If you had to guess which media outlet Fox News boss Roger Ailes would choose to air his views on the media furor surrounding the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, pick No. 1 would probably not be the website run by a hip-hop mogul.
Yet there Ailes was Monday in a brief online Q&A with Russell Simmons, posted on Globalgrind.com, the website of clothing creator, Def Jam founder and entrepreneur Simmons.
Less surprising was that Ailes used the platform to scoff at the notion that angry political commentary (including on his cable station) had anything to do with the shooting of Giffords and 19 others.
Ailes did concede that a bit of dialing back of the rhetoric might be in order. "I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually," Ailes said. "You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that."
Fox's commentators — particularly the overwrought Glenn Beck with his bluster and constant fulminations about America's imminent collapse — haven't been big on toning down. But there was Beck's boss, for what it was worth, calling for, uh, modulation.
That's not to say, as I note in my "On the Media" column, that any commentator should be blamed, based on what we know now, for inciting the violence in Tucson. Jared Lee Loughner appears to be a disturbed young man whose political views were muddled. No specific evidence has emerged linking his oddball views to the shooting.
So why would Ailes choose to talk to Simmons about the media storm surrounding the shooting?
That's hard to know, since Simmons didn't offer any context or explanation for the interview. Simmons has been a stalwart backer of President (and previously candidate) Obama and has talked about building his Globalgrind into a powerhouse for news and for political organizing.
But I'm probably not alone among media writers in having never visited the site before the brief Ailes interview.
Besides insisting he really did want some measure of restraint from his staff, Ailes used the Simmons interview to rail about the incredibility (he used a saltier term) of claims that the conservative media drove Loughner.
In an interesting (and unintentional?) twist, Ailes said that "nobody screened [Loughner] for getting a weapon." Surely the boss of 2nd Amendment-friendly Fox wasn't suggesting a need for stiffer gun laws in notoriously laissez-faire Arizona?
He also said it was @*)@*#@ (that salty word again) for critics to suggest that Fox entertainer Sarah Palin had culpability in the shooting. During the recent midterm election Palin put out a map targeting 20 House members, including Giffords, for defeat. A gunsight-style target appeared on a map of America over each targeted district.
Ailes said he had personally had his picture tagged with a bull's eye over his head. "This goes on," he said, "both sides are wrong, but they both do it."
Simmons didn't give any push back on the notion that nasty rhetoric comes equally from both sides of the ideological divide. "Angry left, angry right," Simmons said, "none of it's good."
Simmons then seemed to make an attempt to jump-start the kind of caring dialogue he said would break down barriers. He told the Fox boss that Obama isn't really as left wing as some suggest.
The music impressario suggested he fit to the left of Obama. To that, Ailes laughed and responded: "Then you must be skinny, you can’t get between him and the wall. You gotta to be one skinny guy, man."
So much for a meeting of the minds.
— James Rainey
Photo: Entrepreneur Russell Simmons. Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Extra.