Esquire Takes a Shot at Roger Ailes and Misses

Okay, so fewer than two weeks after the Arizona massacre, when America is still reeling from the look in the mirror the violence provoked, a look that caused even Roger Ailes to suggest his network tone down some of the invective, Esquire publishes a profile of Fox News’s presiding genius.

This should be good, right? Juicy subject; fraught moment. But what we get from Esquire’s lead writer, Tom Junod, is such a mannered, over-written piece of nonsense that we’re reminded again how much the world of writing and reporting has been changed by the internet.

I’d quote from Junod’s piece to make my point, but I can’t because you’ll never finish reading the post. Let me describe an example of the problem: Junod takes nearly 700 convoluted words to tell us that Ailes doesn’t have a Blackberry because he got into too many email fights with angry members of the public. That’s great bit. But Junod buries it in so much vamping that you never get any of the good details.

Giving Junod some allowances for having written the story long before the shootings, it’s still an inflated, rambling, backwards-talking attempt to cover the fact that magazine and writer have little to say about Ailes.

The best insight we get is a good summation of Ailes’s strength as an uber-producer. He pays attention to every detail of the product and finds talent that can perform and fit his objectives: creating an idealized universe of pretty and pumped-up news readers who sell a seamless worldview.

Here’s Junod quoting Columbia Journalism school’s Dick Wald:

He used to be the president of NBC News. HeĀ likes Roger Ailes. And if you ask him the secret of Mr. Ailes’s success, he’ll say it’s pretty simple: “Roger, in many ways, is just more competent. He just does it better. The anchors are better. The crispness of the reporting is better. The anchors don’t interrupt, the shows move along, and the point of view is clear. It’s just a good product. Roger found an area in which he could reach each audience member individually. That’s the big difference between Fox and CNN.”

Wald’s points are fascinating. But Junod misses the big question. Ailes is the acknowledge master of making news fit a political point of view. He really is just better at making television news more entertaining than anyone who worries about journalistic neutrality.

So why then is his business channel the opposite of everything Wald describes about the Fox News? What works on Fox News undermines Fox Business. Why? Is it Ailes’s lack of interest in the subject matter, he simply doesn’t have enough to drive his competitive metabolism? Or is it that business is already inherently closer to Fox’s world view and Ailes’s version of the realm cannot gain contrast?

I’d say the problem lies in the nature of business news, especially a channel that follows the markets. Prices are too fact-based for Ailes’s mastery of spin. One can argue about political remedies for the economy but the day-to-day news of the markets can’t be re-written. In other words, business is immune to Ailes’s alchemy and the constituency has to face reality. (You could add that CNBC has already done everything possible to make the markets seem like a conversation rather than numbers floating in space.)

Facing reality is the problem that bedevils Esquire too. Junod’s piece is a classic bit of magazine writing. Lots of stylized writing and a hip tone. Isolated in an issue of Esquire, it might read well. (Yes, where something appears affects how it reads.) But on the internet, it just seems lazy and irrelevant. Worse, over-taken by events, it seems a wasted opportunity to ask better questions about Ailes’s pugnacity. We’re back at those emails again.

In our spin-saturated world, it’s pretty hard to get a leg up with snark. The web, twitter, all flavors of cable news positioning make what Junod does with words here in Esquire not only redundant but boring.

Why Does Roger Aile Hate America? (Esquire)
Esquire; January 18, 2011

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