Roger Ailes (left) and Howell Raines (right) have each run one of the most powerful institutions in American journalism. But don't expect to see them comparing notes over a congenial lunch at the Four Seasons anytime soon.
Last week, Raines, who stepped down as executive editor of The New York Times (NYT) in 2003 amid the fallout of the Jayson Blair fake-reporting scandal, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that journalists everywhere should protest Fox News and Ailes, its boss.
During a cocktail reception at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner last night, I asked Ailes what he thought about Raines's column.
"I started to read it, and he said everybody ought to try to get me or something -- and I said, This poor guy," Ailes told me. "I sort of feel sorry for him. If you get run out of The New York Times, that's as bad as it gets, I think. So you don't want to go after other people. I thought it was kind of a guy sitting in a dark room going crazy because he's not in the game anymore and deciding who's good and who's bad. I don't think that's his place. We all know what his mark on journalism was, so it's not worth talking about."
Biden Roasts Fox
Perhaps not. But I still had to ask if Ailes knew what Raines meant when he said that Ailes and his army of "video ferrets" have bullied their fellow journalists into silence. "I'm not even sure what a ferret is. He's obviously hallucinating in some way or another," Ailes said. "I pick good people, we do good journalism. We haven't taken a story down in 13 years because it was wrong, and The New York Times can't say the same thing."
But Ailes was on the receiving end of the barbs during the dinner itself. Vice President Joe Biden, the event's guest of honor, delivered a speech closer to a stand-up routine. Noting that it was St. Patrick's Day, Biden said that the folk belief that the saint had rid Ireland of snakes was untrue. "St. Patrick just made that up," he said. "Which, for the first time, I now realize why he's the patron saint of Fox News."
I didn't see Ailes's reaction to this zinger, because I wasn't sitting at his table. But James Murdoch was. The son of News Corp. (NWS) chairman Rupert Murdoch and heir apparent to that job also chatted with Ailes throughout most of the cocktail hour, in what appeared to be (and was perhaps intended to be taken as?) evidence that recent reports of tension between Ailes and the Murdoch family are overblown.