Sometimes, a piece of political journalism -- and I use the term loosely -- comes out of Washington that’s so plainly silly that, no matter who it's trying to make look good, nobody ends up covered in glory. Not the reporter or the publication, not the sources or the subject.
Take today’s Politico article on Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Ailes, reporter Mike Allen claims, is being urged by friends and associates to seek the presidency in 2012. That's the presidency of the United States.
“Ailes knows how to frame an issue better than anybody, and that's what we need now,” an anonymous fan of the Fox head told Allen.
Where to begin? First -- and I am willing to put any amount of money on this -- Ailes will never, ever be president. The idea is ridiculous on its face. At 69, despite his position of power at at Fox News, he’s still basically a political operative with zero public profile -- an acerbic right-wing hack whose greatest single accomplishment consisted of making Richard Nixon look normal long enough to win the White House. Ailes is about as likely to be our next president as Lee Atwater, the legendarily cynical operative who was his longtime friend, and who happens to be deceased.
But let’s not beat up on Ailes too hard -- he’s not really the bad guy here. Instead, let’s beat up on the people who somehow managed to turn an obviously bogus idea into a would-be legitimate piece of reportage.
The article quotes two sources, and cites other unnamed ones. The first, granted anonymity for unclear reasons (would Ailes really punish anyone for this?), gave the quote above. The second source is the Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Says Luntz, “I have known Roger Ailes for 29 years. No one knows how to win better than Roger.”
This seems like a likely case of people using Politico’s often overly credulous editorial policies to butter up Ailes and promote themselves. Apply just a shred of perspective to the article, and the whole premise disintegrates: It would be a disaster for Ailes’ reputation, and Fox’s, if he ran, which he of course would never do.
Too many of the writers at Politico have run into trouble before for chasing headlong after eye-grabbing headlines. (Actually, “Chasing headlong after eye-grabbing headlines” pretty much just paraphrases the company’s mission statement.) Most recently, and controversially, reporter Kenneth Vogel wrote an article helpfully pointing out that a number of recently-apprehended fugitive Roman Polanski’s Hollywood defenders were also donors to Barack Obama’s campaign. As our editor Joan Walsh wrote, “It’s a slur worthy of Beck or Rush Limbaugh, not a supposedly nonpartisan political publication.”