In this week's New York magazine, reporter Gabriel Sherman tackles Fox News — cable news' undisputed ratings champ — and its chairman, Roger Ailes, 71, one of the most powerful figures in U.S. media. This "epic" article "reveals tons of juicy, behind-the-scenes-details," says Matt Schneider at Mediaite, shedding light on Ailes' dumping of Glenn Beck, First Lady Michelle Obama's loathing for Fox host Sean Hannity, and certain dynamics shaping the 2012 presidential race. Here, five takeaways from Sherman's exposé:
1. Glenn Beck was a financial jackpot... and a political disaster
Ailes hired Beck to fill the 5 p.m. "black hole" time slot the month before Barack Obama was elected. The mercurial newsman doubled ratings, Sherman says, succeeding "beyond anyone’s wildest hopes." But tensions surfaced immediately. Beck, already his own media franchise, didn't need to play by Fox's rules. Worse, his over-the-top verbal bomb-throwing "almost engulfed Fox itself," tarnishing both its brand and the GOP's, in Ailes' view. Ailes had to carefully let Beck go without alienating fans — or delivering "a victory for the liberal media."
2. Ailes reportedly thinks Palin is an "idiot"
"As Ailes figured out what to do with Beck, a new problem emerged: Sarah Palin." Ailes had started courting Palin right after her September 2008 national debut. But since he signed her to a three-year, $3 million contract, her ratings have disappointed, she's clashed with producers over her TV specials, and she ignored Ailes advice to "lie low" after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson. Now, Ailes "thinks Palin is an idiot," a "Republican close to Ailes" tells Sherman. "He thinks she's stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven't elevated the conservative movement."
3. The Tucson shooting was a turning point at Fox
After the Tuscon rampage, Ailes "recognized that a Fox brand defined by Palin could be politically vulnerable," Sherman says. The national mood had shifted, and Ailes moved to tamp down the "silly season" he'd helped foster. Among other things, he urged star pundit Bill O'Reilly to "shoot down the 'birther' conspiracy and other assorted right-wing myths" dogging President Obama.
4. Ailes can't convince Chris Christie to run for president
Last summer, Ailes invited New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to his upstate mansion for dinner. "And like much of the GOP establishment, he fell hard for Christie," Sherman says, calling him early in 2011 to urge him to jump into the presidential race. Christie declined, and another would-be Ailes recruit, Gen. David Petraeus, opted to continue working for Obama. "For all his programming genius, [Ailes] was more interested in a real narrative than a television narrative — he wanted to elect a president."
5. Fox News could change a lot when Ailes leaves
At 71, Ailes hasn't named a successor. When he's gone, his role might be split between programming chief Bill Shine and Fox senior VP Michael Clemente. But "the future could be very different," with or without Ailes, Sherman says. Rupert Murdoch's son James is on the short list to take over News Corp., Fox's parent company, and he and the other top candidates aren't as conservative as Ailes or Murdoch. Another sign of the times: "Rupert's wife, Wendi, recently agreed to host an Obama fundraiser with Russell Simmons. 'She's a big fan [of the president],'" Simmons says.
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