Rupert Murdoch To Fire Roger Ailes?

If Gawker is to believed, News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, and his longtime Fox News chief Roger Ailes, have had a falling out that may cost Ailes his job.

The alleged spat arose from the controversial near publication of O.J. Simpson’s confessional book, “If I Did It.” The backlash from what may have been the most nauseating literary endeavor ever, resulted in the very same people responsible for the deal running as far away from it as they could. It also caused the termination of Judith Regan, who put the revolting package together for her Regan Books subsidiary of HarperCollins. The project included a televised interview of Simpson to be broadcast on the Fox network.

Now, the recent departure as HarperCollins CEO, Jane Friedman, has people talking again. According to Gawker, a former News Corp. insider says that…

“Friedman got canned, in my view, for being anti-Regan. Rupert wanted the Simpson book out, and he also was taken in by Ailes, who orchestrated both the anti If I Did It campaign [against the OJ Simpson book] and the anti-Semitism campaign (this is fact), who will soon be shitcanned for the same reasons.”

The notion that Murdoch is contemplating the dismissal of the man who founded and built Fox News is, to say the least, far fetched. Their business relationship, and ideological consonance seem far to deep to be torn apart by a single disagreement. And if Murdoch is really upset that the Simpson book was scuttled, he didn’t say so at the time:

“I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project. We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.”

In all likelihood, Murdoch did want the book to be released. It fits perfectly the tabloid trashiness of his media philosophy. Then Ailes, the former campaign consultant with political instincts, stepped in and saved Murdoch’s butt by killing the deal. Whereupon Murdoch issues a thoroughly disingenuous apology designed only to save face. So even if Murdoch harbored some resentment that his morbidly exploitive, sensationalistic score was shelved, he was still in Ailes’ debt for averting the public scorn the project produced. In other words…Ailes isn’t going anywhere.

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The Rise Up Of Countdown

Another month, another dismal performance by Fox News who, once again, wins the trophy for “Slowest Growing Cable News Network.” The redundancy of this news compels me to search for some other ratings story so as not to bore myself. Fortunately, I’ve found a couple.

Countdown Rise Up

For most of the past half dozen years, Fox has enjoyed an almost uncontested dominance in the presentation of what is generously called news. Much of the credit goes to the bombastic pedagogy of Bill O’Reilly whose patented brand of obnoxiousness nevertheless found its audience. But in the past year the bloom has fallen from the amorphophallus titanum. The Factor is now showing both age and fatigue.

In the past year, Keith Olbermann’s Countdown has more than doubled its audience, growing 112%. O’Reilly eked out a pitiful 13% gain despite this being an election year that normally draws viewers in droves. Factor defenders routinely dismiss talk of growth percentages as not reflecting realities in the market. So if they want to talk about actual numbers of viewers, the past year also shows that O’Reilly, who used to beat Olbermann by a whopping 113%, is now only 13% ahead. This places Countdown squarely in contention for ratings victories that used to be considered fantasies. In fact, Countdown did beat the Factor six times in May. On several occasions it was the highest rated program on any cable news network in all of prime time.

What’s left of O’Reilly’s audience is still a sizable chunk of viewers. But if you take a closer look at the composition of the “Folks,” the myth of the Factor being some sort of TV phenomenon is indisputably busted. The portion of his audience that is in the 25-54 year old demographic preferred by advertisers is 21%. Fully four out of five of O’Reilly viewers are considered to be of little value to the advertisers that determine whether a show remains on the air. That compares to 38% for Countdown. So while Countdown still has fewer total viewers than the Factor (for now), it is a richer source for the most highly prized sector of the audience. It’s also interesting to note that O’Reilly’s demographic weakness is even worse than Fox News overall, whose total day draw of 25-54 year olds is 25% (38%, same as Countdown, for MSNBC).

By all accounts, the rise of Countdown has been extraordinary and its competitors have taken notice. The controversy that erupted last month between Fox executives and their NBC/GE counterparts is one example of how the theater of battle has expanded. Another example is the perplexing behavior of O’Reilly during his interview of former Bush press secretary, Scott McClellan. O’Reilly spent a majority of the time ignoring questions about McClellan’s controversial new bestseller, in favor of probing partisan reactions to the book in the press and McClellan’s decision to appear on other news programs before the Factor. O’Reilly battered McClellan with assertions that he was just a dupe of the left, he called McClellan “crazy,” and then put forth this inquiry:

“I watched you last week promoting the book on some of the most notorious Bush haters in the country. And you were on their programs. And I — didn’t it make your skin crawl?”

The only venue wherein that could be considered a serious question is safely huddled in the hearth of O’Reilly’s dementia. The real purpose of O’Reilly’s absurd line of questioning is to try to discredit his perceived enemies – aka, his competition. Notorious Bush haters is O’Reilly-ish for Keith Olbermann. It’s notable that whenever Olbermann casts aspersions on O’Reilly, he does it with a wink and a smile. But O’Reilly is so deadly serious about the hate America lefties that he seems to be ready to spontaneously combust. It is a classic exhibition of the symptoms of acute desperation and paranoia.

The problem for O’Reilly now is that everything he does to retard his decline just makes him look more retarded. The end is nearing, but he will never be able to admit that to himself. And when they carry him out of the studio insisting that he is still important, half the nation will be giggling, and the other half will be saying, “Bill who?”

Update 6/10/08: An MSNBC press release states that “MSNBC continued its ratings surge last week, with viewers flocking out of the “No Spin Zone” and to “The Place for Politics.” For the first time ever, MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” was the #1 show at 8 p.m., out-drawing Fox News’s “O’Reilly Factor” head-to-head among Adults 25-54.” That 1st place milestone is for the whole week. Countdown has topped the Factor an several occasions this year on a nightly basis.

Murdoch Unleashes O’Reilly, NY Post On Keith Olberman

The ongoing melodrama featuring MSNBC and Fox News is heating up again and reaffirming Fox’s status as the scum suckers of news.

Two weeks ago, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post gave readers an insiders view of the conflict that centers around the blood feud between Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. The battle lines have extended all the way up to News Corp. executive offices, including Rupert Murdoch’s. In the Kurtz column he quoted Fox chief Roger Ailes threatening his counterpart, Jeff Zucker, at NBC:

“Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

Since then, as promised, Bill O’Reilly has devoted his Talking Points Memo to an assault on NBC/GE, calling them biased, dishonest, disgraceful, and responsible for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq. Without a hint of irony, he said that NBC “has violated just about every journalistic standard.”

The New York Post has also been answering the call. On May 19, their Page 6 gossip monger, Richard Johnson, asked if Olbermann was “on the verge of yet another professional meltdown?” Today the same Ailes apple polisher flatly asserts that Olbermann has not paid his taxes. Johnson’s source is the utterly disreputable attack dog site, OlbermannWatch. This allegedly factual assertion is made despite the fact that it is contradicted a few lines down in the very same paragraph. But that doesn’t stop Johnson from raising additional questions about other similarly resolved tax disputes. The only purpose imaginable here is to slander with innuendo and outright falsehoods.

What’s worse is that Johnson took the opportunity to engage in an act so despicable it even reflects badly on a rag like the NYPost. Without any justification or connection to the bogus tax story, Johnson published what appears to be Olbermann’s home address. The irrelevance to the rest of the column is so stark that it jumps off the page in a fit of superfluosity. This can only be regarded as an intentional and hostile attempt to bring discomfort, and perhaps harm, to Olbermann. And coming so soon after the Ailes threat, it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion.

Let Johnson and the Post know that this is unacceptable from both journalistic and moral perspectives:

NYPost email:
Page Six: Richard Johnson
Letters to the Editor

John McCain’s Bottomless Pit Of Lobbyists

Maverick McCainIt hardly seems that a day goes by without a new revelation of lobbyists in John McCain’s campaign. Last week I reported that, so far this year, five tainted staffers have had to resign. Still on the McCain wagon are uber-lobbyists Charlie Black and campaign manager Rick Davis. Media Matters has compiled a superb list of even more tainted McCain staffers

Now the Washington Post is reporting another unethical, and perhaps illegal, McCain relationship with a political benefactor. Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has a long history with McCain. They have endorsed his candidacy for president, heralded him as a “Taxpayer Hero” and contributed $11,000 to his campaign. The Post article describes an even deeper partnership that potentially violates election law prohibiting coordination between campaigns and independent advocacy groups:

“For weeks, Republican presidential candidate John McCain had been hammered for supporting the Air Force’s February decision to award a $40 billion contract for refueling tankers to Northrop Grumman and its European partner. Democrats, labor unions and others blamed the senator for a deal they say could move tens of thousands of jobs abroad.

McCain’s advisers wanted to strike back against key Democratic critics. But they did not mount an expensive advertising campaign to defend the candidate’s position. They called a tax-exempt nonprofit closely aligned with the senator from Arizona, seeking information and help.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) partnered with Northrop and one of its consultants to produce a vitriolic advertising campaign defending the tanker deal.”

In addition to the rash of lobbyists fleeing McCain’s campaign, two of his closest allies, Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, were forced to resign their board posts at Vets for Freedom, a 527 political organization. The resignations accompanied McCain’s announcement of his campaign’s policy toward such groups:

“No person with a McCain campaign title or position may participate in a 527 or other independent entity that makes public communications that support or oppose any presidential candidate.”

On the board of CAGW, which has endorsed McCain, is his campaign’s Veterans Liaison, Orson Swindle. Swindle is a long-time friend and associate of McCain. They met as cell mates in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp where Swindle says that he and McCain “slept side-by-side for almost two years.” Politicians in bed with lobbyists? That’s nothing new. In fact CAGW has had problems of it’s own with one of lobbydom’s premier figures:

“CAGW has been criticized for accepting donations from organizations that benefit from its advocacy. Two years ago, investigators probing the activities of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff for the Senate Finance Committee examined whether CAGW advocated on behalf of Abramoff clients, including the Magazine Publishers of America, in exchange for donations. The committee concluded: ‘The e-mails show a pattern of CAGW producing public relations materials favorable to Mr. Abramoff’s clients.'”

But as far as compromised associates go, Swindle is a two-fer. In addition to being a 527 operative he is also a Senior Policy Advisor at the lobbying firm of Hunton & Williams. His specific charge is within the firm’s Center for Information Policy Leadership, which was founded to “develop innovative, pragmatic approaches to privacy and information security issues from a business-process perspective while respecting the privacy interests of individuals.” Their clients include dedicated privacy rights activists like American Express, Eli Lilly, GE, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart.

If nothing else, this election season is shaping up to be a masters course in media priorities. After weeks of perpetually looping video of Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, the hysteria appeared to be on the wane. Now, as if on cue, another minister has been catapulted to stardom by news broadcasters across the land. The only talent requisite for such fame is the ability to embarrass Sen. Obama, regardless of how tenuous your connection to him.

Hiding in the wings is Sen. McCain who has had his own problems with God’s messengers. He recently had to reject the support of bigoted Revs. Hagee and Parsley, whose endorsements he had actively pursued.

The media obsession with religion is characteristically shallow. It demonstrates a tendency to cling to tabloid sensationalism rather than to provide information about matters relevant to public service. With that principle in mind, broadcasters can relentlessly hype Obama’s crazy preachers while virtually ignoring McCain’s dubious connections to the real political power players that have infested his campaign. The difference between the two is that McCain’s associates would be very likely to have real influence over policy in his administration. They would end up in cabinet positions and other appointed regulatory offices. And, of course, they would still have their lobbying portfolio which would extend all the way up to the White House.

But expect the media to continue to put the spotlight on the sideshow because, let’s face it, we’ll never have video of corrupt lobbyists prancing and wailing the way crazy preachers do.

McCain And Obama’s Excellent Adventure To Iraq

A few days ago, John McCain challenged Barack Obama to visit Iraq with him. McCain charged that, since Obama had not been there for a couple of years, he was unqualified to assess the situation. But McCain’s criticism descended into condescension and allegations of weak resolve:

McCain: “He really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq and he has wanted to surrender for a long time,”

This seems to be a hollow complaint coming from a fellow who’s been to Iraq a half dozen times but still fails to make a correct assessment of it, and who has no problem with another 100 years of occupation. In addition to the fact that McCain’s invitation was no more than a publicity stunt, security experts agree that the Secret Service would never sanction such a trip. And if they did, what would the travelers find?

Michael Ware, a CNN reporter who has lived in Iraq for most of the past five years gives his take on the value of such visits:

Ware: And let’s not forget what do American officials get to see?

Well, they get to see the rooftops of a lot of Iraqi houses as they chopper over them or across vast expanses of desert. They get to see rooms in the inside of U.S. bases in the Green Zone, both of which are divorced from reality. And they’ll get inundated with military briefings.

Now, in these briefings, in the past, officials have been told the insurgency was in its death throes, there was no civil war, that Iranian influence wasn’t that big a problem, that Al Qaeda had been defeated. I mean, you really aren’t going to get much of a real picture. It’s almost by definition impossible.

On a previous visit to Iraq, McCain returned with the delusional impression that…

“…there are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.”

On that occasion McCain showed up in Baghdad wearing a Kevlar vest, with an entourage of 100 soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships. The absurdity of this manufactured photo-op prompted Ware to remark at the time:

“I don’t know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad.”

McCain will first have to return from his junket to Neverland, where he appears to have taken up residence, before he can go to Iraq with Obama.

Dunkin, Malkin And Terrorist Scarves

When exactly is it appropriate to send in the guys with the butterfly nets? Ultra-conservative pundette, Michelle Malkin is mortified at the thought of extremist islamo-fascists infiltrating America and hypnotizing its citizens with ….. SCARVES!

In a recent advertisement, Dunkin Donuts featured Rachel Ray in what Malkin, and other right-wing alarmists, believe is a symbolic scarf that is signaling Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the U.S. And as if it isn’t bad enough that her paranoid delusions are foisted upon an incredulous world, the folks at Dunkin are actually taking this so seriously as to yank the ad for fear of the proposed Malkin-led boycott.

Well, NewsCorpse has conducted an extensive investigation and discovered that the terrorist conspiracy extends much farther than previously disclosed. In fact, it goes straight to the top of the present government and, potentially, the next (see photo evidence above).

Where does it end? No one can say for sure. But the Dunkin Do-NUTS may see their boycott fears come true. I, for one, will not be patronizing their cowardly, unpatriotic, spineless establishments for the foreseeable future. I will not support any business that appeases insane, domestic terrorists – like Malkin. And maybe I’ll lose a few pounds too.

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Rupert Murdoch Predicts Obama Landslide

This week’s All Things Digital Conference brought Rupert Murdoch to the stage for a surprising interview that included his views on the economy, Barack Obama, and the 2008 election.

Reuters: “News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch on Wednesday predicted a Democratic landslide in the U.S. presidential election against a gloomy economic backdrop over the next 18 months.”

Murdoch referred to the current status of the nation’s electoral mood as an “Obama phenomenon” that is fueled by a weak economy. He believes that, while race will be factor, Obama has “totally overcome” any lasting impact from the issue. Asked whether he is supporting Obama (like his daughter, Elisabeth) he said:

“I’m not backing anyone, but I want to meet Obama. I want to know if he’s going to walk the walk.”

However, when asked if he had anything to do with the New York Post’s endorsement of Obama he said simply, “Yeah.”

As for John McCain, Murdoch, who called McCain a friend, contends that he “has a lot of problems” and will be hurt by his long tenure in Washington and his association with a party that is battling a “rising political tide” for Democrats.

The surprising thing about these remarks is the abundance of paradox that envelops them. If Murdoch is sincere (not something that can be assumed), then why does he allow his networks and newspapers to spew so much vile disinformation about Obama? The endorsement of the Post, it should be noted, was only for the Democratic primary, not the general election. And the content of the endorsement read more like an indictment. To those who would argue that Murdoch doesn’t meddle in the editorial affairs of his news operations, Murdoch has just openly declared that he does, at least with regard to the Post.

Murdoch also stated that the U.S. is “undoubtedly” in a recession that he predicts will last for up to 18 months. That is squarely at odds with the position of his new Fox Business Network that was founded in part to promote rosy economic scenarios. His managing editor, Neil Cavuto, is a persistent cheerleader for economic viewpoints that are blindingly sunny.

We’ll have to see where this all leads to in time. Will it have any impact on Fox News or other Murdoch assets? His recent conversion on the threat of global warming has not filtered through to his publications or broadcasts, must of which still ridicule the notion as a hoax. In the end, this may just be a strategic move to alleviate pressure from his critics. By making statements like these he can assert that he is a political independent. Meanwhile, his media empire can continue to hammer at Democrats and progressives in an effort to manipulate public opinion. Millions more will see Sean Hannity’s disparagements of Obama than will ever hear of these remarks by Murdoch.

Stay tuned.

Jessica Yellin: Press Succumbs To Patriotic Fever

In a discussion on CNN of the book by former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, Anderson Cooper quoted a passage that criticized the press for not being sufficiently aggressive in their coverage of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration.

McClellan: “If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq.”

CNN reporter Jessica Yellin then described her experience with network news executives who pressured her to deliver stories that were slanted in favor of the President.

Yellin: “The press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings. And my own experience at the White House was that the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives.”

Yellin’s admission provides a stark confirmation of McClellan’s criticism. The press was indeed too deferential – because their bosses ordered them to be.

The real tragedy of all this is that these confessions always come far too late. Too late for the 4,000+ dead American soldiers and their families. Too late for the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians. Too late for the next generation af Americans who will be burdened by the loss of international respect and trust, not to mention the burden of $2 trillion (and counting) of war debt.

Yellin is not the first journalist to issue this sort of belated mea culpa. I documented several other examples a year and a half ago. You just have to wonder where these people’s ethics were at the time.

The Scott McClellan Confessional

Former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, has joined the ranks of Bush administration castoffs to write a tell-all book illuminating their role in degrading our Democracy. While this book is a particularly damning reminiscence, it is also a stab at absolution. Here a few of the atrocities that McClellan is revealing while asserting he had little to do with them:

  • McClellan charges that Bush relied on “propaganda” to sell the war.
  • He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.
  • He admits that some of his own assertions from the briefing room podium turned out to be “badly misguided.”
  • He asserts Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff “had at best misled” him about their role in the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.
  • He opines that “the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder […] war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.”
  • He admits that “the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

Much of McClellan’s revelations are couched in his insistence that he was as much a victim as the nation. He asserts that Rove, Cheney, and Libby, were allowing him to go before the press corps and dispense information that they knew was false. In the big picture it doesn’t matter all that much if he is telling the truth now. His complicity is irrevocable whether it was due to intention or stupidity. And his superiors in the White House are still just as guilty.

The response from the White House is the predictable refrain that McClellan is:

  • untrustworthy and disloyal.
  • just trying to sell a book.
  • ignorant and out of the loop.
  • a liar.
  • to blame for not having spoken up sooner.

But the response from the media is somewhat more nuanced. Considering that it was the media that dropped the ball and allowed BushCo to peddle lies, you would think that they might be more repentant. But only Katie Couric, amongst the network anchors, seems to acknowledge any responsibility. Couric called it “one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism. Our responsibility is sometimes to go against the mood of the country and ask hard questions.” By contrast, Charlie Gibson said he thinks “the media did a pretty good job.” and that “it’s convenient now to blame the media.” Brian Williams said that you have to take into account the “post-9/11” mindset. No, Brian … You don’t! You only have to do your job responsibly and ethically. Anything less is (and was) a disservice to your viewers, the nation, and the world.

Another member of the media, as of this year, Karl Rove had his say about McClellan as well:

“This doesn’t sound like Scott. It really doesn’t — not the Scott McClellan I’ve known for a long time. … It sounds like a left-wing blogger. …If he had these moral qualms, he should have spoken up about them. And frankly, I don’t remember him speaking up about these. I don’t remember a single word.”

I think we can expect Rove’s memory to be equally faulty in the months to come as he battles congressional subpoenas and the other legal hazards hovering around him. And if there is something we can be assured that Rove would forget, it is anything having to do with “moral qualms.” However, it was thoughtful of Rove to praise McClellan’s writing as sounding like “a left-wing blogger.”

The book will be released next week, and there is likely to be a lot more discussion in the days to come. It must be considered a net positive that an insider like McClellan is blowing the whistle on the criminals in the White House. But it would be going to far to buy into his claims of victimhood. I would support a grant of immunity if he spilled all he knows before a grand jury, but short of that, he is just another member of the gang.

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