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Is Fox News really part of a right wing conspiracy to manipulate the news, or is it just a bunch of rich guys looking to become richer? An Associated Press interview with Roger Ailes suggests that the Fox News president places ratings above ideology, especially when it comes to a certain “foxy” Tea Party figure. Ailes makes it clear that, rather than supporting Sarah Palin’s ideas, he was far more concerned about her popularity and physical appearance:

Since 2002, Fox News has sealed the deal as ratings leader, dominating cable-news competition (and tying them in knots) in daytime, as well as in prime time with a murderers’ row of hosts led by Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. The past year, Fox News Channel drew an average 1.1 million viewers — more than CNN and MSNBC combined.

Propelled by Ailes’ “fair and balanced” branding, it successfully has targeted viewers who believe the other cable-news networks, and maybe the media overall, display a liberal tilt from which Fox News delivers them with unvarnished truth. Preaching its fairer-than-thou gospel, Fox News leveraged the public’s distrust for the media while positioning itself as the anti-media news-media alternative.

Or so it seems to Fox News’ detractors, who lodge nonstop salvos against a network they decry as a conservative soap box writ large, even a mouthpiece for the Republican Party shaping public opinion on its behalf. These critics came to include Media Matters, a nonprofit group that polices Fox News as part of its larger stated mission to “correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media,” and filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who in 2004 released the scathing documentary “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.”

From the start, Ailes has steadfastly denied any such political bias or agenda on the part of his network. Politics, schmolitics: “I hired Sarah Palin because she was hot and got ratings,” he declares.

See? And we all thought he was conservative — turns out he’s just sexist.

Judging female political figures based solely on their appearance isn’t exactly new, and Ailes clearly isn’t the only person at Fox News who seems to be preoccupied with Palin’s attractiveness.

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