Part of Roger Ailes’ master plan at Fox News and grand design for American politics is to get as many potential Republican candidates for president as he can on his payroll. Hence, Sarah Palin signed on yesterday
as a Fox contributor.
Ailes has several operations going here. He wants to be a kingmaker—actually, he believes he is
a kingmaker. He believes that conservative candidates are successful when they take up the Fox line (not vice versa)—and that they will be more successful if they follow his advice. He has, on several occasions, gotten in journalism-ethics trouble for seeming to advise conservative politicians. He solves that problem if they are his employees. He can be their personal political tutor; he’s the director. Indeed, he’s the boss. It should not be underestimated how good he is at this job. He can shape an incredible performance. And, finally, he wants to be paid for this. The tragedy of the political consultant, which Ailes once was, working for Nixon and Reagan, is that consultants can never fully monetize their success. Ailes has solved that problem: He’s turned conservative politics into a paying show.
All this comprises an astounding development in American politics.
But the even larger development is that Ailes was fired on Sunday
. Matthew Freud—the son-in-law of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch—claiming to representing the controlling shareholders of News Corp., which owns Fox News, said Ailes’ is, in essence, a contemptible grotesque whose association soiled the company.
News Corp. issued a statement, following Freud’s, saying that Freud’s opinions were his own—a tepid, even non-committal response to a bombshell.
The real behind-the-scenes story would work like this. There are four Murdoch adult children—representing the four votes that, after Murdoch himself, control the Murdoch family trust, which controls News Corp. While the four have their own divisions, they are as insular and tribal as any family can be—Kennedy-like, or mafia-like. They act as and for the family. Freud, one of the most influential PR men in London, who is married to Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, is in daily touch with James Murdoch, who is the number two and heir apparent in the company. James speaks to his father not less than twice, and often four or five times a day.
The chances that a statement like Freud’s—“ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes's horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards”—so purposely composed and obviously written, was issued without agreement, plan, and orchestration, are nil.
Within the Murdoch family, they talk about Ailes sometimes like a comic figure, a gargoyle, a crazy uncle, but, too, like he’s a burden, even a disease in the family, something to be dealt with, all the more so as Ailes’ profits at Fox News have given him ever-more presence and clout.
When Tim Arango, the New York Times
reporter who got the statement from Freud, called and said he was doing a story on Ailes’ rising power
, Freud would have consulted with the rest of the family. James Murdoch would have said to his father something along the lines of, “this is untenable, this idea that Roger is the center of the company.”
Murdoch, who protects nothing so much as his own primacy at News Corp., and who always likes somebody else to do his dirty work, would likely have said, in his particular patois, “umm…goddamn…grump
…son-of-a-bitch…they’re gonna say that? Who put ‘em up to it? Okay, okay, do what you want to do.” By which he would have meant: “Blow a rocket up his ass.”
The process of losing your job at News Corp. takes about a year. They talk about you, and isolate you, and then you understand that you’ve been exiled from the tribe.
Roger Ailes may think he’s going to be the kingmaker in the next election, except he’s just been toppled. That’s the biggest news in American politics.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.