A fascinating article about the ascension of Rupert Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch, to CEO of 21st Century Fox, which owns Fox News, predicts that Roger Ailes will continue to play the role of uber Republican strategist for the foreseeable future.
In an article called, James Murdoch May Have the Reins at 21st Century Fox, But Will He Ever Control Roger Ailes? Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman notes that the animosity between James Murdoch (whose environmentalist wife once worked for the Clinton Foundation) and Ailes (who reportedly called him “a f***ing dope”) is not likely to cause the son to interfere in the profit-generating giant that is Fox News. Especially given that Ailes has said he will still report to Rupert Murdoch who will remain on board.
Currently, Ailes’ political power is as strong as ever, according to Sherman. “The Kochs may have the money, but Ailes controls the eyeballs,” he notes. Also, Fox’s entry criteria for the first GOP debate – under which Donald Trump would qualify but not former Fox host and current Republican Governor John Kasich – has pretty much upended the RNC’s debate plan “that was specifically designed to impose some adult supervision on the process.”
Sherman’s sources tell him that Ailes’ manipulations are not just for ratings (candidates looking to make the cut have every incentive to appear often on Fox) but to interfere with the outcome.
(A)ccording to Fox insiders I’ve spoken with in recent days, Ailes simply isn’t dazzled by any of the GOP contenders so far. In fact, he has gotten into it with some of the biggest names in the field. He recently clashed with Jeb Bush over immigration and his support for Common Core. According to one source, Ailes fumed at Bush that his education policy would wipe American history and religion from his teenage son’s textbooks. Ailes also tangled with Chris Christie over the Hurricane Sandy photo op that the New Jersey governor shared with Obama on the eve of the 2012 election. “You looked ridiculous,” Ailes snapped at Christie at the opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library. “You were like the fat kid in high school chasing the popular kid.” Christie, who’s used to doing the yelling himself, unloaded: “No one talks to me that way!” and stormed off.
One candidate Ailes is said to like is Scott Walker — whose lack of a college degree is a “plus, not a minus,” one person familiar with Ailes’s views tells me. In Walker, he has a ready-made Fox hero. He’s the plainspoken midwestern governor — the son of a Baptist preacher, no less — who stood up to those greedy public-sector unions. Walker’s hard-line, secure-the-border-and-send-them-home immigration position is also in sync with Fox’s. (In private, Ailes once claimed that Navy SEALS should be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to kill anyone crossing illegally.)
Another story we know Ailes is eager to tell for 2016 is Hillary Clinton as Über-villain. In the 1990s, Ailes was a member of the “vast right-wing conspiracy,” gleefully sloshing around in the conservative fever swamps. In one 1994 radio interview, he claimed that Whitewater involved “land fraud, illegal contributions, abuse of power … suicide cover-up — possible murder.” When one associate recently asked Ailes how he compared Hillary with Obama, he replied, “Well, she’s better than this guy, but if she makes it to the White House, it’s still going to be Freddy Krueger time.” Ailes has personally taken charge of some of Fox’s recent attacks. According to one source, he helped edit Fox’s prime-time special to promote Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash.
Sherman concludes by noting that the immediate future looks pretty good for Ailes. “He can look forward to months of hammering Hillary, and the roller coaster of the Republican race will keep his audience on edge,” Sherman writes.
But I’m less optimistic for Ailes in the long term. Rupert Murdoch is 84. Even if he intends to keep control of the reins after passing on titles to his sons, titles have a way of conferring power whether it’s intentional or not. Ailes, at 75, is no youngster either. James and Lachlan, on the other hand, are in their early 40s and will be looking out for the long-term. If they start to meddle with Ailes’ machinations, will he choose to adapt when he could easily retire?
Crossposted at News Hounds.
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