Inside Roger Ailes’ misfiring plan to elect the next president of the United States

This week's must-read media feature comes from New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman, who gives us a teaser of what his upcoming book on Fox News might look like with a deeply reported, scoop-filled piece about the top-rated cable news network's chairman, Roger Ailes. Among other things, Sherman's piece spells out Ailes's designs on engineering the outcome of the 2012 election.

Ailes wields sweeping influence over the Republican party. The conservative media titan has spent the past several years pumping up a slate of potential 2012 presidential nominees, such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who have enjoyed lucrative salaries and priceless exposure as paid talking heads on his network.

But even as Fox continues to crush its competitors in the cable news ratings and generates enormous revenue for parent company News Corporation (to the tune of $900 million in 2010) Ailes' mission to install the next president of the United States seems to be unraveling.

"It must have been disturbing to Ailes when the wheels started to come off Fox's presidential-circus caravan," Sherman writes. "With an actual presidential election on the horizon, the Fox candidates' poll numbers remain dismally low. ... Ailes's candidates-in-­waiting were coming up small. And, for all his programming genius, he was more interested in a real narrative than a television narrative--he wanted to elect a president."

The piece provides readers with a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the hermetic network. We'd recommend you read the entire thing, but below are five key nuggets from the 6,000-word feature.

How Fox News showed Glenn Beck the door:

During a 45-minute conversation, the two men agreed on the terms: Beck would give up his daily 5 p.m. program and appear in occasional network "specials"—but even that didn't solve their problem. Tensions flared over how many specials he would appear in. Fox wanted six, Beck's advisers wanted four. At another meeting, Beck choked up; he and Ailes had always had a bond. And when Ailes thought Beck's advisers were jerking him around, he threatened to blow up the talks. "I'm just going to fire him and issue a press release," he later snapped to a Fox executive.

Sarah Palin "is an idiot":

"He thinks things are going in a bad direction," another Republican close to Ailes told me. "Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of Obama is a disaster. He thinks Palin is an idiot. He thinks she's stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven't elevated the conservative movement."

UPDATE 2:00 pm: A Fox News executive gave a statement to the New York Times pushing back on the "idiot" remark.

Palin's prime-time special that wasn't:

Last year, tensions between Palin's camp and Fox erupted over a prime-time special that the network wanted her to host. Nancy Duffy, a senior Fox producer, wanted Palin to host the show in front of a live studio audience. Duffy wanted to call the program Sarah Palin's Real American Stories. Palin hated the idea. She complained to her advisers that she didn't want to be a talk-show host. She wanted to just do voice-overs. More important, she didn't want Fox to promote her name in the title of the program. Not that it mattered: Palin's ratings were starting to disappoint Ailes anyway. Fox hasn't scheduled any additional specials.

Obama's former press secretary pushed for a detente:

On Friday, October 23, Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, called Fox News senior VP Michael Clemente to work out a deal. Clemente didn't take the call. Gibbs complained to Fox's well-regarded White House correspondent, Major Garrett, that Clemente had blown him off. On Monday, Garrett participated in a conference call with Ailes and Clemente and told them that the White House was looking to end the war. Clemente still hadn't returned Gibbs's call.

"Maybe I'll call him," Clemente said.

Clemente called Gibbs on October 27 and traveled to Washington the next day to try to defuse the tensions. In November 2009, on a trip to Asia, Obama granted an interview with Garrett, his first since the war with Fox began. But the entire episode was taxing for Garrett. After clashing with Sammon over his partisan journalistic agenda, Garrett quit Fox months later to become a correspondent for National Journal.

Chris Christie for president?:

A few months ago, Ailes called Chris Christie and encouraged him to jump into the race. Last summer, he'd invited Christie to dinner at his upstate compound along with Rush Limbaugh, and like much of the GOP Establishment, he fell hard for Christie, who nevertheless politely turned down Ailes's calls to run. Ailes had also hoped that David Petraeus would run for president, but Petraeus too has decided to sit this election out, choosing to stay on the counterterrorism front lines as the head of Barack Obama's CIA. The truth is, for all the antics that often appear on his network, there is a seriousness that underlies Ailes's own politics. He still speaks almost daily with George H. W. Bush, one of the GOP's last great moderates, and a war hero, which especially impresses Ailes.

You can read the rest here.

(Reed Saxon/AP)