It was difficult to tell last week who came out on top in the latest battle of wills between NBC News prexy Andrew Lack and his longtime rival, Fox News helmer Roger Ailes.
Certainly, Lack made an astonishingly bumptious move Nov. 26 when he told Bill Carter of the New York Times: “I have been focused … in building for the 21st century the largest, most impressive, and the preeminent news organization in the world. … I am America’s news leader.”
Lack was feeling a tad untouchable after managing to keep Geraldo Rivera from joining the Fox News ranks, and being handed oversight of CNBC’s primetime lineup as a reward.
By last week, however, Lack’s interview had made it to the level of news lore, and was a major topic of discussion at holiday soirees. Behind the scenes, no one was enjoying the drama more than Ailes.
There has been no love lost between Ailes and Lack, say industry insiders, since their inhouse competition at NBC, which culminated in Ailes being pushed out of CNBC’s top slot. The Rivera episode was merely the latest in a long line of very personal duels between the two.
Interestingly, on Dec. 3, the New York Post — which is under the same News Corp. umbrella as Ailes’ Fox News empire — ran a doctored photograph of Lack wearing a Napoleon hat, with right hand in jacket and left hand on a globe. The caption: “I am America’s news leader.” The headline: “Waterloo words from NBC honcho.”
The Post says an “anonymous TV insider” had been inspired to compose the photo and distribute it via e-mail to executives on Broadcast Row. Industry sources tell Daily Variety that the photo had indeed been generated within Fox News. A spokesman says he “could neither confirm nor deny” that Fox News was the source.Meanwhile, at a Dec. 3 “Today” show party, NBC flacks were visibly concerned about whether Lack would take their advice on how to turn the situation around with a little humor: Show up to the party wearing a Napoleon hat.
He did. Though Lack seemed slightly ill at ease at first, the move and Lack’s “Waterloo”-type references, were met with sighs of relief and laughter.
One wonders now whether Ailes is still laughing.