OFF THE GRID

What Should Obama Do About Fox News?

Oct 13, 09 | 8:30 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The plan now is to harrumph. Fox is "undertaking a war against Barack Obama," the White House says, and therefore it’s not going to treat Fox the same as "legitimate news organizations." That’s a harrumph. A petulant harrumph.

And a gift—to Fox. The network was out in force yesterday, basking in the White House’s disapproval. Beck and O’Reilly were nearly orgiastic. Every presidential harrumph sends their ratings through the roof.

The Obama campaign is so ass-backward that I’m tempted to surmise that the White House must purposefully want to increase the Fox glee. When Fox froths at the mouth, that makes the Obama base froth, too. The president is matching his base against the conservative one, understanding that, even if Fox’s ratings are increasing, the conservative base itself is contracting and the liberal base expanding. Or some such thesis.

But I don’t think the president is so calculating or clear-headed on this subject. Rather, he’s fulminating. He talks about Fox the same way the Clintons talked about the right-wing conspiracy. He feels similarly pissed-off and helpless in the face of it.

During the campaign he had a secret meeting with Fox chief Roger Ailes in which he blasted Ailes for basically equating him with a terrorist. After the meeting, Ailes, I am told, had a cat-who-swallowed-a-canary look. There was a recent meeting between Ailes and David Axelrod, the president’s media guru. Ailes preened and gloated and delivered his proud defense of the network and, I am told, ate Axelrod for lunch.

They’re fuming at the White House and they don’t know what to do.

Fox may be preaching to the converted and, indeed, those ranks might well be shrinking—the white conservatives aging out, the new much-less-white demographic catching up—but all the words that are used against the president, all the flies around his face, are Fox words and flies. These are painful and effective distractions.

Here’s my view: Don’t fight Fox. You can’t fight Roger Ailes—because that’s what he lives for. He lives off your rage and blood. Rather, this is what you do (please listen closely): Exploit the rift that exists between Ailes and the man he works for, Rupert Murdoch.

That rift has grown ever larger because Ailes is the only guy making money for Murdoch now. Ailes has been proven right in his down-low media strategy; Murdoch, who has staked his business acumen (and the value of his company) on his acquisition of the hoity-toity Wall Street Journal two years ago, has been proven wrong.

Here’s a program: Lavish incredible attentions on the Journal, interviews, scoops, wonderful photo ops. The WSJ needs this—Murdoch needs this. Build yourself some leverage with Mr. M. In the end, no matter the economics, Murdoch will do what’s best for the Journal—even if that means he has to discipline his cash cow, Fox.

Also: Squeeze the Hollywood and chattering class liberals. If you can get the fancy people to snub Murdoch and his wife, Wendi, that would be something they’d feel.

You literally cannot hurt Roger Ailes. But Rupert is more and more a little touchy about his standing in the world. He’s the weak link.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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