The New York Times ran an interesting article about Roger Ailes a couple of days ago. Ailes is the head of Fox News at News Corporation, owned and run, of course, by Rupert Murdoch and various offspring Murdochs. Ailes is one of the most important people in the United States, by virtue of his re-creation of the concept of television news, morphing from something that vaguely resembled news into something that is indistinguishable from right-wing propaganda. And it has had enormous impact on television news in general, and on US political, and broader, culture, as anyone who has seen Outfoxed knows.
It turns out that not everyone in the Murdoch family is happy with Mr Ailes. There are a number of possible reasons. First, he’s really, really important to News Corporation:
Mr. Ailes is certainly making money. At a time when the broadcast networks are struggling with diminishing audiences and profits in news, he has built Fox News into the profit engine of the News Corporation. Fox News is believed to make more money than CNN, MSNBC and the evening newscasts of NBC, ABC and CBS combined. The division is on track to achieve $700 million in operating profit this year, according to analyst estimates that Mr. Ailes does not dispute.
This outsize success has placed Mr. Ailes, an aggressive former Republican political strategist, at the pinnacle of power in three corridors of American life: business, media and politics. In addition to being the best-paid person in the News Corporation last year, he is the most successful news executive of the last 10 years, and his network exerts a strong influence on the fractured conservative movement.
And it’s that second paragraph that really conveys Ailes’ seminal importance to modern American politics over the past two decades. For Ailes basically created the modern media mindset that made conservative talking points the de facto standard for television reality. This would include the misrepresentations, sleazy innuendo, and outright lying that now defines modern broadcast news. It was always there, of course, but never in the abundance it is now, and to for that we owe Mr. Ailes a bow.
The Times‘ piece is basically a puff piece on Ailes’ importance to News Corporation and modern conservatism, which may be more or less the same thing, and how he seems to have old Rupert pretty much completely cowed. But not everyone seems to be happy with that. The Times has some negative comments from Matthew Freud, Murdoch’s son-in-law, which get elaborated on in Roy Greenslade’s blog over at The Guardian:
Matthew Freud has launched a withering attack on the head of Fox News, a controversial US TV channel owned by his father-in-law, Rupert Murdoch.
Freud told the New York Times he was “ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to”.
Freud, who is married to Elisabeth, Murdoch’s second daughter, was speaking to the paper for a profile of Ailes and prefaced his coment by saying he was “by no means alone within the family or the company” in holding such hostile views of Fox News.
According to the Financial Times, Murdoch’s News Corporation later issued a statement saying: “Matthew Freud’s opinions are his own and in no way reflect the views of Rupert Murdoch, who is proud of Roger Ailes and Fox News.”
Freud, head of his eponymous public relations company, is not the kind of man to speak carelessly to a journalist, so he clearly wanted to put his views on the record.
Murdoch’s family, and its various entanglements with each other and with Murdoch himself, are pretty much a matter of public record, given Murdoch’s prominence and the extent to which has has attempted to drag his children into the running of his empire. For many of them, though, there has been greater appeal outside of their fathers’ orbit. Michael Wolf, who wrote a recent biography of Murdoch (The Man Who Owns the News), provided a nice summary of the family last November to The Guardian.
So what next? Is there a palace revolt brewing? Murdoch himself is 79, and his principal deputy, Peter Chernin, departed not too long ago—-which leaves Ailes as the most senior and powerful executive in the corporation after Murdoch. But if there is significant family opposition to Ailes, and they’re the ones who own the stock, one has to question how much longer Ailes would remain in his post on Rupert’s departure. Which would be no bad thing for the rest of us.