Roger Ailes Fights Back: CNN 'Out of News Business'; Megyn Kelly Critics 'Jealous'; Dismisses New Book (Q&A)
Fox's news czar tells THR about his goal to launch a new network with Bill O'Reilly, the real reason Alec Baldwin was fired and why Jeff Zucker's strategy is no cause for concern: "I guess he's going to do whales a lot. If I were Discovery, I'd be worried."
What's your relationship like with Rupert Murdoch?
It's very good. He's not in town today, but the door could open. He wanders in and ruins my schedule and just wants to talk. He calls once every day or two usually just to gossip and catch up on the news. We've hit our numbers for 16 straight years. I don't have a lot of issues related to the business side because I tend to deliver what I promise to deliver. I think that's the way it is with Rupert. If you deliver money, you do fine.
Has your job changed at all since the split with News Corp?
No, not really. The print stuff sort of went over into a new company, [but] I had a meeting with Gerry Baker of The Wall Street Journal. We are working on some ideas for the business channel. We come to work in the same offices every day, and I guess they do, too. It hasn't changed anything that I have to do.
How long will Bill O'Reilly continue his show?
You can never tell. If you go back pretty far to Steve Allen and Jack Paar, they had a very short life span. Mike Wallace did it for 40 years. It's a very individual thing. I think Bill can last as long as he wants because he's driven by organic energy. He likes money, but he's not doing it for the money. He probably likes power, but he's not doing it for the power. He's driven by things that he sees that are not right from his point of view. If his ratings were to go way down, or if he thought he'd burned out or didn't have anything else to say, those are reasons to retire, but he is still killing everybody in the ratings.
Do you have any interest to work with Bill on other projects, like the assassination histories he's done with National Geographic?
I do. I would like News Corp to form a history channel and let Bill work with me. I'd run it for him because I'd like history done correctly for a change. They're not teaching the kids the real stuff. I think there is room for another channel, and I would love to do it.
Why bring back Sarah Palin just a few months after not renewing her contract?
The only two people I knew who got worse press than her were Richard Nixon and George W. Bush -- some of it unfairly, much of it unfair to her family. She's recognizable, she's attractive, and she still has the message of stop raising taxes. The Tea Party started as a group that [the government] could make go home to bake meatloaf at any point in the last three years by simply doing two things: Stop raising taxes and stop stealing their money. Congress can't stop spending money. I'm not a defender of everything she says. I don't hear everything she says. But I know she represents a certain group of people who rose up against their own party, which you rarely see. I probably hired her back, if you really want to get to the bottom of it, to give her a chance to say her piece and piss off the people that wanted her dead.
Did you approach Elisabeth Hasselbeck with any opportunities besides joining Fox & Friends?
It was always Fox & Friends only because it seemed so natural. Getting the right comfort level for the on-air talent is critical in the morning. She was in a tough spot on The View. She always came to play and always had a smile on her face, and that's critical in morning television. I knew she would work well here. It was a matter of just convincing her to come over.
Is there room for cable news to be a bigger player in the morning-show wars with Today and Good Morning America?
I think that Fox & Friends' audience is going to increase. That franchise in the morning is very important to any television operation because they make money. It's basically three people in three chairs. The rest of it is, how good is your producer?
Is building Fox's web presence a priority?
I was a little slow to it, I think, because it wasn't my natural medium. I probably should have spent money six months or a year earlier to bring in more people. It's a very intense business. You don't get as much money, so you don't make as much money, so you can't spend as much money.
What has having a teenager at home taught you about how younger people are consuming media?
The television set means nothing to him, other than he can get Netflix and a movie he wants. … A major sporting event, maybe, but there's no, "It's 8 o'clock -- time to watch something!" And that generation has taught themselves to watch movies on a telephone. I find that annoying and too small.
Does the move away from TV concern you?
The real concern I have is the fragmentation. Twitter is a wonderful device. And I call it a device, but there are people that are addicted to it now. That's not good. You're really not very interesting using only so many letters. If you're in the four-letter category for Scrabble, it's a long damn game. I don't have the problem with it that a lot of older people do, but I worry that digital media has become too much of their life.
You’re the subject of an unauthorized book, for which you declined to participate. Are you doing anything to counteract any negative elements?
Bette Davis said -- I think it was Bette Davis -- "What other people think of me is none of my business." Attacking me and Fox News is nothing new -- it's a cottage industry. What's new is that Random House refused to fact check the content with me or Fox News; that tells you everything you need to know about this book and its agenda.
Being 20 years out from the political career, do you ever miss it?
No. Nobody asked me, but I hated it then. I got into it by a fluke. I was good at it. I made a lot of money at it. But you know what happens when you have staff? You feel guilty. I ended up staying in the business years beyond what I wanted because I didn't want to fire anybody. One night, I was snowed in at O'Hare airport [in Chicago] with a soldier and an old guy pushing a broom. My whole staff was home in bed, and I was stuck at the airport for two days. I just decided to hell with it.
Do you think about retiring?
Yeah, every 15 minutes. I've never wanted my kid faced with the idea of, "Who's the fat guy sitting in the living room? What the hell is he doing?" I figure I might as well go to work so he can say his dad works. I will someday. But I won't quit stirring things up. I saw [CBS Corp. chairman and CEO Leslie] Moonves one night in a restaurant with my old friend [former Sirius XM Radio CEO] Mel Karmazin. They came over to my table and said: "We got a pool on you, Ailes. It's up to a million dollars. Everybody wants to know when you're going to die or retire because you're killing us." I said, "As long as I'm doing that, I'm going to keep working, boys." I have a good relationship with all those guys, but they would like to see me retire.