Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, made up a story about his victimization by the New York Times.
Seriously. “Made it up” is not too strong a term. As best we can determine, it never happened. But it’s important to understand that he thinks it happened. Because this expresses so well what Fox News Channel sells: resentment news.
In a speech at Ohio University, Ailes told this anecdote to former Washington Post ombudsman Andy Alexander.
Roger Ailes: What if you got up on a Thursday morning and the front page of The New York Times said you were going to be indicted on Monday. How would you feel about that? Let’s assume you hadn’t done anything and don’t know anything about it. That happened to me. I got up on a Thursday morning and it said Roger will be indicted on Monday. … And do you know what they used for their source? They said somebody was overheard in the waiting room of a Barbados airport saying it. That was their source for that story.
Andy Alexander: Did you call them on it?
Roger Ailes: No.
Andy Alexander: Why not?
Roger Ailes: Because they’re a bunch of lying scum and they’re not going to do anything about it. They did it on purpose, they did it deliberately and they didn’t have anything. I’m sure they couldn’t produce the guy in the Barbados airport.
Actually, it’s Ailes that can’t produce this front page story because it is fiction. It was formed in his mind through a fusion of two separate events. (Brian Stelter, who reports on TV for the Times, says via Twitter: “the Times never reported that.”)
The first event is this story in the New York Times: Fox News Chief, Roger Ailes, Urged Employee to Lie, Records Show. It reads: “After the publishing powerhouse Judith Regan was fired by HarperCollins in 2006, she claimed that a senior executive at its parent company, News Corporation, had encouraged her to lie two years earlier to federal investigators who were vetting Bernard B. Kerik for the job of homeland security secretary.” That senior executive, the story says, was Ailes.
About an indictment, the Times reported: “Depending on the specifics, the taped conversation could possibly rise to the level of conspiring to lie to federal officials, a federal crime, but prosecutors rarely pursue such cases, said Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia University law professor and a former federal prosecutor.”
No… AILES ABOUT TO BE INDICTED. Instead, “prosecutors rarely pursue such cases.”
So that happened. Then something else happened. A financial blogger, Barry Ritholtz, published this at his site:
Here’s what I learned recently: Someone I spoke with claimed that Ailes was scheduled to speak at their event in March, but canceled. It appears that Roger’s people, ostensibly using a clause in his contract, said he “cannot appear for legal reasons.”
I asked “What, precisely, does that mean?”
The response: “Roger Ailes will be indicted — probably this week, maybe even Monday.”
You read it here first …
And the rumor spread. But not to the front page of the New York Times.
See what Ailes did? In his imavictim mind, he mapped the Ritholtz post onto the Times story about his name surfacing in court documents and created a fiction: that the New York Times falsely indicted him on the front page, relying on some bathroom conversation in Barbados. And for this (imaginary) crime, Ailes called (real) New York Times reporters “a bunch of lying scum.”
Now for the extra twist. Ailes had to apologize for the “lying scum” comment. Well, sort of. Not really. I mean he did it in the most weasely way possible. He got Howard Kurtz of CNN and the Daily Beast to anonymously quote a “senior Fox News executive” claiming that Roger feels bad about the whole thing: Ailes Regrets ‘Scum’ Attack on NYT.
Ailes himself couldn’t apologize, because that’s not the kind of guy he is. But this was before we knew how fictional his front page resentment narrative was. No one can figure out what Kurtz was doing when he granted anonymity to a Fox person for the purpose of apologizing on behalf of the boss (which is not exactly whistle-blowing, if you follow me…) but: there it is!
And now, media watchers, we get to see if a shawdowy Fox News executive will ring up Kurtz and request anonymity so he can correct the record about the front page Times story that never happened.