Roger Ailes gets the New York treatment this week in a long Gabriel Sherman-penned profile called “The Elephant in the Green Room.”
Sherman, who is writing a book about Fox News, contends that while Ailes is the most successful television executive of all-time, his influence is waning just a bit. The Fox-fuelled Tea Party helped ratings blossom in the Barack Obama era, but its candidates are struggling.
Ailes is also dealing with the fallout over Glenn Beck‘s departure, succession issues, and a general sense that the network he created has lost its focus.
'During a 45-minute conversation, the two men agreed on the terms: Beck would give up his daily 5 p.m. program and appear in occasional network 'specials' -- but even that didn't solve their problem. Tensions flared over how many specials he would appear in. Fox wanted six, Beck's advisers wanted four. At another meeting, Beck choked up; he and Ailes had always had a bond. And when Ailes thought Beck's advisers were jerking him around, he threatened to blow up the talks. 'I'm just going to fire him and issue a press release,' he later snapped to a Fox executive.'
'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.'
'Even Rupert Murdoch, sensing the shifting tectonic plates, contemplated a move to the middle. In the summer of 2008, Ailes confronted Murdoch after he learned Murdoch was thinking of endorsing Obama in the New York Post; Ailes threatened to quit. It was a politically vulnerable time for Ailes.'
'Shushannah Walshe, a young Fox producer who was covering Palin's campaign for the network, had gone on-air and criticised McCain's staff, who had prevented reporters from asking Palin questions during her U.N. visit. 'There's not one chance that Governor Palin would have to answer a question,' Walshe said on-camera. 'They're eliminating even the chance of any kind of interaction with the candidate -- it's just unprecedented.''
'Ailes didn't know Walshe, but he was furious when he heard her comments.'
'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.'
'Inside the Obama White House, there was a debate unfolding over how to deal with Fox. Michelle Obama was said to particularly loathe the network and was most turned off by Hannity. Obama's advisers began to talk about ways to fight back.'
'There was bad blood left over from the campaign. In the bitter primary fight for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton's advisers, led by Howard Wolfson, courted Fox and fed them negative research about Obama and John Edwards. 'She made some kind of compact with Murdoch,' Obama's former media adviser Anita Dunn told me.'
'Going back to the 2008 campaign, Axelrod had maintained an off-the-record dialogue with Ailes. He had faced off against Ailes in a U.S. Senate campaign in the early eighties and respected him as a fellow political warrior and shaper of narrative. But early on, Axelrod learned he couldn't change Ailes's outlook on Obama. In one meeting in 2008, Ailes told Axelrod that he was concerned that Obama wanted to create a national police force.'
'Ailes also faced internal resistance to Beck's rise. Sean Hannity complained to Bill Shine about Beck. And it didn't help matters that O'Reilly, who had become friends with Beck and can't stand Hannity, scheduled Beck as a regular guest, a move that only annoyed Hannity further.' ...
'And during another meeting, Ailes called Beck into his office and told him the show had grown too religious.'
''God's really busy, Glenn,' Ailes told him. 'He can't be listening to you.''
'Nancy Duffy, a senior Fox producer, wanted Palin to host the show in front of a live studio audience. Duffy wanted to call the program Sarah Palin's Real American Stories. Palin hated the idea. She complained to her advisers that she didn't want to be a talk-show host. She wanted to just do voice-overs. More important, she didn't want Fox to promote her name in the title of the program. Not that it mattered: Palin's ratings were starting to disappoint Ailes anyway. Fox hasn't scheduled any additional specials.'
'In the halls of Fox News, people do not want to be caught talking about what will happen to Fox News after the Ailes era. The network continues to be Ailes's singular vision, and he's so far declined to name a successor. One possibility in the event Ailes departs when his contract is up in 2013 is that Bill Shine could continue to oversee prime time and Michael Clemente would run the news division. But more than one person described fearing Lord of the Flies--type chaos in the wake of Ailes's departure, so firm has his grip on power been.'
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