Before Sarah Palin posted her infamous “Blood Libel” video on Facebook on January 12, she placed a call to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. In the wake of the Tucson massacre, Palin was fuming that the media was blaming her heated rhetoric for the actions of a madman that left six people dead and thirteen others injured, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Palin told Ailes she wanted to respond, according to a person with knowledge of the call. It wasn’t fair the media was making this about her. Ailes told Palin that she should stay quiet.
“Lie low,” he said. “There’s no need to inject yourself into the story.”
Palin told Ailes that other people had given her that same advice. Her lawyer Bob Barnett is said to have cautioned her about getting involved. The consensus in some corners of Palin’s camp was that she faced considerable risks if she spoke out.
But, this being Sarah Palin, she did it anyway.
Ailes was not pleased with her decision, which turned out to be a political debacle for Palin, especially her use of the historically loaded term “blood libel” to describe the actions of the media. “The Tucson thing was horrible,” said a person familiar with Ailes’s thinking. “Before she responded, she was making herself look like a victim. She was winning. She went out and did the blood libel thing, and Roger is thinking, ‘Why did you call me for advice?’”
Ailes’s displeasure matters, not only because his network is a holding pen for Republican candidates-in-waiting, but because he is paying Palin a hefty $1 million annual salary while she strings out her decision over whether to run for president
On March 2, the network suspended the contracts of contributors Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, saying it couldn’t employ pundits once they jump into the presidential race. Palin and Mike Huckabee have been able to keep their contracts so far because they’ve said they’re not running right now. To be sure, Palin is still valuable to Fox as a ratings magnet; on Monday she will appear with Lou Dobbs to launch his new Fox Business Channel show. But Fox executives have been discussing when they need a definite answer from Palin on her presidential intentions.
Fox is hosting
the first a GOP debate on May 5 in South Carolina. If Palin participates in the debate, then her Fox contract will be suspended. Given her media exposure and grassroots operation, Palin might like to delay a decision until the fall, or later. Whether Fox will tolerate that is another matter. Going rogue might make sense when you’re only angering, say, the GOP nominee for president; but when the person you’re crossing is the head of Fox News, the risk may be a little bit higher.