Does Ailes Head the GOP? Well, Sort Of

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman makes a provocative argument that Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes is “by default” the de facto head of the Republican Party.

“If politics is a nonstop talk show,” Fineman proposes, “being the head booker means you are the boss.”

Certainly, Fox News has become not only the champion of the Tea Party movement and the leading purveyor of anti-Obama rhetoric, but the channel also represents a lucrative way station for GOP candidates in waiting and exile. The likes of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich can go to FNC and not only stay part of the public debate but draw a lucrative paycheck in the process.

The problem is that Ailes’ priorities, as a cable TV exec, are not the same as the Republican Party. In the former occupation, it’s perfectly acceptable to preach to a relatively small choir, in the same way Syfy channel need only attract science-fiction aficionados. By definition, to be successful in the political arena the GOP has to attract a wider following than Fox or a radio host like Rush Limbaugh — something that the overheated rhetoric employed by FNC’s premiere talent doesn’t necessarily help achieve.

Ailes’ clout within the company has ostensibly grown thanks to Fox’s ratings success and the departure of News Corp. COO Peter Chernin from that role. Yet there are signs that some notable constituencies are uncomfortable with the more strident tone FNC has adopted, as made clear by the remarkable quote that PR exec Matthew Freud — Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law — gave the New York Times in a recent profile of Ailes: “I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being
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.”

Ailes laughed off the comment in a subsequent Los Angeles Times interview, but it’s hard to believe that Freud would have referenced that he was “by no means alone” in firing that shot across the bow without something to back it up.

So if Ailes is indeed a kingmaker, as Fineman suggests, there’s also evidence even that crown comes with a few thorns of its own.

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