Ailes: Fox Business Not Open for Business

Time out, folks. Contrary to recent reports, the long-anticipated Fox Business Channel will not launch this month—or anytime soon.

Hoping to reel in the rumors, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes tells Flash! that he’s not even close—no programming plans, no staff, nada. “If it’s imminent,” he says, “it’s imminent without me.”

The idea for the channel has been gestating since 2001. News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch began pushing for it in 2004, but Ailes is reluctant to proceed unless wide distribution is assured: “I’m not interested in wandering around in the wilderness for a long time trying to beg people for subscribers.”

Negotiations are tied up in renewal deals for the core channel. Fox News’ initial 10-year deals, at 25¢ monthly per subscriber, are expiring, and the network wants to up its license fee, big time: $1 per sub.

Getting its News Corp. cousin DirecTV to sign on to the new rate along with a new channel should go smoothly, but cable and DBS operators will likely agree to carry Fox Business only if Fox News offers a lower-cal sweetener.

But Ailes is firm: “We’re never going to bundle it. Why negotiate down the price of Fox News? I know what the value of Fox News is. We’re not prepared to lower that rate.”

Where’s Dan?

Station executives at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for last week’s CBS affiliate meeting were so entranced by the vision of the network’s newest star, Katie Couric, they barely noticed that CBS veteran Dan Rather was conspicuously absent.

While Couric enjoys a long welcome to the CBS Evening News anchor chair, the man who sat there for 24 years has been virtually disappeared by his network.

It seems the infamy he won with his flawed report on President Bush’s National Guard service during the height of the 2004 campaign is far from fleeting.

Since leaving his Evening News throne in March 2005 for what was billed as a full-time gig at 60 Minutes, Rather has reported only a handful of segments. (Lesley Stahl, by contrast, has reported dozens in that time.)

And while Couric and CNN wunderkind Anderson Cooper were feted as new 60 contributors at CBS’ upfront presentation in May, the silence regarding Rather’s future was deafening—and shameful, given his 44 years of service.

His deal comes due by year-end, but nobody inside CBS will confirm whether he’ll be a correspondent or even at the network this time next year.

A CBS spokesperson says: “Dan Rather is a 60 Minutes correspondent who is currently working on stories that will air in the next few weeks.”

Rather has been gracefully silent about the silent treatment, but his friends describe him as “hurt and confused” by the state of affairs.

At 74 years old, Rather is young by 60 Minutes standards and eager to work. But sadly, the chances that he’ll follow in the footsteps of Mike Wallace, whose long career (and non- retirement at 88) was celebrated on a recent broadcast, look about as thin as turnip soup.

FCC: Our Bad

If the FCC were a publicly held company and indecency complaints were the equivalent of earnings, the news that the commission underreported the number of complaints in the first quarter—by half—would be cause for jubilation.

Alas, the only ones celebrating the fact that the FCC initially missed some 133,000 of the 275,131 complaints received through March 31 are the usual suspects at the American Family Association (AFA) and the Parents Television Council (PTC).

The indecency watchdogs, whose e-mail factories account for hundreds of thousands of complaints alone, routinely bash the FCC for underreporting the outrage at offensive TV content. But neither had anything to do with the recent correction.

Both say they didn’t contact the commission, even though the AFA claims it funneled more than 334,000 individual complaints in the quarter. (And given that each e-mailed complaint generated copies for each commissioner, the actual e-mail tally is in excess of 1.5 million.)

If you must know, the AFA’s minions were exercised over an s-word uttered during Fox’s March 27 NASCAR broadcast (168,000 complaints—cha-ching!) and a strip-club scene in the Feb. 6 airing of NBC’s Las Vegas (165,933—bada-bing!) As it turns out, the FCC discovered the “accounting discrepancy” on its own.

Spokesman David Fiske says, “We are now correcting it because we want to make every effort to make sure that these counts are accurate.”

We couldn’t agree more.