Jane Wallace was the one take I wanted to read on Roger Ailes’ forced departure from Fox News.
But she seems to have disappeared from public scrutiny.
Wallace was one of TV’s more legendarily tempestuous and rebellious (and brilliant) news people in the 1990s. In the middle of that decade, she teamed up with Mary Matalin on CNBC’s “Equal Time,” one of the brightest news and political talk shows of its time.
To watch Wallace at work could be a thing of beauty for a fellow journalist. She and Matalin laughed a lot from opposite poles of the political spectrum – in Wallace’s case (from the left) all the way through the show, it seemed, sometimes. But when she did interviews she would, amid all the jollity and chuckling, slip in some questions of near-lethal caliber. Even Katie Couric at her most sweetly arachnid didn’t have Wallace’s gift for disguising when and where a sting was coming.
But Wallace, by reputation, was trouble, as much, some might have said, as Keith Olbermann, if not more so.
But “Equal Time,” in its undramatic way, was exceptional. It was a pointedly female take on political talk and information. When the show was focused on Matalin and Wallace, it was brilliant. It pointed the way for “The View,” among other things.
And, never to be forgotten is this: it was invented by Ailes.
Wallace and Matalin’s joke was that they were CNBC’s “Info-babes.” What they were getting across is that both were very much apart from a backbiting professional world where attractive female journalists scrambled for more power and visibility (a world to which Wallace once belonged on CBS’ “West 57th.”)
During that period, all of CNBC was under the control of Ailes, the man who had previously produced “The Mike Douglas Show” and packaged Richard Nixon (among other pols) and who went on to invent Fox News. He was forced to resign when reports of his sexual harassment of some Fox news female stars were too much to be kept under wraps.
Gretchen Carlson filed the suit that opened the subject up. But when Fox News star Megyn Kelly reportedly put herself in Carlson’s camp with her own Ailes tales, the matter reached critical mass.
What is now being publicly bandied about by those doing the reportorial work in the field – Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman, for instance – is the possibility of a culture of harassment at Fox News.
All of which is very inside and dependent on access. On the other hand, what has been apparent to anyone with eyes for many years is that attractive female journalists and commentators run through Fox News’ airwaves like a sieve, while the standards for male appearance are, uhhhh, manifestly more happenstance.
This can reach hilarious proportions weekly on Howard Kurtz’s Sunday press review show “Media Buzz” where Kurtz, who looks like what he is – a professional journalist from New York (educated at the University at Buffalo) who made a name for himself at the Washington Post – elicits commentary about journalistic issues from a continuing stream of young women of conspicuous beauty.
They are all very smart and articulate, and worthy of their spots. But it’s more than a little funny that as a show, Kurtz’s new follow-up show to “Reliable Sources” is supposedly examining media issues when his own show is a demonstration of an obvious gender double-standard in the way Fox News does business.
If you talk to people from Fox, they’ll tell you the news network is the only one to have a wardrobe department. And that slacks are forbidden on the air for women. And the preference for beautiful female legs in camera shots is so virulent that control room types get phone calls from superiors to tell female correspondents to close the computers on coffee tables, so that correspondents’ legs can be seen.
Even occasional viewers of Fox News could SEE all this in operation periodically. The network’s “type” in its young female employees was so obvious that it made its way into American comedy. It is now a spectacular irony that those who seem to have visually embodied that “type” – one of them a former Miss America – were the ones who pushed Ailes out the door.
That’s why I wanted so much to know what Jane Wallace might say.
Ailes is a brilliant TV man – a creature of the medium of such sinister insight and invention that he could invent the Fox News juggernaut out of Rupert Murdoch’s money and, long ago, invent “Equal Time,” a female viewpoint talk show whose stars were hilariously satiric about the very managerial mistreatment that drove Ailes out the door.
To be sure the Ailes and Bill Cosby cases are very different things. But what we’re seeing is part of the same thing: old men caught in the act of being predatory dinosaurs from worlds (comedy, TV news) where available young women were thought of as the “perks” of giant success.
The rules have changed in Jurassic Park, though. The guys getting caught these days, and falling thunderously to the ground are some of the most talented T-Rexes.