In the latest Newsweek, media reporter Howard Kurtz gives us a "revealing" look at Fox News chief Roger Ailes, charting what Ailes calls the network's quiet, months-long "course correction" from its recent hard-right conservatism toward a more broadly appealing — and thus more lucrative — center-right posture. Of course, Fox News risks "alienating its most rabid right-wing fans," says Kurtz, but Ailes is spending his last few years at the network "acting not like a political operative but as a corporate chieftain," putting the bottom line first. Here, six takeaways from Kurtz's "glowing" profile of Ailes:
1. Ailes is edging Fox "back toward the mainstream"
"The Left has long branded Fox a propaganda arm for Ailes' pugnacious conservatism," says Kurtz. But as "Obama's popularity has plummeted and the country has grown increasingly sick of partisan sniping, something unexpected happened. Roger Ailes pulled back a bit on the throttle." Glenn Beck, whose contract wasn't renewed, and Sarah Palin "are singled out as the troublemakers in this regard," says Glynnis MacNicol at Business Insider. For Ailes, this isn't so much an ideological correction as a business one, says Alex Alvarez at Mediaite. His "finely attuned" sense tells him that today's public wants a subtly toned-down Fox News.
2. But only a bit
Kurtz's reporting on the more moderate tone at Fox News is "a kind of confirmation of what many viewers have noticed," says Ben Smith at Politico. But Ailes is still a political player on the Right. "I've never heard the head of another news outlet chat about the advice he gives presidential candidates, and the ways in which he drives his policy views onto the air." Kurtz's "kinder, gentler Roger" also attacks the AP as "left-wing, antiwar" organization for assuming that Muslims killed in an Iraqi mosque during prayer services were "worshiping," says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. "This does not strike me as a mellowing."
3. Fox News still treats the GOP debates like lucrative "reality TV"
Kurtz's Exhibit A of the more fair-and-balanced Fox News? The latest GOP presidential debate, before which Fox anchors Chris Wallace, Brett Baier, and Megyn Kelly "plotted how to trap the candidates" — especially Texan Rick Perry — and get them to quarrel with each other. The resulting "reality-TV show" debate "rankled the Right," but it also drew the most viewers of any debate this season. Baiting the candidates "as if they're on The Real Housewives of Washington D.C." might draw in political junkies, says Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. But it's bound to turn off "normal Americans, by which I mean folks who would like to be better informed about presidential candidates."
4. Ailes likes a little tension between Fox pundits
Kurtz reports that Ailes "seems to relish the feuding among his stars," says Mediaite's Alvarez. Indeed, the most "hilarious section" of the article is when "Ailes, for some reason, just unloads on all his anchors, one after another," says Jonathan Chait at New York. Sean Hannity is "predictable"; Bill O'Reilly hates Hannity and Rush Limbaugh "because they did better in radio than he did"; Shep Smith occasionally gets too positive about Obama, and "we have a friendly talk." It's like the Simpsons episode "where Bart, staying after class, asks Mrs. Krabappel why she doesn't date various male co-workers, and is treated to a shocking stream of candor."
5. Fox News refused to give Tim Pawlenty a job
Three weeks after he dropped out of the presidential race, Pawlenty "showed up to ask for a gig at Fox," says Kurtz. This was right before Pawlenty endorsed Mitt Romney, and Ailes wasn't having any of it. "I'm not sure I want to sign you as a paid spokesman for Romney," he reportedly said. "I assume T-Paw was asking for a role as a contributor; not anything as ambitious as getting his own one-hour show, ala Mike Huckabee," says Christian Heinze at The Hill.
6. Ailes next war: Government regulation
At an editorial meeting Kurtz sat in on, the self-described "hands-off" Ailes asks about a series he dreamed up, Regulation Nation. Are the producers "ginned up and ready to go?" he asks. Later, he boasts that "no other network will cover that subject," adding: "I think regulations are totally out of control," with bureaucrats and academics coming up with "regulations to try to ruin your life." The best quote in the article, though, is aimed at New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's latest public health crusade, says Business Insider's MacNicol: "I like Bloomberg, he's a friend. But f*ck him and the salt. I like salt. It's not his business."