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.