For Roger Ailes and Fox News, the ‘Election’ Never Ends

Palin returns, as Fox News continues its two-tiered battle against liberals and TV rivals

Roger Ailes
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

“The election’s over,” Fox News CEO Roger Ailes said last December, when he conspicuously benched two of the channel’s partisan talking heads, Dick Morris and Karl Rove.

Don’t look now, but Ailes’ proclaimed post-election period is officially over, and Fox News is back on a full-blown war footing.

Of course, Fox is really fighting two battles at once — one against the Obama administration and liberalism, and the other a more pragmatic one against its news rivals. By that measure, Monday’s edition of “Fox & Friends” was a competitive tour de force — bringing in star Megyn Kelly to substitute for Gretchen Carlson and featuring the return of Sarah Palin as a commentator to help bash the “lamestream media,” in this case CBS News.

It’s no accident these big guns were enlisted the day CNN unveiled its revamped morning program, “New Day,” directly opposite “Fox & Friends.” Not that Fox really needs to worry about losing viewers because of the CNN alternative, but given Ailes’ competitive zeal, only crushing the show into paste will be seen as enough.

As he has demonstrated time and again, Ailes operates in a manner unlike virtually any other TV executive around. According to New York magazine, he recently gave a speech that was equal parts partisan political attack and a professional one aimed at competitors, prefacing his remarks by saying, “I didn’t give up my citizenship to create and run a news organization.”

Fair enough, but others in a similar capacity generally adhere to the notion that the appearance of objectivity is important — a view Ailes makes clear he wholeheartedly rejects. In his view, most in traditional media are closet liberals, so supposed aspirations to fairness from them are a pretense, a charade. And with a wave of scandals plaguing the Obama administration — including the Justice Dept.’s probing of Fox News correspondent James Rosen — Ailes certainly has a target-rich environment to exploit in terms of the channel’s campaign mode.

On Monday, for example, a graphic pertaining to the IRS scandal read “They Lied.” Palin sat in for the entire third hour, disappearing (wisely, in hindsight) only when former “90210” star Ian Ziering showed up to plug his stint in Vegas as a Chippendales dancer.

The hosts also took great umbrage over an interview with CBS News anchor Scott Pelley in which he foolishly dismissed (and underestimated the size of) the cable-news audience, as well as a report in which a CBS correspondent compared the conservatives running in Iran’s elections, in U.S. terms, to the Tea Party. “You just put the BS in CBS,” chided Palin, while the onscreen graphic read, “SORE LOSER? Last-Place CBS Anchor Bashes Cable Nets.”

For Fox News, such material merely feeds the us-versus-them, you-can’t-trust-the-mainstream-media posture that has proved so successful, yet which has been toxic to the ideal of journalistic fairness and impartiality. There is also an undeniable genius in Ailes’ we win/you lose approach, covering Democrats in a way no journalist would if they wanted their phone calls from sources returned, then bashing those who won’t respond for being hypocrites or cowards if they shy away from the channel.

Fox’s clear sense of mission stands in contrast to CNN, which is in the midst of another makeover, with “New Day” representing just the latest salvo. Filled with news, busy and eclectic, the program opened with a poll citing a decline in President Obama’s approval, while forecasting real problems for the administration’s second term if those trend lines persist. One could say the same for “New Day” if hosts Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan keep repeating the words “New Day” over and over again, as if they’re trying to either inspire an “SNL” sketch or create their own news-watching drinking game. (Cuomo also looked like a deer in the headlights trying to wrangle HLN’s foaming-at-the-mouth Nancy Grace.)

What seems undeniable is suggestions Fox might dial down its take-no-prisoners aggression were nonsense even then. That’s because the network is built on waging an unending political campaign that — like the rejoinder from the primetime hosts on MSNBC — doesn’t stop when the voting does.

The main difference is Fox News is generally better at it, and its principal target is going to spend another three years in the White House. And while Fox’s highest-profile hosts and Ailes would contend that’s very bad for America, it’s very, very good for business.