Of all the odd obituaries for Roger Ailes over the past week, this one from Rachel Maddow on Thursday’s episode of The Howard Stern Show might be the weirdest.
The MSNBC host and the late Fox News founder have a history. Ailes blurbed her 2012 book Drift, writing, “People who like Rachel will love the book. People who don’t will get angry, but aggressive debate is good for America.”
Three years ago, they were spotted having a friendly lunch together at New York’s Carlyle Hotel shortly after Ailes said of Maddow in an interview that while she “wouldn’t really work” in the Fox News framework, he “liked” her “on a personal level.”
Just last month, Maddow publicly offered to buy Ailes breakfast following his disgraced resignation from Fox due to sexual harassment allegations. After his death, she reiterated that she “considered him to be a friend.”
Now, Maddow has told Howard Stern that, despite his mistreatment of women at Fox, Ailes was “really, really kind” to her when she reached out to him for constructive criticism about her role as a cable news host on a competing network. Maddow said she approached Ailes in almost a “joshing” manner, not expecting him to take her seriously, but was surprised when he offered his sincere support.
“Would he give me deliberately bad advice? Would he tell me no? Would he use it against me?” Maddow wondered. “Would he then start telling people, ‘Maddow came to me for help, she’s a disaster!’” Instead, she said he was “gracious” and “constructive” and “gave me some stuff to think about.” Pressed by Stern, she confirmed that Ailes made no sexual advances towards her.
“There are a lot of people who are mad at me for saying anything nice about him, given the other things we learned about him before he died,” Maddow added, alluding to the sexual harassment issues. “I’m not downplaying those things to also say this is a true thing about the way he interacted with me, and he was a friend.”
Then came the bombshell about Maddow’s conversations with Ailes. Asked by Stern if she would have ever considered working for Fox News had Ailes offered her a job there, despite their obvious political differences, Maddow revealed the generous, yet unconventional offer he made to her recently.
“He once told me that he wanted to hire me at Fox,” she said. “And actually, this was not that long ago, within the last few years. He told me wanted to hire me at Fox and then he told me he’d never put me on the air.”
Essentially, Ailes wanted to prevent any of his competitors from broadcasting Maddow’s show. As she put it, he wanted to “put me on ice.”
“I was like, ‘So you’d pay me a full contract to not work?’” Maddow remembers asking him. “Who would not consider that?”
Whether Ailes’ offer was serious or meant in jest, we will likely never know. But either way, Maddow chose to remain at MSNBC, where she is currently enjoying some of her best ratings in years with President Trump as a nightly adversary. Gone is the stiff competition of Megyn Kelly, leaving her up against the newly-transplanted roundtable show The Five on Fox in her 9 p.m. hour. Viewers are making their clear preference known.
Last week, for the first time in its 21 year history, MSNBC beat both Fox News and CNN in total viewers and the coveted 25-54 news demo. Leading the way was Maddow, who had the most-watched cable news show five nights in a row.