Does Roger Ailes Think Sarah Palin Is an Idiot?

A bit of Palin overload today at CJR, but the former governor of Alaska has popped up in another mini media scandal following the publication of Monday’s New York cover story about Roger Ailes, the GOP field, and their interconnectedness through Fox News’s “presidential circus caravan.”

New York reporter Gabriel Sherman wrote the story, and truly nobody does this politics-and-cable stuff better than he does. This latest piece, “The Elephant in the Greenroom,” is no exception. Read it for the voyeurism—we’re treated to a sit-in on meetings between Ailes and Beck—or for the crazy level of detail Sherman infuses into his retelling of how the FNC reacted to an Obama presidency and complicated things for Republicans looking to supplant it. Just read it.

But getting back to that mini media scandal. Early up in the piece, Sherman quotes a “Republican close to Ailes” saying that the Fox News head thinks Palin is “an idiot.” Here’s the passage:

“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.”

Yesterday, FNC Executive Vice President Bill Shine contacted The New York Times to dispute the quote. In a statement to the paper published on its Caucus blog, Shine says:

“I know for a fact that Roger Ailes admires and respects Sarah Palin and thinks she is smart. He also believes many members of the left-wing media are extremely terrified and threatened by her. Despite a massive effort to destroy Sarah Palin, she is still on her feet and making a difference in the political world. As for the ‘Republican close to Ailes’ for which the incorrect Palin quote is attributed, when Roger figures out who that is, I guarantee you he or she will no longer be ‘close to Ailes.’”

Incorrect quote is stretching a bit. Sherman was quoting someone else who is not themselves quoting what Ailes may or may not have said directly, but what he or she believes Ailes thinks, as picked up through conversations with him. Not the strongest foundation, but Sherman’s a strong reporter and there’s little reason to doubt he heard what he heard, regardless of it being hearsay.

And Sherman has supporters who think the hearsay is pretty solid, including those who less anonymously count themselves close to Roger Ailes. On his website, writer Joe McGinnis discusses Sherman’s article in some detail and addresses the “idiot” quote even before Shine took public issue with it. He also discusses in detail his friendship with Ailes: “Roger and I are in frequent contact by email, we talk by phone at least monthly, and we get together for lunch or dinner at least a couple of times a year. We talk far more about family than politics. I gave up trying to convert him years ago, and he’s known from my Philadelphia newspaper days that I was beyond redemption from his point of view…. When we do talk politics, it’s always off the record.”

Here’s what McGinnis says about the Sherman quote:

As I say, my friendship with Roger precludes me from sharing anything he’s ever said to me about Sarah.

But I can say that I think Gabriel Sherman is one of the best young journalists in America. If it’s in a story he wrote, I believe it.

And thinking back to the lunch Roger and I had in a private dining room at Fox headquarters in July, 2009, just after Sarah had quit as governor of Alaska, I have no doubt that the above quote is accurate.

We will have to wait and see whether McGinnis remains close to Ailes.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , , ,