The Fox News Wishing Well

The Associated Press recently did a profile of the high-octane new president of CNN, Jonathan Klein. The AP reported that Klein had had some luck in boosting ratings. CNN's chief rival, cable leader Fox News Channel, seemed gracious.

Emphasis on seemed.

"Our focus is on beating the broadcast networks," Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti told AP's David Bauder. "We wish Jon well in his battle for second place with MSNBC."

Fox wishes a lot of people well, it turns out.

Back in 2003, former Fox News producer Charlie Reina was accusing the channel of forcing a conservative line on its anchors. Fox's spokesperson at the time, Robert Zimmerman, addressed the charges this way in an interview with me:

"These false accusations are the rantings of a bitter employee. It's unfortunate that his career ended the way it did. We wish him well."

The mock-genteel Wishing Well operated by Fox isn't always gentle, of course.

After a Fox News anchor jumped ship to CNN, Fox's Zimmerman said: "Paula Zahn's supposed attempt at reinventing herself as a journalist is like putting a fresh coat of paint on an outhouse."

But even when the network isn't being nice, the wishing well sometimes makes an appearance anyway. In January, CNN founder Ted Turner, speaking at a convention of television programming executives in Las Vegas, rambled on about Fox News, seemingly equating its tactics with the Nazi's use of propaganda. Fox quickly shot back with this line:

"Ted is understandably bitter, having lost his ratings, his network, and now his mind. We wish him well."

For a moment, set aside any complaints you might have about the ideology of Fox News, or of CNN, NPR or anyone else.

When it comes to the news wars, Fox News has the brawling instincts of a Chicago ward heeler and the vocabulary of a London tabloid headline writer. No rival in the media world comes close.

There's a reason for this, and it can be found in the DNA of Fox News.

Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes was also the mastermind behind the marketing strategy of the winning presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon in 1968 and George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Again, forget ideology — Ailes is bringing the toughness of those campaigns to an industry whose public face is more often bureaucratic.

Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which also owns combative tabloids like the New York Post and the London Sun.

And Murdoch's tabloids know well that there's an audience eager to see blood sport among journalists as much as anywhere else.

The Fox people are clearly having fun capturing that tone. Brian Lewis, the senior vice president for corporate communications, is the ringleader. He laughingly declined to comment when asked about the Fox News Wishing Well, saying the cable network's statements would speak for themselves.

Former Fox Sports anchor Keith Olbermann can now be found on MSNBC, where he often torches such Fox News figures as Bill O'Reilly.

Here's how Fox News' Lewis responded to one such attack by Olbermann last May:

"Since he stopped reading sports scores, Keith has attracted fewer viewers than a test pattern, and his career has been nothing short of a train wreck. We pity his tortured soul and wish him all the best."

I'm sure Olbermann wishes Fox News well, too.

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