It was part political spectacle, part American Idol, part YouTube extravaganza, a pure Roger Ailes production—and the latest sign that the Fox News chairman is quietly repositioning America’s dominant cable-news channel.
Hours before last week’s presidential debate in Orlando, Ailes’s anchors sat in a cavernous back room, hunched over laptops, and plotted how to trap the candidates. Chris Wallace said he would aim squarely at Rick Perry’s weakness: “How do you feel about being criticized by some of your rivals as being too soft on illegal immigration? Then I go to Rick Santorum: is Perry too soft?”
According to Kurtz, the willingness to ask tough questions to Rick Perry shows that the network is taking a risk in rebranding itself:
But the real eye-opener was the sight of his anchors grilling the Republican contenders, which pleases the White House but cuts sharply against the network’s conservative image—and risks alienating its most rabid right-wing fans.
Actually, I’d say a conservative network asking whether a candidate is “too soft” on immigration isn’t risking a damn thing. And when that network is actively shilling for Mitt Romney, the fact that Rick Perry was the question’s target underscores the network’s role as a propaganda outlet.
Nonetheless, Kurtz thinks that Ailes is acting more like a television producer than a political hack:
As he embarks on his last hurrah—Ailes’s contract is up in 2013—he is acting not like a political operative but as a corporate chieftain who knows that fostering friction and picking fights make for good television—and good business.
Something tells me that Rick Perry disagrees, especially after the kid-glove treatment Fox’s debate hosts gave to Mitt Romney. And anyone whose paying attention knows that once the GOP gets it’s nominee, Roger Ailes will do everything in his power to help him or her win the presidency.