'Fair and Balanced' Fox News Channel Chairman Advised Bush

26 November 2002

Fox News Channel, the US cable network owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, claims as its public credo: ‘Fair and Balanced’ and ‘We report. You decide.’

But what fair and balanced Fox News Channel failed to report – and Joe Public cannot therefore decide – is the probity or otherwise of its chairman Roger Ailes (a former political adviser to presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush senior) whispering sweet nothings into the receptive ear of current White House incumbent President George W Bush.

The story was broken by that veteran whistleblower and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who with colleague Carl Bernstein brought down an earlier Republican president Richard M Nixon by uncovering the now notorious Watergate affair.

Woodward’s new book, Bush at War, tell how Ailes sent a “back-channel message” via Bush’s chief political aide, Karl Rove.

The message, innocuous in itself and concerning the public’s mood toward the presidency following the events of September 11, was given in secret, according to Woodward, because “Ailes was not supposed to be giving political advice.” His guidance was that general support “would dissipate if the public did not see Bush acting harshly.”

Ailes is vehement that there was nothing partisan about his actions. “I wrote a personal note to a White House staff member as a concerned American citizen expressing my outrage about the attacks on our country,” he claims. “I did not give up my American citizenship to take this job [with Fox].”

“A classic non-denial denial,” observes Woodward. “Why would Rove take Ailes’s personal message to the president? Just to say that Roger Ailes is expressing his outrage? Obviously, if it was significant enough for Rove to carry it to the Oval Office, it had some recommendations for policy. Why else is Roger being so furtive about it?”, he asks.

Commented the New York Times: “Any other network news executive might have trouble keeping his job after a similar misstep. Mr Ailes will undoubtedly hold onto his post, given Fox’s success in challenging CNN and MSNBC in the ratings.”

Too right, as they say in Australia. On Thursday, at a Fox Entertainment Group annual meeting, Rupert Murdoch described Ailes’ note to the president as “patriotic”, declaring his belief that Ailes would have done the same even had there been a Democrat in the White House.

Accusations of persisting allegiance to the Republican cause are a red rag to Ailes. In addition to much else, the chairman of the ‘fair and balanced’ news channel is said to go ballistic at implications of bias in Fox’s coverage on presidential election night 2000, when the channel hired John Ellis, coincidentally the president's cousin, to analyse the returns. Equally coincidentally, Fox was the first channel to declare a Bush victory that night.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff