Joe Gandelman, 5/31/2011 [Archive]

Roger Ailes Ed Schultz Laura Ingraham - and Hope

Independent's Eye by Joe Gandelman

Ever hear about the cup being half full? Two incidents give hope that there are limits on the power of ideology-based journalism and that humanity transcends the country's increasingly uncivil talk radio political culture.

The first involved Gabriel Sherman's New York magazine cover story on Fox News maven Roger Ailes. An assertion later denied by a Fox News executive that Ailes considers Sarah Palin an "idiot" got the most publicity. But more significant was its portrait of a frustrated Ailes discovering limits on what he hoped Fox News could do as a kind of Kingmaker network that could cultivate a Republican to retake the White House.

A key quote: "He thinks things are going in a bad direction," another Republican close to Ailes told [Sherman]. "Roger is worried about the future of the country -- People like Sarah Palin haven't elevated the conservative movement." Sherman's conclusion is that in successfully making Fox News a must-view red meat supplier for Republicans and conservatives' some of its hosts' off-the-wall comments have made it more difficult for Republicans to defeat Barack Obama. It's a case of too much attention to a party's base hurting it elsewhere.

The good news is that just as Presidents and political parties in control of Congress can't get everything they want, a brilliant and powerful programmer-marketer-strategist also finds that there are constraints. Checks and balances pop out of nowhere.

The piece illustrates how there still remains an opening in the United States for a thoughtful, issue-oriented conservative info source that reports and analyzes news through a prism of serious conservative world-view assumptions but would never employ a Twilight Zoner such as Glenn Beck or allow itself to be perceived as an appendage of one political party. Rightfully or wrongfully, Fox, which employs many solid news pros, has earned the reputation of a network that tries to discredit. Reporting isn't about the thirst to discredit. It's the craft of trying to discern.

Meanwhile, liberal talker Ed Schultz referred to conservative talker Laura Ingraham as a "right wing slut" on his radio program, leading MSNBC to give him a one week without pay suspension. Schultz then went on the air to offer an apology unprecedented in foot-and-mouth incidents: he seemed truly devastated by his own words and their impact on Ingraham and his own family. In times past, that would not have been enough. But this time?

Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, whose show is in direct completion to Schultz's, immediately indicated that she felt his apology was sincere: "I am certainly not making excuses for it, but, my view after watching his apology? Let it go. He apologized (within a short period of time) and did so in a very bold way (it was not "I am sorry IF I offended...blah blah blah' but a real 'fall on the sword' apology.)," she wrote on her blog. "I think he got the message. It is easy to jump him if you don't like him but remember that the next really stupid thing could be said by someone you like."

Ingraham then issued a Tweet:" Apology accepted" and later explained: "It seemed heartfelt. It seemed like he wished he hadn't said it and I accepted that apology."

So, yes, there are limits in power, polemics and holding partisan grudges... The Fox News piece, the Schultz-Ingraham outcome, plus the news that the country's most polarizing conservative talkers are experiencing some declining ratings while more thoughtful talkers are finding audiences means we might be heading into a new era.

As I said: hope springs eternal. But so does naivete.


Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN's John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at and can be booked to speak at your event at

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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