conservatives would react if it were reported that Ailes' analogue at ABC News, Ben Sherwood, had pressured a prominent Democrat to challenge Obama in a primary.
Despite the damage this reporting does to the charade about Fox News being "fair and balanced," Fox hasn't seen fit to deny these aspects of New York's article. Media Matters' calls to Fox News for comment were not returned.
If Fox isn't willing to dispute this report, that goes a long way toward settling the matter officially: Fox News isn't news. It's GOP political activism.
So much for the old saying about there being no such thing as bad press. Fox News this week continues to take a pounding at the hands of national, glossy magazines. Earlier this week it was New York magazine detailing the ego-clashing turmoil inside Roger Ailes' shop, and how the network's hard-right Obama hysteria is making it hard for the Republican Party to challenge Obama in 2012.
Now comes an expose from Rolling Stone, "How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory." Heavy on the Ailes biography, the feature details how the former Republican consultant used his partisan background to mold Fox and its "round-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion," turning the so-called news outlet into "one of the most powerful political machines in American history."
Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson notes how Ailes is "deeply paranoid" (he's convinced he's on Al Qaeda's hit list) and recounts this strange tale from the days of Fox News' founding in the 1990's:
Murdoch installed ailes in the corner office on Fox's second floor at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. The location made Ailes queasy: It was close to the street, and he lived in fear that gay activists would try to attack him in retaliation over his hostility to gay rights. (In 1989, Ailes had broken up a protest of a Rudy Giuliani speech by gay activists, grabbing demonstrator by the throat and shoving him out the door.) Barricading himself behind a massive mahogany desk, Ailes insisted on having "bombproof glass" installed in the windows – even going so far as to personally inspect samples of high-tech plexiglass, as though he were picking out new carpet. Looking down on the street below, he expressed his fears to Cooper, the editor he had tasked with up-armoring his office. "They'll be down there protesting," Ailes said. "Those gays."
Media Matters called this long ago when we announced that under the hyper-partisan stewardship of Roger Ailes, Fox News had ceased to function as a news organization and instead had morphed into a purely political entity. Untethered in the age of Obama, Fox News swiftly cut any remaining ties it had with traditional journalism, pushed aside the Republican National Committee, and hurtled head-long into the business of pure attack politics, with the ultimate goal being to retake the White House.
It became Fox News, the Opposition Party. And Roger Ailes, GOP kingmaker. Or so that was the plan.
Now, as Republicans sputter in their attempt to find viable candidates to challenge Obama next year, we're discovering Ailes is an incompetent kingmaker (see, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump), and that unhinged Fox News is completely wrong for the role of the Opposition Party.
Ailes might know cable television and how to foment a constant state of on-the-air panic about Democrats. But his efforts to lead a 2012 electoral charge against Obama appear to be faltering, with election observers suggesting the Republican field of candidates for next year's primary season is embarrassingly thin, as more and more would-be opponents beg off the challenge of taking on Obama.
We'll leave the specifics of 2012 campaign and the candidates to the prognosticators. What's worth noting now, though, is the extraordinary damage Ailes has done to Republican chances next year, and how under his leadership, the conservative movement has chased itself down a very narrow rabbit's hole that only feral Obama-haters can begin to make sense of.
New York magazine nicely captured the state of affairs with this cover line for its recent issue, which featured an Ailes profile:
Fox News Made a Circus Out of the Republican Party. And Boy, Does Roger Ailes Regret It Now
It's become clear that Fox News' radical brand of anti-Obama programming cannot sustain a political movement that needs to attract independent voters for a national campaign. There's no evidence, for instance, that middle-of-the-road voters think Obama "virtually spat in the face" of Israel last week, or that he is a socialist, or a Nazi or a racist.
In other words, they're not nuts.
From the May 25 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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As Media Matters has documented, Glenn Beck has repeatedly pushed the lunatic theory that, based on a 2008 campaign speech by President Obama calling for a "civilian national security force," Obama wants to create "his own army." It now turns out that Beck's current boss at Fox News, Roger Ailes, has reportedly pushed a similar theory, claiming that Obama proposed a "national police force."
Note to Bill Shine, Fox News' executive vice president for programming, stop digging.
Responding to New York magazine's Roger Ailes profile this week about how the Fox News CEO has become a central player in Republican presidential politics, as well as the fact Ailes reportedly thinks Fox contributor Sarah Palin is an "idiot," Shine lashed out out with a statement [emphasis added]:
I know for a fact that Roger Ailes admires and respects Sarah Palin and thinks she is smart. He also believes many members of the left-wing media are extremely terrified and threatened by her. Despite a massive effort to destroy Sarah Palin, she is still on her feet and making a difference in the political world. As for the 'Republican close to Ailes' for which the incorrect Palin quote is attributed, when Roger figures out who that is, I guarantee you he or she will no longer be 'close to Ailes.' "
Read that highlighted part again and try to figure out one word that Palin's publicist would have changed. The point being, legitimate and independent news executives don't talk like this. They don't speak in hyper-partisan language about the evil "left-wing" media being out to destroy helpless Republicans.
But people with the title of "executive vice president for programming" at Fox News certainly do.
New York magazine is out with an extensive profile of Fox News chief Roger Ailes that details the significant role he plays in conservative politics. Furthering the evidence that Fox News is simply a campaign arm of the GOP, the piece quotes an anonymous Republican aide who states that "You can't run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger," and notes that Ailes actively encouraged Republican Governor Chris Christie to run for president. Ailes also apparently doesn't think too highly of his employee, Sarah Palin, who, according to a source close to Ailes, he thinks "is an idiot." From the article:
A few months ago, Ailes 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 had also hoped that David Petraeus would run for president, but Petraeus too has decided to sit this election out, choosing to stay on the counterterrorism front lines as the head of Barack Obama's CIA. The truth is, for all the antics that often appear on his network, there is a seriousness that underlies Ailes's own politics. He still speaks almost daily with George H. W. Bush, one of the GOP's last great moderates, and a war hero, which especially impresses Ailes.
All the 2012 candidates know that Ailes is a crucial constituency. "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.
"He thinks things are going in a bad direction," another 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."
The entire article is worth a read and includes revelations that Ailes threatened to quit in 2008 if News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch endorsed Barack Obama, and that Ailes thought that Obama's call for a new civilian corp meant that the president wanted to create a "national police force," a conspiracy theory that Glenn Beck has since adopted.
Check the whole thing out here.
Any claim Fox News has to being a legitimate news organization is premised on the supposed wall that separates their "news" and "opinion" programming.
When Fox execs or network personalities are challenged on the conservative tilt of the network, they often trot out this defense. Writing in October 2009 about the then-blossoming feud between the White House and Fox News, the New York Times' Brian Stelter reported that, "Fox argues that its news hours -- 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays -- are objective."
In the article, Fox News senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, is quoted as saying: "The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page."
Special Report anchor Bret Baier spent much of his interview with Jon Stewart last week championing the supposed division between Fox's news and editorial content. Similar to Clemente, Baier said that Fox "respect[s] the viewers' ability to discern the difference" between their news and opinion programming.
The problem, of course, is that the division between the news and opinion programming at Fox is a farce. In addition to regularly promoting dubious stories and supposed scandals that damage liberals or benefit conservatives, Fox's Washington news bureau is run by a political hack.
It's not realistic to think that all journalists are automatons that have no political leanings -- they are human. A problem arises when their politics infect their news coverage, and that's what has clearly happened in Fox News' Washington bureau under the heavy hand of Bill Sammon.
So, for the sake of argument, let's set aside the fact that Sammon has fundraised for conservative groups and organizations. Ignore that he wrote numerous fawning books about the Bush campaigns and administration, which were published by a company that exists to prop up the conservative movement. And pay no attention to his Fox News colleagues saying he is "conservative" and "coming from that point of view."
What matters is whether Sammon lets his political leanings infect his supposed "journalism," and over the course of the past few months, that has become undeniably clear.
Last year, a source with knowledge of the situation at Fox's Washington bureau told Media Matters that Sammon shapes the network's news coverage in an "often brutish way." A separate Fox source told Media Matters that they "keep hearing things from staffers about Sammon," and that "when news is being tampered with, you have to worry."
As evidenced by the series of internal Fox emails Media Matters has released over the past several months, Fox's news is certainly being "tampered with."