You may have heard that Fox News creator Roger Ailes said that NPR is run by “Nazis.” That wasn’t a mistaken choice of words or a one-time slip of the tongue. The full quote, based on their decision to fire his friend Juan Williams, was: “They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism.”
He semi-apologized for using the term, mostly to continue his friendly relations with the ADL (which has been less than pleased with Fox News lately due to the “international bankers” reporting on George Soros becoming too much for even Abe Foxman to take) but replaced “Nazi” with “nasty, inflexible bigot” and engaged in a strange combination of vicimology and self-congratulation: my friends never have to worry about me sticking up for them‚ even if I’m occasionally politically incorrect I never leave any doubts about my loyalty.” The term “politically incorrect” isn’t always a way of trying to excuse choices of words that are unacceptable by any standard, but it is here: he says something awful, and claims it was “politically incorrect” as a way of making it sound like the real problem is not with him, but with the language police who are trying to keep him down.
What I don’t get is why Ailes has been trying to make himself more of a public figure lately. He is a genius in his own way — as a TV executive. No one can deny he’s created something successful and influential, a network that at once makes money and helps Ailes fight against the “mainstream media” that he blames for destroying his idol Richard Nixon. But he has achieved this success by signing up people who are effective media personalities: talk radio jocks, veteran broadcasters, sportscasters, good-looking women. People who don’t fit the stereotype of conservatives as fat-cat businessmen. Ailes fits the stereotype perfectly, and he doesn’t have the gift of saying outrageous things in a way that allows him to deny he said anything wrong. The “Nazi” thing is something that Ailes’ employees would do in such a way that they could later claim they were joking or that their words were taken out of context. Ailes just isn’t as good at that; that’s why he’s running the network and they’re on it.
Yet you do see him more often lately; he used to be a shadowy figure, and lately he’s been going on This Week or giving long interviews to Howard Kurtz. When he started being increasingly visible, I wondered if he was trying to shore up his position at Fox in anticipation of what might happen if Murdoch ever reduces his role (Murdoch likes Ailes and Fox News; Murdoch’s family does not). Now I wonder if he’s just tired of being the power behind the power, if he wants to be recognized as a personality in his own right. If so, it’s the first mistake he’s made in a while. If he were on Dancing With the Stars, no one would vote for him. He represents the type of personality that he deliberately tried to avoid in staffing his network.
The War For Late Night book, by the way, mentions that Ailes’ opposition was one of the reasons Conan O’Brien didn’t go to Fox after leaving NBC; Ailes, who handles the Fox affiliates, didn’t want their time taken away and given to Conan. That’s defensible, since after seeing what a talk show did to NBC affiliates I can well understand why someone might not want something similar to happen to Fox stations. But it’s not going to do much for Ailes’ personal popularity, assuming he cares about it — and for some reason, it seems like he does.