First, let's stipulate that the New York Times scoop last week about Fox News chairman Roger Ailes allegedly urging an employee to lie to federal prosecutors is a real jaw-dropper. The report, based on uncovered legal filings, not only has the media world stunned but it has loyalists who orbit the Fox News world utterly dumbstruck by the revelation.
They're stunned, not because they can't believe Ailes would do such a thing. Instead, they're shocked Ailes left himself so open, so vulnerable. They're astonished that his former employee, Judith Regan, reportedly has Ailes on tape urging her to lie to federal investigators about her affair with Bernard Kerick, a former top lieutenant of Rudolf Giuliani when he served as New York's mayor. With Giuliani eying a possible presidential run, Ailes allegedly told Regan to lie in order to protect both Kerik and Giuliani.
In short, the Times report has managed to shock everyone. It's shocked media insiders for the sheer recklessness of Ailes' behavior. It has startled Fox News critics (like myself) who are amazed how cavalierly Ailes would counsel an employee to break the law. And the report has shaken Ailes loyalists who can't believe the Machiavellian Fox News chief was so sloppy in his execution.
So yeah, this story is kind of a big deal and it has immediately been pushed to the head of the line in terms of pending Fox News troubles for 2011, right in front of Glenn Beck's ongoing caliphate conspiracy madness and the conservative attacks it has sparked on him,
Indeed, the Times report would mean that Ailes and Beck, Fox News' fiercest lightning rods, have quickly morphed from assets to liabilities. We know Beck's increasingly a liability because, thanks to his incendiary, hateful rhetoric, he's unable to retain virtually any nationally recognized advertisers. And that's been the case for almost a year-a-half now. Not only are advertisers steering clear of Glenn Beck, but ratings continue to decline. That is not a formula for cable news success.
But even more scandalous is the specter of Ailes, who runs Fox News as his personal fiefdom, being thrust into the spotlight for potentially breaking the law; for allegedly telling an employee to lie to federal investigators.
Ailes and Fox News are still trying to absorb that body blow. They're trying to shrug off a claim of lawbreaking against the man who runs a law-and-order news operation. But the hypocrisy in play is almost too much to bear.
Read the full Media Matters column, here.