Roger Ailes Plays Nice

By Kurtz, Howard | Newsweek, June 20, 2011 | Go to article overview

Roger Ailes Plays Nice


Kurtz, Howard, Newsweek


Byline: Howard Kurtz

The Fox News honcho responds to a media drubbing.

Roger Ailes, the combative conservative behind Fox News, is sounding strangely reasonable these days, going easy on top Democrats--even Hillary Clinton!--and subtly distancing himself from the inflammatory Glenn Beck.

When I spoke with him shortly after the publication of two scathing magazine profiles depicting the chairman as power mad, paranoid, and a GOP puppeteer, Ailes was in a strikingly upbeat mood. When the climate is calm, he loves to stir up trouble, as when he told me last fall that NPR executives were "Nazis." But part of his genius is that when he faces hostile fire, Ailes can turn unexpectedly mellow, the better to make his critics look like the loony ones.

There was this, for instance, from the man who conferred cable stardom on Sarah Palin: "I'd like to hire Hillary Clinton. She looks unhappy at the State Department. She'd get ratings."

He plays down his role as a GOP kingmaker, though he confirmed that he invited New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to dinner (while denying he urged Christie to jump into the race). Ailes admires Christie's budget-cutting prowess, but says the governor told him, "I'm not running--my wife would kill me." In the next breath Ailes salutes New York's cost-cutting Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying he could also "be a great presidential candidate -- if he can clean up Albany."

Ailes told me he met with Palin in his Manhattan office, serving chicken sandwiches and giving her parents and daughter Piper a tour of the Fox studios. Palin told him she'll decide on a White House bid this summer. Denying a New York magazine report that he called the former Alaska governor an idiot, Ailes marveled at the frenzy surrounding her tour of historic sites: "She's so smart she's got the press corps running up the whole East Coast behind her bus."

As for Anthony Weiner, the Brooklyn Democrat being pilloried over an underwear photo mysteriously sent to a young woman from his Twitter account, Ailes told his newsroom to "move on" unless there were new developments. …

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