Fox execs privately admit: We're edging back towards the center as tea-party popularity fades

Three weeks after dropping out of the race, Tim Pawlenty showed up to ask for a gig at Fox. But there was a complication: Pawlenty was on the verge of endorsing Romney. “I’m not sure I want to sign you as a paid spokesman for Romney,” Ailes said…

Glenn Beck’s inflammatory rhetoric—his ranting about Obama being a racist—“became a bit of a branding issue for us” before the hot-button host left in July, Ailes says. So too did Sarah Palin’s being widely promoted as the GOP’s potential savior—in large measure through her lucrative platform at Fox. Privately, Fox executives say the entire network took a hard right turn after Obama’s election, but, as the Tea Party’s popularity fades, is edging back toward the mainstream…

(Ailes seems to relish the feuding among his stars, saying, “O’Reilly hates Sean and he hates Rush because they did better in radio than he did.”)

Ailes keeps a wary eye on anchor Shepard Smith, who occasionally backs aspects of the Obama record: “Every once in a while Shep Smith gets out there where the buses don’t run and we have a friendly talk.” And Ailes likes to tease O’Reilly: “You gonna suck up to Obama so you can get another interview at the next football game?” Democrats have noticed the change. Says former Obama aide Anita Dunn: “You have the sense that they’re trying to at least appear less of the hyper-partisan political network they had been.”