There was a subtle but significant tinge to Fox News’s lineup of moderators for the big debate of Republican presidential contenders last week: Bret Baier, Chris Wallace and Megyn Kelly don’t hail from the network’s robust lineup of red-meat, all-American conservatives.
Apparently that casting was part of a larger “course correction” Fox News has been undertaking as the nation moves heavily into 2012 campaign mode. Fox News head Roger Ailes has “quietly adopted” a bit of a tack toward the center recently, according to media reporter Howard Kurtz in The Daily Beast – a move that also has included parting ways with bomb-thrower Glenn Beck and paying less attention to the Tea Party movement.
Glenn Beck's inflammatory rhetoric-his ranting about Obama being a racist-"became a bit of a branding issue for us" before the hot-button host left in July, Ailes says. So too did Sarah Palin's being widely promoted as the GOP's potential savior-in large measure through her lucrative platform at Fox. Privately, Fox executives say the entire network took a hard right turn after Obama's election, but, as the Tea Party's popularity fades, is edging back toward the mainstream.
The change doesn’t indicate any softening of Ailes’ renowned conservative impulses, the report said, but rather an opportunistic play toward American moderates as the political season nears. “While Fox reporters ply their trade under Ailes’ much-mocked ‘fair and balanced’ banner, the opinion arm of the operation has been told to lower the temperature,” Kurtz added.
Meanwhile, to the center and left of Fox, CNN and MSNBC are involved in a fresh scramble for viewers in the wake of Keith Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC for Al Gore’s Current TV. MSNBC had been in a strong second place to Fox among news networks but now is struggling, the New York Times reports.
And ironically, according to the paper, at the base of MSNBC’s troubles may be the fact that it has more openly embraced its liberal leanings in its on-air promos and branding efforts, even as Fox News has backed off its fierce rightist orientation, if only just a bit.
The cable news plots and subplots as the political season gets serious will be interesting to watch. And the candidates, hopefully, will be too.