Fox, MSNBC heavyweights present opposing views on guns
Roger Ailes and Mika Brzezinski have featured guns and gun control prominently on the air since the Newtown shootings.
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — One commands what has been the most watched cable news network for more than 10 years; the other co-hosts one of the top-viewed shows in its time slot. Both live in New York’s northern suburbs.
Garrison, N.Y., resident Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News, and Bronxville, N.Y., resident Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe show with former Florida Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, are two media heavyweights with widely divergent views on guns and gun control.
Both have featured those issues prominently on the air since gunman Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. Through the wide reach of their news outlets, they exert an outsized influence on the country’s gun-control debate.
The massacre, and The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News’ subsequent publication of an interactive map of gun-permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties, prompted New York’s elected officials to strengthen gun-control laws and allow permit holders to opt out of having their name and address publicly disclosed. They had until May 15 to submit an opt-out form. Putnam County refused to release the county’s pistol-permit data under the old law.
New York was the first state in the nation to pass strict gun-control laws in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
Brzezinski, 46, has been open about her support for tighter gun-control laws while Ailes’ Fox News provided exhaustive and outraged coverage of The Journal News’ interactive gun map in January.
On April 18, Brzezinski asked staff on Morning Joe to put up photos of senators who voted “no” on legislation that would have expanded background checks for gun sales, including at gun shows and over the Internet. The vote failed 54-46 in the Senate, short of the 60 votes needed for approval.
“To me, editorializing of course, the faces of cowardice, to the viewer, you can bring your own conclusions,” she said. “But we’d like to show everybody’s name and face.”
Brzezinski managed to squeeze talk about gun control into a number of interviews in recent months. “Hey, Paul, before you go, let’s talk about guns,” she said to Sen. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on the April 10 Morning Joe show.
A Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey in early May found that the public overwhelmingly continues to support background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows.
Brzezinski is married to WABC-TV investigative reporter Jim Hoffer and the couple have two teenage daughters. Ailes is married to Elizabeth Ailes, publisher of two weekly newspapers in Putnam County, N.Y., and they have a 13-year-old son. Both Brzezinski and Ailes declined to comment for the story.
Fox featured a steady stream of the Putnam officials who refused to release that county’s list of permit holders in January and even interviewed a self-proclaimed “ex-criminal” who said the newspaper’s gun map was “like gold” for would-be burglars. Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant denied The Journal News’ Freedom of Information Law request last month for a list of gun-permit holders who haven’t opted out of disclosure, a violation of the new state law.
Ailes, 73, keeps a close eye on the network’s shows and isn’t afraid to speak up when he disagrees with something, according to Joe Muto, the author of a new book, An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media. He was an associate producer for The O’Reilly Factor when he was fired last year for being a Fox mole for Gawker, an online news, video and gossip site.
“Even if a segment passed initial muster, the Second Floor reserved the right to pull the plug if it took a turn they didn’t like. They were always watching, and never hesitant to exercise their authority,” a book excerpt on Salon, an online news and entertainment site, says. “Roger himself had a phone in his office, a hotline he could pick up and immediately be connected to the control room. Every producer knew that, and dreaded seeing his name on the caller ID.”
Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes speaks at the annual Putnam County Economic Development Corporation Business Recognition Breakfast at Villa Barone in Mahopac, N.Y. on May 6, 2009. Ailes is avid supporter of gun rights.(Photo: The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News)
Ailes often communicated with news staff through intermediaries, but he didn’t hesitate to intervene if necessary, Muto said in a phone interview Thursday.He didn’t make a lot of appearances in the newsroom — that’s not his style. “He’s always watching the network. He’s very hands-on,” Muto said.
Gawker has waged an ongoing campaign to deride Ailes. After The Journal News’ gun map was met with widespread fury, Gawker wrote a story about the existing availability of gun permit records, linking to a 2010 database obtained from the New York State Police that is available online. It lists Ailes as a pistol permit holder at Fox’s Avenue of the Americas address in New York City.
State Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican from Patterson, N.Y., and Assemblyman Steve Katz, a Republican from Yorktown, N.Y., were among more than 20 Lower Hudson Valley residents who appeared on Sean Hannity’s Jan. 11 show on Fox. Hannity said the gun owners had been “outed” by The Journal News, which he said was a “blatant invasion of privacy.”
“They’ve provided a dream map for perpetrators, for stalkers, for the bad guys,” Katz told Hannity.
Ball would only respond to The Journal News in an e-mail about Ailes, but he declined to say whether the two ever discussed the gun map or gun control.
“Roger Ailes is a visionary and a patriot, and on many days, the Silent Majority’s greatest protector in the war against idiocy and big government,” Ball wrote. “He is blessed with a humble heart that is deeply connected to the American conscience and a brain that makes him a visionary in his field and a giant amongst men.”