Michael Wolff, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is preparing to release an authorized biography of News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch. The book, appropriately titled “The Man Who Owns The News,” will be out some time between December and February, depending on what source you believe, and the author was given significant access to his subject. In advance of publication Wolff has written an article describing his encounters with the Media Mephistopheles that includes an account of a secret meeting with a reluctant Barack Obama.
“Obama…was snubbing Murdoch. Every time he reached out (Murdoch executives tried to get the Kennedys to help smooth the way to an introduction), nothing. The Fox stain was on Murdoch.”
“It wasn’t until early in the summer that Obama relented and a secret courtesy meeting was arranged. The meeting began with Murdoch sitting down, knee to knee with Obama, at the Waldorf-Astoria.”
This version of events is somewhat curious in that Obama had begun appearing on Fox News as early as January of 2008, six months prior to this meeting. I was highly critical at the time of Obama’s guest shot on “Fox & Friends,” probably the second worst booking he could have made after “The O’Reilly Factor” (on which he has still, so far, declined to appear [Update below]). After an inconsequential chat with Murdoch, Roger Ailes took his place before Obama, and that’s when the fireworks began:
“Obama lit into Ailes. He said that he didn’t want to waste his time talking to Ailes if Fox was just going to continue to abuse him and his wife, that Fox had relentlessly portrayed him as suspicious, foreign, fearsome – just short of a terrorist.”
Ailes, unruffled, said it might not have been this way if Obama had more willingly come on the air instead of so often giving Fox the back of his hand.
A tentative truce, which may or may not have vast historical significance, was at that moment agreed upon.
From the exchange as related here, Obama forthrightly expressed the precise reasons that he was disinclined to show Fox News any respect. But as I noted above, he was not uniformly able to maintain his will power to say “no” to Fox.
However, it is Ailes’ response that is striking in its arrogance. By suggesting that Obama’s standoffish position with regard to Fox resulted in the rancidly slanderous coverage, Ailes is in effect blaming Obama for the dirty work for which Ailes himself is responsible. He is also admitting that the coverage was as predominately negative as Obama contended. That, of course, validates Obama’s decision to stay away from the network in the first place. And perhaps worse than any of that, Ailes is implying that he orchestrated the bad press as revenge for Obama not accepting Fox’s invitations to be abused on their air. Ailes has thus confessed that he believes that it is appropriate for a journalist to bash public figures who don’t obey a demand to appear. This is a position that Bill O’Reilly himself articulated when he threatened Democrats that, “If you dodge us, it is at your peril.” Fox is to journalism what Capone was to the beverage industry.
Elsewhere in the article, Wolff offers some insight into what he believes is an evolving Murdoch who may not be as enamored with either Ailes or O’Reilly as he once was.
“Fox has been his alter ego. For a long time he was in love with the Fox chief, Roger Ailes, because he was even more Murdoch than Murdoch. And yet now the embarrassment can’t be missed-he mumbles even more than usual when called on to justify it; he barely pretends to hide the way he feels about Bill O’Reilly.”
This allegedly stormy forecast for these media titans echoes a report last June in Gawker that queried whether Murdoch was about to fire Ailes. I struck down that theory at the time, and I stand by my position. But perhaps things are not so rosy as I thought. Perhaps Murdoch is evolving in ways I cannot imagine. When Wolff asked Murdoch for advice on who to vote for in November, he elicited this response from Murdoch:
“He paused, considered, nodded his head slowly: ‘Obama – he’ll sell more papers.'”
I guess Murdoch is getting both softer and greedier with age.
Update: Just a few hours after this posting, O’Reilly announced that Obama will appear on his show this coming Thursday. Here is my analysis of this development.