What does it take to get the attention of the media when a corrosive scandal erupts that they don’t seem to want to cover?
This past week a prominent and powerful public figure was implicated in a searing and salacious controversy. It involves sex, felonious criminal conduct, corporate intrigue, political shenanigans, and personal betrayal. This is either the scoop of the year or the best damn plot of “Days of our Lives” in decades.
The central figure in the controversy happens to be one of the most powerful media executives in the world, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. It is alleged that Ailes tried to coerce a News Corp colleague, Judith Regan, to lie to federal investigators about her affair with Bernard Kerik, President Bush’s nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security. Ailes wanted to shield his friend Rudy Giuliani, who had sponsored Kerik, from an embarrassing episode as he was attempting to launch a campaign for president. Kerik presently resides in federal prison on tax fraud violations.
Can you just imagine what would have happened if the head of CNN or CBS had been the subject of such assertions? First of all, Fox News would have made it their lead story at the top of every hour. It would have been repeated ad nauseum with remotes from the network’s offices. Their primetime pundits would have spun it into a conspiracy that enveloped President Obama, George Soros, Muslim radicals, and protesters from Egypt to Wisconsin.
Instead, there has been a virtual blackout on the broadcast news networks. Not a single one has done a story about Ailes and the newly uncovered legal documents that contain sworn testimony as to his behavior. Of course, I wouldn’t have expected any reports from the Fox News Channel or Fox Business Network as their corporate mission is to lie and obfuscate even when the story doesn’t involve their leader. But what’s the problem with CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC? How is it possible that someone with the public profile of Roger Ailes is getting a free pass by every major television network? Does Ailes have compromising photos of his counterparts at the other networks? Or are they just frightened little hacks with no journalistic integrity whatsoever?
This is not an insignificant story. And it isn’t just the criminal allegations that define its importance. Ailes is still the chief executive of the network despite his apparent attempts to intervene on behalf of a political pal. So this goes straight to the question of his fitness to run a news enterprise and to be fair and balanced while doing so. In recent weeks leaked memos have revealed the institutional bias of Fox News. There has been documentary evidence that Fox is indeed the PR arm of the GOP, just as most objective analysts had already surmised. And the Ailes affair puts an exclamation point on that.
So what’s wrong with the other broadcast news organizations? Why are they protecting Ailes? If the situation were reversed Ailes would be pummeling them. In fact, Fox News already pummels their competitors on a nightly basis without even having a scandal as a starting point. This is a competitiveness issue. Can anyone imagine that if Reebok discovered that the CEO of Nike had approved harmful materials for use in his footwear products, that Reebok would keep its mouth shut? Yet that’s what Fox’s competitors are doing now, and have been doing for years.
First and foremost, the other networks have an obligation to inform the public, and they are failing utterly in that. But, shockingly, they aren’t even willing to advance the truth when it would benefit them competitively against the biggest player on the cable field. Do they want to always be also-rans behind Fox News? That suggests either some dastardly compact has been drawn up surrendering the lead to Fox, or an Olympian dose of incompetence.