Roger Ailes Strikes Back

He says he didn’t give Rove advice.

As Chatterbox noted Nov. 16, Bob Woodward’s new book, Bush at War, contains an anecdote that puts a serious dent in Fox News’ claim to be scrupulously nonpartisan. (“We report. You decide.“) According to Woodward, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks Roger Ailes sent Bush’s chief political aide, Karl Rove, a confidential memo. Ailes had previously been a media adviser to George H.W. Bush. But “Ailes was not supposed to be giving political advice,” Woodward notes, because he was now running Fox News. According to Woodward, the memo’s “back-channel message” was that Bush had to convey to the American public that he was taking the harshest possible actions. If he did so, the public would agree to be patient about when to retaliate. (The complete passage from Bush at War is reprinted at the bottom of Chatterbox’s previous item.)

Ailes now says Woodward has it wrong. Here is what he had to say in a prepared statement:

Bob Woodward’s characterization of my memo is incorrect. In the days following 9/11, our country came together in nonpartisan support of the president. During that time, I wrote a personal note to a White House staff member as a concerned American expressing my outrage about the attacks on our country. I did not give up my American citizenship to take this job.

It isn’t obvious what part of Woodward’s characterization Ailes finds “incorrect.” He admits he sent the note (“to a White House staff member,” presumably Rove) and gets huffy about any insinuation that it was improper to do so. Chatterbox thinks Ailes is saying that in his note he expressed outrage but didn’t tell Bush what to do. So how did the note read? “Dear Karl: The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were a goddamned outrage. All best, Roger.” That seems unlikely. No, Chatterbox’s money is on Woodward. The only real question is whether Ailes’ advice was as pompous and banal as Woodward makes it sound or whether it contained unrevealed subtleties.

For the record, Chatterbox is not at all shocked that Ailes gave Bush advice. It’s certainly possible to be a journalist and have opinions—even partisan ones—at the same time. Chatterbox is rather irritated, though, that Ailes was a sneak about his exchange with Rove and that even now he won’t answer reporters’ inquiries truthfully. Even openly partisan journalists are expected not to tell lies. Finally, Chatterbox is mightily irritated that Ailes won’t admit that he is openly partisan. Fox News continues to maintain the fiction that it is more “objective” than its competitors, but Fox makes manifest in countless ways its sympathy toward conservatives. (Read this report by a liberal press-watchdog group for details.) The fact that everyone knows Fox takes sides does not make it OK to claim it doesn’t.