Anything but Conventional

Outfoxed: Roger Ailes and his wife Elizabeth at the White House Correspondents Dinner 2014.
Photo by Robert Devaney
Outfoxed: Roger Ailes and his wife Elizabeth at the White House Correspondents Dinner 2014.

The inimitable Ted Koppel was the first major television news anchor to break the tradition, opting not to devote his “Nightline” to the conventions because they had become little more than scripted public relation stunts.

How things have changed.

This year’s conventions have proven to be more improv than pro-forma.

And what a show!

From Sen. Ted Cruz getting booed of the stage by his own Texas delegation to the Sanders-nistas trying to disrupt the speech of their own progressive paragon Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

There were even touches of the surreal: the pop song chosen to hail Donald Trump’s coronation was “All Right Now”: a 46-year-old classic rock ballad about seducing a stranger for a one night stand. Quite the metaphor.

We even had a case of the Wikileaks, exposing that the Democratic National Committee had being trying to undermine the Vermont Disrupter, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had devoted his campaign to undermining the DNC. The shock of it: Nasty politics afoot in the single most political circus on the plant, the quadrennial Ppresidential marathon. Gambling at Rick’s bar, anyone?

Oh, Ted, where art thou?

But there are two other media story lines to this past week that bear directly on this political silly season.

The first is the forced resignation of Fox News founder and guiding guru Roger Ailes.

While the timing, precipitous nature and cause may be unexpected, Ailes’s departure was expected after Rupert Murdoch’s sons took over 21st Century Fox and had long expressed a desire to be rid of the septuagenarian impresario. They just took advantage of what, if the reported evidence holds up, was more than just boorish behavior by the media legend.

But with the fall comes a “what’s next?” The rise of the modern conservative-Republican movement owes much to the political flack-turned-media-innovator. Ailes did not just lead Fox, he was Fox News. From “fair and balanced” to giving Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly their pedestals from which to scream, he set the tone.

Others will follow — for now, Rupert Murdoch himself, but it won’t be the same. It never is. It always comes from the head and whether you like or loathe him, you cannot argue that Ailes was an inspiring giant.

And history is replete with tales of fading glory, once the motivating leader departs.

ABC’s swagger went limp once Roone Arledge left. CNN began its inexorable decline the day Tom Johnson was named president. The Washington Post lost its way after Ben Bradlee gave way to Len Downie, only starting to find its way back with the recent arrival of editor Marty Baron.

With an election so bizarre, Fox News was primed to play an especially nuanced role. Could Ailes’s departure turn the election? That might be a bit grandiose, but it is hard to see how Fox maintains that influence without Ailes at the helm.

On the other side of the political chasm, we were reminded, too briefly, of the vacuum left by Jon Stewart.

For nearly two decades, Stewart had pricked political hubris from his Comedy Central desk and, it could has been argued, brought political consciousness to a whole generation.

He made a cameo on his old friend Stephen Colbert’s show with an eviscerating critique of the Republican Party, reminding us how he was so much more than any of the political pundits or nightly comedians. It was a glimpse of a missing secret sauce this election cycle that has left us with the two least wanted candidates in American political history.

Stewart and Ailes — if both won’t be missed — their absence will certainly be felt on the long road to election day, Nov. 8.

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Fri, 28 Apr 2017 16:01:27 -0400

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