Roger Ailes, the combative conservative behind Fox News, is sounding strangely reasonable these days, going easy on top Democrats—even Hillary Clinton!—and subtly distancing himself from the inflammatory Glenn Beck.

When I spoke with him shortly after the publication of two scathing magazine profiles depicting the chairman as power mad, paranoid, and a GOP puppeteer, Ailes was in a strikingly upbeat mood. When the climate is calm, he loves to stir up trouble, as when he told me last fall that NPR executives were “Nazis.” But part of his genius is that when he faces hostile fire, Ailes can turn unexpectedly mellow, the better to make his critics look like the loony ones.

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