Obama and Fox News: 'Tentative Truce?'

September 3rd, 2008 5:20 PM

As Fox News prepares to interview Barack Obama tomorrow night, during prime time, TV journalist Michael Wolff details a meeting between Barack Obama, Fox News president Roger Ailes, and News Corporation president Rupert Murdoch in which the Fox execs promised to lay off the Democratic presidential candidate.

According to Wolff's telling, this was more than a mere tete-à-tete, this was a full-on diplomatic meeting (initiated at Murdoch's request), conducted only after preparation and with preconditions from the Obama campaign.

The apparent purpose? To smooth things over in the event that Obama defeats John McCain:

Early in the summer that Obama relented and a secret courtesy meeting was arranged. The meeting began with Murdoch sitting down, knee to knee with Obama, at the Waldorf-Astoria. The younger man was deferential—and interested in his story [...]

Then, after he said his piece, Murdoch switched places and let his special guest, Roger Ailes, sit knee to knee with Obama.

Obama lit into Ailes. He said that he didn’t want to waste his time talking to Ailes if Fox was just going to continue to abuse him and his wife, that Fox had relentlessly portrayed him as suspicious, foreign, fearsome—just short of a terrorist.

Ailes, unruffled, said it might not have been this way if Obama had more willingly come on the air instead of so often giving Fox the back of his hand.

A tentative truce, which may or may not have vast historical significance, was at that moment agreed upon.

"A tentative truce?" A truce "which may or may not have vast historical significance?" What, exactly, does that mean? One hopes it doesn't mean that Fox News is going to start covering Obama the way their competitors, especially MSNBC, cover Obama.

To this point in the campaign, Fox News has been at the forefront of coverage related to Rev. Wright, Father Pfleger, Annenberg-gate, Ayers, etc., etc. Though new media has begun to break the monopolistic liberal stranglehold, numerous stories would never see the light of day were it not for Fox News.

In this article, Wolff's liberalism repeatedly comes out. He uses lots of hyperbole  "this coldest of men," and seems to want to call him a misogynist. 

For the first three months of our interviews, he never addressed a word to or even looked at my research assistant, Leela de Kretser, who was at each of the sessions, and ignored her questions—perhaps because it’s not necessary to acknowledge a girl, or possibly because it was embarrassing for him that she was, at the time, a pregnant girl.

This seems to be of a piece with the type of liberal projection we've seen since McCain named Palin as his VP. Ah, liberal hipocrisy.

But more than anything, the storyline that emerges is of Rupert Murdoch, modern day robber baron (who owns Fox News, chief outlet of the right-wing attack machine). He doesn't use the word, per se, but the verbiage is the same as the Rockefeller, Carenegie, Morgan narrative--moderned-up. It's revealed when he writes of Murdoch's new wife, Wendi. "He’s captivated by her ambition (their pillow talk, one might suspect, is business)." Of course it is. That's what robber barons do.

And it also comes out when Murdoch talks politics.

Just before the New York Democratic primary, when I found myself undecided between Clinton and Obama, I said to Murdoch (a little flirtation, like a little gossip, softens him), “Rupert, I don’t know who to vote for—so I’m going to give you my vote. You choose.”

He paused, considered, nodded his head slowly: “Obama—he’ll sell more papers.”

Considered in this light, the tentative truce between Ailes and Obama makes sense. If Obama sells papers, he probably also sells ad time. 

Worth noting: earlier in May, Murdoch lavished praise on the "rock star" Obama. Was Murdoch laying the ground work for the meeting he later had with the Democratic candidate?

Though Fox News consistently ranks at the top of cable news in the ratings race, Murdoch has demonstrated consistent willingness to do what it takes to put greater distance between News Corp. (and Fox News specifically) and its competitors.


Update 18:33pm ET | TVNEWSER reports on Howard Kurtz's follow-up to Wolff's Vanity Fair write-up of a meeting between Ailes and Obama. Kurtz's reporting makes the timing of Obama's O'Reilly appearance appear even more shady than before:

The talk turned to "The O'Reilly Factor," and Obama said he would appear on the show before the election. Ailes says he told the senator that there would be no "embarrassing or underhanded stuff" in the interview and that if he had any overall concerns about Fox's treatment in the future, he should call Ailes directly.

Murdoch has a history of mending fences with political adversaries whom his news outlets have strongly criticized, from former British prime minister Tony Blair to Sen. Hillary Clinton. An executive familiar with Murdoch's thinking, who declined to be identified discussing private conversations, said Murdoch sought the meeting because he is fascinated by Obama but that the two still have serious policy disagreements.

This smacks of a news outlet hedging its bets and desperate not to be shut out by an Obama presidency. But the price of placating Obama? One can imagine the Obama campaign saying, 'you want access? Have O'Reilly interview Obama during McCain's night at the RNC.'

We can only hope Fox News and O'Reilly didn't agree to pre-scripted questions in addition to the  promise of no "embarrassing or underhanded stuff."