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What Roger Ailes Really Admitted To Newsweek About Fox News Bias

Reported by Ellen - September 26, 2011 -

Newsweek’s Howard Kurtz has a lengthy piece about Roger Ailes’ efforts to “quietly reposition” Fox News Channel. In a subtitle, Kurtz notes, “First, Ailes dialed back the Tea Party talk. Now he’s turning the GOP race into a political X-Factor—and steering the election agenda one more time.” Translation: Ailes is gearing up for its Elect-A-Republican-In-2012 mission by playing Simon Cowell with the GOP presidential contestants. Although Ailes seemed to own up to Fox News’ bias when he said, “We are the balance” to the liberal bias he accuses every other network of having, Kurtz also makes it clear that Ailes is very deliberately stirring the pot of the 2012 election. Any seasoned Fox News watcher has every reason to believe the new "repositioning" will follow whatever Republican candidate wins the presidential nomination.

The full quote from Ailes, according to Kurtz is: “Every other network has given all their shows to liberals. We are the balance.” This closely echoes the words of Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace to Jon Stewart a few months ago: “I think we’re the counterweight… I think that they have a liberal agenda and I think we tell the other side of the story.” As I wrote then, Wallace and now Ailes did not say Fox tells the full, fair and balanced story – as their “fair and balanced” and “we report, you decide” mottos suggest - but, rather, the “other side.” That implies advocacy, does it not?

Kurtz' article shows examples of Fox News hosts deliberately manipulating the course of last week’s GOP candidates’ debate so as to “trap the candidates” and evoke fireworks:

Hours before last week’s presidential debate in Orlando, Ailes’s anchors sat in a cavernous back room, hunched over laptops, and plotted how to trap the candidates. Chris Wallace said he would aim squarely at Rick Perry’s weakness: “How do you feel about being criticized by some of your rivals as being too soft on illegal immigration? Then I go to Rick Santorum: is Perry too soft?”

“That’s going to get some fireworks going,” said managing editor Bill Sammon, grinning.

Kurtz goes on to suggest that this represents some kind of non-partisanship:

Ailes has always been a master showman—he even gave advice on triple-checking the audio—and Fox’s partnership with Google produced striking videos, graphics, and a backstage smoothie bar. But the real eye-opener was the sight of his anchors grilling the Republican contenders, which pleases the White House but cuts sharply against the network’s conservative image—and risks alienating its most rabid right-wing fans.

In fact, the only non-partisanship going on is Fox News’ sort-of neutrality when it comes to the Republican slate. Fox may have been willing to give Perry some tsuris during the debate but they have bent over backwards to promote him at other times. I’d bet money Perry will be on Fox News in the not-too-distant future to help make up for any damage inflicted.

Even Kurtz seemed to acknowledge the ruse:

Ailes is exploiting the reality-TV tension—even as the contestants are seeking his advice. Perry is right to be wary of talking to news organizations, the chairman says: “They will set a trap for him and ask him who’s the leader of Uzbekistan and run with that for a week.” Michele Bachmann was clearly joking when she said God was sending a message with Hurricane Irene: “The way they’re playing it on the networks is that she’s a Jesus freak.” As for the longtime description of Romney as a weak frontrunner, that’s because “?‘weak’ is a word the mainstream press will give to all Republicans always, as a precursor to killing them off … It saddens me. America used to be able to get straight journalism.”

In other words, it’s OK for Fox to trap Perry because they’re on the same side.

But as Ari Rabin-Havt at Media Matters noted – and Kurtz did not – the candidate Ailes really wants is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. It's easy to be somewhat neutral about a slate when your own guy isn't on it.

Meanwhile, as Rabin-Havt also noted (and again Kurtz did not), Kurtz says Ailes “cooked up” Fox’s recent “Regulation Nation” series just as the Republican Party launched its own push for rollbacks.

Saying that “Democrats have noticed the change,” Kurtz quotes former White House communications director Anita Dunn (who famously called Fox News an arm of the Republican Party) saying, “You have the sense that they’re trying to at least appear less of the hyper-partisan political network they had been.”

It’s also easier (and probably more advantageous in the long run for Republicans) for Fox to appear more neutral while the GOP has not yet coalesced behind a dog in the hunt for the White House. Sure, the network might antagonize a few of their more partisan, more right-wing fans but – like a liberal Democrat tacking to the center for an election – an old political hand like Ailes knows those voters, I mean viewers, aren’t going anywhere else.

Fox News has always masqueraded as a non-partisan network. Even this chink in its armor was eclipsed by Ailes telling Kurtz about reining in Bill O’Reilly and Shepard Smith when they stray too far from Republican sensibilities.

It’s a safe bet that once a Republican candidate is decided upon, Fox News will circle its wagons around him or her and it will be as though nothing has ever changed.

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