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Roger Ailes, the son of a factory worker, was born in Warren, Ohio, on 15th May, 1940. After graduating from Ohio University in 1962 he joined KYW and eventually became executive producer of the Mike Douglas Show.
In 1967 Ailes met Richard M. Nixon and the following year he joined his presidential campaign team. After Nixon's victory he founded Ailes Communications in New York. He continued to work in television (WCBS-TV) and in 1972 produced the Broadway musical, Mother Earth. Other successes included Hot-L Baltimore (1973) and The Last Frontier (1974).
Ailes continued to be involved in right-wing politics and is credited with having "coached" Ronald Reagan to victory over Walter Mondale in 1984. His strategy included "television ads, designed by Madison Avenue executive Philip Dusenberry and featuring swelling violin music and emotional, issue-free imagery of weddings, flag-raising, home-buying and peaceful, scenic vistas."
Ailes also helped George H. W. Bush defeat Michael Dukakis in 1988. This time he used visual imagery to exploit racial feelings. As Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber pointed out in their book Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State: "One featured a threatening photograph of William Horton - a black inmate who had escaped from a prison-furlough program and raped a woman-to suggest that Dukakis was unusually soft on crime. (Actually, Massachusetts was one of 45 states with prison-furlough programs at the time of Horton's crime.)" A second prison-furlough ad depicted a "revolving door" through which a line of white men entered prison, while blacks and Hispanics exited. "That phrase 'revolving-door prison policy' implies, of course, that Massachusetts criminals could, thanks to Governor Dukakis, slip out of jail as easily as commuters streaming from a subway station," observes Mark Crispin Miller. "But the image makes an even more inflammatory statement.... The 'revolving door' effects an eerie racial metamorphosis, implying that the Dukakis prison system was not only porous, but a satanic source of negritude-a dark 'liberal' mill that took white men and made them colored."
Ailes wrote about his experiences in public relations in You Are the Message: Secrets of the Master Communicators (1988). Ailes was also employed by Californians Against Unfair Tax Increases (CAUTI), an organization funded by tobacco companies, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds. Ailes Communications earned just over $1,000,000 in commission on the campaign against the Coalition for a Healthy California, which proposed a 25 cents a pack increase in tobacco tax. His strategy was to claim that the tax increase was unfair and unnecessary government interference. Ailes claimed that his opponents were "anti-smoking zealots".
In 1991 Ailes joined up with right-wing radio talk-show host, Rush Limbaugh. He converted Limbaugh into a television performer and became executive producer of his late-night show. In 1993 Ailes became president of NBC's cable channel Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC) and the following year launched America Talking. Ailes also hosted his own nightly show, Straight Forward.
Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation recruited Ailes in February 1996 to establish Fox News Channel (FNC). The channel was launched on 7th October, 1996. Ailes recruited a series of right-wing broadcasters such as Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity, Oliver North, Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera.
In November, 2000, Fox News was accused of trying to ensure that George W. Bush was elected president. Later Ailes apologized for the actions of Fox News: "Let me begin by stating that Fox News, along with all the other television networks, made errors on election night which cannot be repeated, the biggest of which occurred in Florida. Fox News acknowledges here that it failed the American public on Election Night and takes full responsibility for this failure."
Fox News promoted itself under the slogan "fair and balanced", but examinations of the channel's guest selection showed this was not the case. In 2001, when the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting studied the guest list of FNC's flagship news program, Special Report, it found that Republicans made up 89 percent of Fox News' partisan guests, outnumbering Democrats 50 to 6. Avowed conservatives made up 71 percent of guests.
To ensure the maximum audience for this right-wing propaganda, Rupert Murdoch actually paid cable operators $10 per subscriber to carry Fox News. During the first two years the station lost $150 million. However, Murdoch's policy enabled Fox News to broadcast to over 55 countries and by August, 2003, had over 80 million subscribers throughout the United States.
In late 2002, Roger Ailes confirmed the allegation in the book Bush at War. Bob Woodward claimed that Ailes had sent a note to Karl Rove in the White House suggesting policies to be adopted in the wake of the 11th September, 2001 terrorist attacks. Woodward described the note as advocating Bush take "the harshest measures possible" in order to maintain the support of the American public. Ailes said the note was not political advice but a message sent "as a human being and a citizen".
In October 2003, Charlie Reina, a former Fox News producer, claimed: "Editorially, the FNC newsroom is under the constant control and vigilance of management. The pressure ranges from subtle to direct. First of all, it's a news network run by one of the most high-profile political operatives of recent times. Everyone there understands that FNC is, to a large extent, 'Roger's Revenge' - against what he considers a liberal, pro-Democrat media establishment that has shunned him for decades. For the staffers, many of whom are too young to have come up through the ranks of objective journalism, and all of whom are non-union, with no protections regarding what they can be made to do, there is undue motivation to please the big boss."
Charlie Reina went onto argue: " The roots of Fox News Channel's day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct. They come in the form of an executive memo distributed electronically each morning, addressing what stories will be covered and, often, suggesting how they should be covered. To the newsroom personnel responsible for the channel's daytime programming, The Memo is the bible. If, on any given day, you notice that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a particular point home, you can bet The Memo is behind it. The Memo was born with the Bush administration, early in 2001, and, intentionally or not, has ensured that the administration's point of view consistently comes across on FNC. This year, of course, the war in Iraq became a constant subject of The Memo. But along with the obvious - information on who is where and what they'll be covering - there have been subtle hints as to the tone of the anchors' copy."
Another former Fox News journalist, Matt Goss, admitted: "Let me just say that the right-wing bias was there in the newsroom, up-front and obvious, from the day a certain executive editor was sent down from the channel to bring us in line with their coverage... To me, FNC reporters' laziness was the worst part of the bias. It wasn't that they were toeing some political line (though of course they were; see the embarrassing series on property rights from 2000), it was that the facts of a story just didn't matter at all." This view was supported by other members of staff who appeared in Robert Greenwald's, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004).
An investigation by Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks discovered that "a series of seven US polls conducted from January through September of this year reveals that before and after the Iraq war, a majority of Americans have had significant misperceptions and these are highly related to support for the war in Iraq." The report went on to argue that those "who primarily watch Fox News are significantly more likely to have misperceptions, while those who primarily listen to NPR or watch PBS are significantly less likely."
For example, fifty-seven percent believed that Iraq gave substantial support to Al-Qaeda, or was directly involved in 9/11 attacks, sixty-nine percent believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11 and twenty-two percent believed the falsity that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. In the composite analysis of the PIPA study, 80 percent of Fox News watchers had one of more of these misperceptions, in contrast to 71 percent for CBS and 27 percent who tuned to NPR/PBS.
In August, 2005, Ailes was appointed as Chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group. The following month Ailes recruited Geraldo Rivera to present Geraldo at Large.
In 1968, Nixon's success in reinventing himself as the "New Nixon" helped him win the White House. When journalist Joe McGinniss detailed this strategy the next year in The Selling of the President, shamefaced reporters vowed to get wise to such manipulation, but the Nixon campaign was just the beginning.' Although his impeachment in the Watergate scandal meant a temporary setback, the Republicans roared back into the White House in 1980 with Ronald Reagan, the first actor ever to become president. Reagan also relied on the talents of Ailes, who served as a consultant to his 1984 re-election campaign....
Ailes used a similar strategy in 1988, when he worked with Lee Atwater to mastermind George H. Bush's come-from-behind victory over Michael Dukakis. The Bush/Quayle '88 campaign combined morning-in-America imagery with ads that ridiculed Dukakis through deceptive visual imagery. One TV spot took Dukakis to task for pollution in Boston Harbor, displaying a sign that said, "Danger / Radiation Hazard / No Swimming." The sign actually had nothing to do with pollution or Dukakis. It was posted to warn Navy personnel not to swim in waters that had once harbored nuclear submarines under repair. The most egregious ads, however, used visual imagery to exploit racial feelings. One featured a threatening photograph of William Horton - a black inmate who had escaped from a prison-furlough program and raped a woman-to suggest that Dukakis was unusually soft on crime. The 'revolving door' effects an eerie racial metamorphosis, implying that the Dukakis prison system was not only porous, but a satanic source of negritude-a dark 'liberal' mill that took white men and made them colored.
Let me just say that the right-wing bias was there in the newsroom, up-front and obvious, from the day a certain executive editor was sent down from the channel to bring us in line with their coverage. His first directive to us: Seek out stories that cater to angry, middle-aged white men who listen to talk radio and yell at their televisions. (Oh, how I'd love to stick quotation marks around what is nearly a direct quote.)
To me, FNC reporters' laziness was the worst part of the bias. It wasn't that they were toeing some political line (though of course they were; see the embarrassing series on property rights from 2000), it was that the facts of a story just didn't matter at all. The idea was to get those viewers out of their seats, screaming at the TV, the politicians, the liberals - whoever - simply by running a provocative story," he wrote in October 2003.
Let me begin by stating that Fox News, along with all the other television networks, made errors on election night which cannot be repeated, the biggest of which occurred in Florida.
Fox News acknowledges here that it failed the American public on Election Night and takes full responsibility for this failure.
These errors have led to much self-examination of the processes we used on election night, how the Voter News Service operated on election night, and our membership in the Voter News Service.
Through our self-examination and investigation we have determined that there was no intentional political favoritism in play on election night on the part of Fox News.
In hindsight we made a significant error in relying on VNS data alone, although that was the only data available. Obviously, it would have been better to have at least one other source of data, but up until now economic considerations have made this unfeasible. We look at VNS in much the same way the networks combine resources for pool cameras, the Associated Press, etc.
As you may know, the Fox News Channel launched on October 7, 1996. From the moment we launched we intended to compete with the big established television news networks. In order to cover elections in a competitive manner, we believed we would have to join VNS. But it was not an easy decision for us. First and foremost, membership in VNS was (and is) very expensive, especially for what was, at the time, a fledgling television network. But, after many internal discussions of both editorial and financial natures, we decided to join. I understood VNS had a good, solid record of calling races until the 2000 elections. For example, 99% of the calls which VNS made over the last two election cycles have been accurate; 100% of VNS' calls in 1998 were accurate.
Now, however, we feel the purpose, intent, processes and models of VNS must be carefully examined in a formal manner and we are willing to spend more money as a VNS Member to make this examination happen.
Let me assure you that Fox News operates in the interest of the public and attempts at all times to conduct itself with that fact in mind.
Since election night, the issue of voter suppression has been written about and discussed.
Would it have made any difference in voter turnout if the television networks waited until all polls in the state of Florida, and in every other state for that matter, had closed before declaring a winner. When Fox News called Florida for Al Gore at 7:52 pm, there were eight minutes remaining for citizens in the Florida panhandle to vote.
Well, I don't know the answer to that question, but to remove all doubt it is a simple enough remedy for a television network to wait until all polls in a given state have closed before declaring a winner in that state.
A new study based on a series of seven US polls conducted from January through September of this year reveals that before and after the Iraq war, a majority of Americans have had significant misperceptions and these are highly related to support for the war in Iraq.
The polling, conducted by the Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks, also reveals that the frequency of these misperceptions varies significantly according to individuals’ primary source of news. Those who primarily watch Fox News are significantly more likely to have misperceptions, while those who primarily listen to NPR or watch PBS are significantly less likely.
An in-depth analysis of a series of polls conducted June through September found 48% incorrectly believed that evidence of links between Iraq and al Qaeda have been found, 22% that weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and 25% that world public opinion favored the US going to war with Iraq. Overall 60% had at least one of these three misperceptions.
Such misperceptions are highly related to support for the war. Among those with none of the misperceptions listed above, only 23% support the war. Among those with one of these misperceptions, 53% support the war, rising to 78% for those who have two of the misperceptions, and to 86% for those with all 3 misperceptions. Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments, “While we cannot assert that these misperceptions created the support for going to war with Iraq, it does appear likely that support for the war would be substantially lower if fewer members of the public had these misperceptions.”
So Chris Wallace says Fox News Channel really is fair and balanced. Well, I guess that settles it. We can all go home now. I mean, so what if Wallace's salary as Fox's newest big-name anchor ends with a whole lot of zeroes? So what if he hasn't spent a day in the FNC newsroom yet?
My advice to the pundits: If you really want to know about bias at Fox, talk to the grunts who work there - the desk assistants, tape editors, writers, researchers and assorted producers who have to deal with it every day. Ask enough of them what goes on, promise them anonymity, and you'll get the real story.
The fact is, daily life at FNC is all about management politics. I say this having served six years there - as producer of the media criticism show, News Watch, as a writer/producer of specials and (for the last year of my stay) as a newsroom copy editor. Not once in the 20+ years I had worked in broadcast journalism prior to Fox - including lengthy stays at The Associated Press, CBS Radio and ABC/Good Morning America - did I feel any pressure to toe a management line. But at Fox, if my boss wasn't warning me to "be careful" how I handled the writing of a special about Ronald Reagan ("You know how Roger Ailes feels about him."), he was telling me how the environmental special I was to produce should lean ("You can give both sides, but make sure the pro-environmentalists don't get the last word.")
Editorially, the FNC newsroom is under the constant control and vigilance of management. Everyone there understands that FNC is, to a large extent, "Roger's Revenge" - against what he considers a liberal, pro-Democrat media establishment that has shunned him for decades. For the staffers, many of whom are too young to have come up through the ranks of objective journalism, and all of whom are non-union, with no protections regarding what they can be made to do, there is undue motivation to please the big boss.
Sometimes, this eagerness to serve Fox's ideological interests goes even beyond what management expects. For example, in June of last year, when a California judge ruled the Pledge of Allegiance's "Under God" wording unconstitutional, FNC's newsroom chief ordered the judge's mailing address and phone number put on the screen. The anchor, reading from the Teleprompter, found himself explaining that Fox was taking this unusual step so viewers could go directly to the judge and get "as much information as possible" about his decision. To their credit, the big bosses recognized that their underling's transparent attempt to serve their political interests might well threaten the judge's physical safety and ordered the offending information removed from the screen as soon as they saw it. A few months later, this same eager-to-please newsroom chief ordered the removal of a graphic quoting UN weapons inspector Hans Blix as saying his team had not yet found WMDs in Iraq. Fortunately, the electronic equipment was quicker on the uptake (and less susceptible to office politics) than the toady and displayed the graphic before his order could be obeyed.
But the roots of FNC's day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct. If, on any given day, you notice that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a particular point home, you can bet The Memo is behind it.
The roots of Fox News Channel's day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct. If, on any given day, you notice that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a particular point home, you can bet The Memo is behind it.
The Memo was born with the Bush administration, early in 2001, and, intentionally or not, has ensured that the administration's point of view consistently comes across on FNC. But along with the obvious - information on who is where and what they'll be covering - there have been subtle hints as to the tone of the anchors' copy.
For instance, from the March 20th memo: "There is something utterly incomprehensible about Kofi Annan's remarks in which he allows that his thoughts are 'with the Iraqi people'. One could ask where those thoughts were during the 23 years Saddam Hussein was brutalizing those same Iraqis. Food for thought." Can there be any doubt that the memo was offering not only "food for thought", but a direction for the FNC writers and anchors to go? Especially after describing the U.N. Secretary General's remarks as "utterly incomprehensible"?
The sad truth is, such subtlety is often all it takes to send Fox's newsroom personnel into action - or inaction, as the case may be. One day this past spring, just after the U.S. invaded Iraq, The Memo warned us that anti-war protesters would be 'whining' about U.S. bombs killing Iraqi civilians, and suggested they could tell that to the families of American soldiers dying there. Editing copy that morning, I was not surprised when an eager young producer killed a correspondent's report on the day's fighting - simply because it included a brief shot of children in an Iraqi hospital.
These are not isolated incidents at Fox News Channel, where virtually no one of authority in the newsroom makes a move unmeasured against management's politics, actual or perceived. At the Fair and Balanced network, everyone knows management's point of view, and, in case they're not sure how to get it on air, The Memo is there to remind them.
Of the many reasons for Ailes's current success, his acolytes and rivals top the list with his flat-out refusal to lose. He takes what might be called a relativistic approach. To win, you don't have to be the best candidate - you just have to look like the best candidate. And that can be done just as easily by bringing your opponent down a few notches as by building yourself up.
Knockout. The same strategy, it turns out, can be applied to cable news ratings wars. "It's a bit of a one-two punch," says an executive at a competing network. "People find you by channel-surfing. The Fox screen has so much more going on - more whooshes and things spinning, more action, more things changing - that even if viewers don't like the coverage, when they get to MSNBC and CNN, they seem old and stodgy by comparison." Ailes's all-or-nothing competitive strategy, this source says, can be summed up as: "Watch me. And if you don't watch me, then don't watch the competition either."
Roger Ailes, by all appearances, is not a fastidious man. His face is jowly and heavy-lidded, his thin, graying hair combed straight back from a balding pate with no hint of vanity. Of middle height and quite exceptional girth, he has his tie loosened and his white shirt rumpled by 8 a.m. If there is a coffee table within reach, his slip-on-clad feet rest upon it; if there is a TV screen within view - and there are always several - he gazes at it distractedly. In profile, Ailes is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock or Winston Churchill. He could easily be mistaken for a retired Rotarian - content, reasonably successful, and in no way ambitious...
Perhaps not surprisingly for a man who ran a communications company, Ailes says that keeping information flowing is a crucial part of his success. "The more open the operation, the better I think in general," Ailes says. "I go down and put a podium in the newsroom every quarter and I bring them up to date and answer questions for as long as they want to ask them." Employees feel more connected to the group enterprise, Ailes says, and he often gets good ideas from their point of view. "I'm always surprised when leaders don't do that," Ailes says. "When I was down in those pits I used to assume the suits were sitting up there all the time trying to figure out some way to screw me. And that's a natural reaction if you're cut off from management." The problem with leaders who aren't open to dialogue with their staff, Ailes says, is fear. "A leader who does not fear making a decision naturally has no fear of openness. I might make a countercall, because I'm relying on my own experience, or because there are factors they don't know about, but I'll listen to everybody and then I'll say 'No, let's do it this way and I'll take the consequences of that.' "
Ailes's aggressive strategy has been paying off in spades for FNC's owner, News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch. When Murdoch first brought Ailes on board in 1996, the News Corp. chairman assumed it would take more than a year to get FNC up and running. "I told Rupert we could launch in six months, and he thought I was nuts," Ailes says. But General Electric and Microsoft were planning to launch MSNBC that July and Ailes, always the competitor, couldn't let that go unanswered. Ailes went into overdrive - hiring a staff, building studios, arranging licensing deals, and generally convincing everyone that if they all pulled together, they could not just launch within six months but give CNN a run for its money within a decade.
And what about those who thought Ailes was nuts? He proved them all wrong. FNC launched on schedule, on Oct. 7, 1996, and by January 2002 was besting CNN's ratings on a regular basis. For Ailes, it's all about leadership. "You want everybody to be able to perform over their head whenever they have to," he says. "It's a matter of once you know you have a mission and you have a date to deliver it, then it really has to be an act of God to stop you. That's my view of leadership."
Why Does Roger Ailes Hate America?
An exclusive, fair-and-balanced investigation into the very relentless chairman of Fox News.
This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue.
Today, here at Esquire&mdashand only at Esquire, because only Esquire has the guts to tell you this story&mdashwe're going to tell you about a man you need to know a little better, maybe a lot better: a man named Roger Ailes. Maybe you've heard of Mr. Ailes. As the chairman and CEO of a well financed and admittedly antigovernment organization called Fox News, he made a reported $23 million in 2009, which, to do the math, was not just more money than you earned, it was more money than everyone related to you earned, combined, even if you count the sudden windfall that came your aunt Ida's way after she got five out of six in Powerball. Nice work if you can get it, Mr. Ailes&mdashespecially when that "work" consisted of nothing but advancing your own agenda at the expense of the president of the United States of America during a time of war. But that $23 million, outrageous as it sounds, is chump change next to the almost $1 billion in profits that Fox News&mdashand even Mr. Ailes's most ardent defenders admit that he is Fox News&mdashearned Ailes's foreign-born boss, Rupert Murdoch, aka "Koala Kong," in honor of the Australian heritage he long ago rejected in favor of more convenient American citizenship. So yes, you might have heard of Roger Eugene Ailes, because you read the newspapers, you read books, you stay informed (despite what members in good standing of the East Coast media elite like, well, oh, like Roger Ailes might say about you), but how much do you really know about him? For forty years, he has stood astride the intertwined worlds of media and politics like a veritable colossus, making sure the worlds of media and politics stay intertwined, the better to control them. He has used his considerable powers of persuasion to persuade us to elect presidents, and, if they're not following the "Ailes Agenda," to turn against them. At seventy years of age, when most hardworking American seniors have had enough of the rat race and are looking forward to spending some more quality time with the grandkids, Roger Ailes is at the height, perhaps the apogee, maybe even&mdashsome say&mdashthe very zenith of his power. Indeed, with most of the potential Republican candidates for president in 2012 on his payroll, he may be said to be just getting started. Hmmm. Maybe we don't know this Roger Ailes as well as we think we do. Maybe we don't know him very well at all, which is, of course, just the way he likes it.
"I know what you're going to write about me," Roger Ailes says. "I can pretty much pick the words for you. Paranoid, right-wing, fat. I love that. I'm the only guy in America who's fat."
No, Mr. Ailes, you're wrong. You're not the only fat man in America. And we're not going to call you fat, either. Or bald. Or old. First of all, Esquire is completely unbiased, and beholden to no agendas. Second, we're not going to call you any names. We're not going to hurt your feelings, because in our extensive and exclusive investigation, we've found that you actually have them. You're a sensitive guy, Mr. Ailes. You're vulnerable. Indeed, for a guy who attributes his power to the power of not caring what people think about him, you really care what people think about you. You even care what bloggers think about you. You not only read the blog posts that your wife sends you, you remember what they say. And so, when you yourself are accused of unfairness, you'll say, "Well, the Huffington Post says I'm a J. Edgar Hoover look-alike with a face like a clenched fist. Keith Olbermann calls me the worst person in the world. How is that fair?" And then you go out and crush them.
You are particularly sensitive about your weight. "It's not that I eat too much," you say. "It's that I can't move." Is this just another example of the "Ailes spin"? It is not. In the course of its exclusive, intensive, and above all unbiased investigation, Esquire has learned many surprising things about Roger Ailes. One is that he claims to have discovered the openly socialist folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie. Another is that his body has been wrecked by arthritis. The man who has challenged the world to a fight turns out to be a man who can't, by his own admission, walk two city blocks. Even in his office, he's too stiff to unwrinkle himself, walks like he's learning to ice-skate, wears rubber-soled shoes, props up his feet on the nearest low table as soon as he sits down, bites his lower lip when he's in pain (or angry), strains and sweats, loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar, wears a tie bar, pops breath mints, and is supposed to be proud of his arms, which look like cinder blocks under his wrinkled suit jacket. He has thin lips, a long nose, hair that curls over his collar, and small hands and feet, all of which conspire to give his appearance a certain aristocratic delicacy, as if his bulk were not earned but rather imposed. His eyes are gray, and, because they are framed by extensive and almost geological gray circles, often look black. They are the only things about his physical presence that are true to his reputation for menace.
So no, Mr. Ailes: We're not going to call you fat. But paranoid? You have seven TV screens in your office. Six are on your wall and allow you to watch what's being broadcast by Fox or its competitors. The seventh is on your desk, and the screen on your desk shows nothing but the live feed from the security cameras in your building. Beyond that, your private-security apparatus is both extensive and expensive, and your office itself is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, you sit at the very heart of the world that you have made&mdasha world of information and power, of information as power&mdashand all you have to do to reach virtually any of the world's most powerful people is pick up a phone. On the other, you communicate by means so personal and old-fashioned, they would make Tony Soprano comfortable. Your door opens, and your assistant approaches, her arm extended and her fingertips bracketing a yellow Post-it note. You read the note and nod she leaves. "Rupert," you say, indicating that your down-under overlord is waiting outside. "He comes down here a lot, because I'm the only one of his executives who's not crawling up his leg."
Now, when you talk to Roger Ailes, he will inevitably tell you a few things. One is that he's a simple man. Another is that he's from Warren, Ohio. Another is that he owes his success to the fact that he's a simple man from Warren, Ohio. Another is that he knows you&mdashthe American viewer. Another is that he knows you because he is like you&mdash"an average guy from flyover country." And yet another is that because he is like you, he likes you, and thinks that America is a "pretty good country" that we ought to think twice about blaming for the world's problems.
Okay, Mr. Ailes, we get it. You don't have to tell Esquire that America is the greatest country in the world. And there's no doubt you have a talent for giving American audiences television news that they want to watch. But if you're such an average guy, can you please tell us what happened to your BlackBerry?
Oh, you don't have one, do you?
Of course, a lot of average Americans do have BlackBerrys, or something like them&mdash"smartphones," they're called. And a lot of Americans can be depended upon to handle their BlackBerrys responsibly, to be "smart" with their "smartphones." Not Roger Ailes. For Roger Ailes, having a BlackBerry was a very big deal&mdashor, to be more precise, a very small one. You see, while most of us average Americans are very happy with our BlackBerrys, our iPhones, and our Androids&mdashhappy for the chance to stay "connected" with our loved ones when we're out there trying to make ends meet&mdashRoger Ailes was not. Roger Ailes admits that he thought his BlackBerry was too . small for a man of his size and stature. Roger Ailes thought that his BlackBerry made him look . ridiculous. Indeed, when Roger Ailes sees one of his few peers in the rarefied world of media, business, or politics using a BlackBerry, he tells him to . get rid of it, adding, "You have executives for that." Thanks, Mr. Ailes. Thanks for the tip. The next time one of our readers uses his BlackBerry to receive a photograph of his daughter in the school play he had to miss because he's out there making ends meet, we'll remind him: "You have executives for that." And we'll remind him of the reason that you gave us for giving up your BlackBerry in the first place: You don't get paid to think about some little device you have to work with your thumbs. You get paid to think about winning. And that's what you spend all day doing at Fox News: "thinking of ways to win."
Okay, Mr. Ailes, we get it. You don't have to tell Esquire that America is the greatest country in the world.
But the story of Roger Ailes's BlackBerry doesn't end there, with his admission that he is an obsessively competitive man. Esquire has found out&mdashfrom Roger Ailes himself&mdashthat he didn't give up his BlackBerry simply because it was beneath him. No, he lost it because he wasn't above it&mdashwasn't above the temptation to use it to get into fights with average Americans. Is Roger Ailes, as he likes to think of himself, a "perfect target"? To be fair&mdashand Esquire strives to be never less than fair&mdashhe is. Of course he is: He's one of the most powerful media executives in the history of the world, if not the universe. People are going to come at him, and they might write him an intemperate e-mail once in a while. But think of it: You're Roger Ailes, one of the most powerful media executives in the history of the world, if not the universe. Your BlackBerry "pings" you with an intemperate e-mail from one of your fellow Americans, telling you that he's going to catch a plane from the heartland of our great homeland so he can find you among the rich and powerful there in New York City and kick your big Aeron-seated posterior. Would you answer him? Probably not&mdashyou would probably figure that the fellow had a bad day trying to make ends meet and leave it at that. Would you threaten the fellow back? Would you tell your fellow American that if he buys a ticket to New York City and tries to come up to see you at your well-guarded domicile in midtown Manhattan&mdashand here we quote&mdash"he shouldn't bother buying a return ticket because he'll never make it back home"? No, you wouldn't, because you're an American, and Americans don't threaten other Americans exercising the sacred right of free speech, no matter how intemperate they might be. But Roger Ailes would. Roger Ailes did. He did it time and again, fighting fire with fire, intemperately answering every intemperate e-mail that came his way with no insult or complaint beneath his notice, until his public-relations staff, fearing that the Ailesian e-mails might become public and that their boss was having too much fun, concluded that maybe giving a man like Roger Ailes a BlackBerry wasn't such a good idea after all.
So who is this &hellip Roger Ailes, if he's not who he says he is&mdashif he's not an average American? Well, the short answer is this: He is not only a man who has spent his entire life thinking of ways to win he is a man who has spent his entire life winning. Nothing wrong with that, of course: America loves a winner. But let's be honest here: We're all average Americans. Does any of us win all the time? Of course not, or else we wouldn't be average. But Roger Ailes does. And so, Mr. Ailes, Esquire has a question, on behalf of other average Americans: What kind of man wins all the time? What kind of man gives his country, in roughly this order, Mike Douglas, Richard Nixon, Tom Snyder, Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America," the Willie Horton ad, the ad in which Michael Dukakis rides around in a tank and looks like a chipmunk, the presidency of George H. W. Bush, CNBC, Fox News (upstart-insurgent edition), Fox News (airwaves-of-the-empire edition), Fox News ("Obama sux" edition), and Fox News (Tea Party edition)? More pointedly, what kind of man figures out at age twenty-seven how to use television to legitimize Richard Nixon and then at age seventy to legitimize Sarah Palin?
Wait. You didn't know that it was Roger Ailes who gave us Richard Nixon? Well, he did. And, more important, Richard Nixon gave America Roger Ailes. Put it this way: When Richard Nixon met Roger Ailes in 1967, Nixon was still the sweaty, shifty-eyed, self-pitying, petulant, paranoid perpetual candidate whom Americans instinctively mistrusted. And Roger Ailes was still the prodigy who'd started with The Mike Douglas Show&mdashthe first nationally syndicated daytime television talk show&mdashwhen he was right out of Ohio University and was executive producer by the time he was twenty-five. Roger Ailes was still a card-carrying member of the notoriously liberal entertainment industry, still a guy who liked to go to clubs and listen to "folksingers" such as José Feliciano and Buffy Sainte-Marie and then put them on television, so American housewives could have their consciousness raised and realize that they hated their husbands. And it was as entertainment that Roger Ailes booked Richard Nixon on The Mike Douglas Show, along with "Little Egypt," a burlesque star who raised more than consciousnesses . and who made American husbands realize that they hated their wives. Well, as Mr. Ailes tells it, even admitted pornographers have some scruples, so instead of making Richard Nixon wait in the same greenroom as Little Egypt, he asked the candidate back to his office. "It's a shame a man has to use gimmicks like this to get elected," Mr. Nixon is supposed to have remarked to Mr. Ailes. "Television is not a gimmick, and if you think it is, you'll lose again," Mr. Ailes is supposed to have remarked to Mr. Nixon. And there the modern conservative movement&mdashnot the ideological entity but the telegenic one&mdashwas born.
You see, when Richard met Roger, it was not just a meeting of men it was a meeting of need. It was a meeting of what Roger Ailes calls "stuff." As in: "If Richard Nixon was alive today, he'd be on the couch with Oprah, talking about how he was poor, his brother died, his mother didn't love him, and his father beat the shit out of him. And everybody would say, Oh, poor guy, he's doing the best he can. See, every human being has stuff&mdashstuff they have to carry around, stuff they have to deal with. And Richard Nixon had a lot of stuff. He did the best he could with it, but it got him in the end. Still, he did a lot of good things as president." Yes, Roger Ailes is instinctively alert to people's stuff&mdashperhaps because he's as surprisingly empathetic as he is sensitive, and perhaps because it allows him an all-important sense of advantage. But is he aware of his own? He began working for Richard Nixon a few months after he met him on the show. He began working to get Richard Nixon elected "by television," as he says, instead of in spite of it. He disavows his political commitment to Nixon by saying that he never worked in the White House and was more interested in the political potential of TV than he was in politics itself&mdash"I wasn't worried about the message. I was worried about the backlighting." And a year later Richard Nixon was still sweaty, still shifty-eyed, still petulant, still paranoid, and still instinctively mistrusted by most Americans. The only difference was that thanks to Roger Ailes, he was president.
As for Mr. Ailes, he was free to pursue what he was really interested in: raw power. But it was a new kind of power, based on the insight that came to him through his own "stuff." Before the arrival of Roger Ailes, television was thought to be a unifying medium&mdashthe "electronic hearth." Mr. Ailes knew better. Mr. Ailes knew that it was the fire itself. Mr. Ailes knew that the television screen in each American home was nothing less than a battleground, and he who controlled it controlled America, no matter what the message. He didn't even have to be overtly political, because television was by definition a political medium. Roger Ailes could win . if the idea of a unified America lost. He could win . if his own subversive vision of America was realized. He could win . if American life became an endless, entrenched, and above all electronic argument. And you know what?
Did you hear that, Mr. Ailes?
You're absolutely right when you say that the nature of your achievement isn't political, because you've done nothing less than change the game . the conversation . the very nature of public discourse in these, the United States of America. Politics? For a man like you, politics are just a way of keeping score. And so, as a measure of your triumph, we ask only the question that you would ask of a man as radical, as subversive, as much of a mischief-making provocateur as yourself. On Fox News, your reporters and opinionists would never simply ask if you hate America. They would never give you that chance. And so, as the only suitable tribute to how much you've changed us, we can only ask the question as you would ask it:
Why does Roger Ailes hate America?
Okay, come to think of it, there was one time Roger Ailes lost. Of course, he was a good sport about it, no big deal, all's fair in love and war and the rarefied world of the media elites.
No, Mr. Ailes wasn't a good loser. Was he the kid who loses and takes his marbles home? Well, not exactly. More like the kid who takes his marbles, sells them to Russian spies, then works with the Russian government to deliver a thermonuclear device straight to your house.
In this case, though, it wasn't the Russians who were interested in what Mr. Ailes was selling. It was the Australian oligarch Rupert Murdoch. Talk about stuff meeting stuff! On the one hand: the cunning antipodean entrepreneur who is to "global domination" as Tiger Woods is to "be sure to tip your waitress." On the other: Roger Ailes, who had just lost out to the very media elite he'd always despised and distrusted.
This was 1996, almost thirty years after Roger Ailes helped Richard Nixon win the presidency. He was fifty-five and undergoing a midlife crisis. He was at NBC, where he had turned CNBC from a news channel into a highly successful talk-show circus, complete with dancing bears (and bulls), and where he had an unsuccessful channel of televised talk shows called America's Talking. (Name of one of the shows he programmed: Am I Nuts?)
Now NBC was planning to turn America's Talking into MSNBC, a twenty-four-hour news channel to compete with CNN. MSNBC? With characteristic delicacy, Ailes told NBC News that it "sounded like a disease." But still he wanted it. Oh, how he wanted it. See, he had some ideas about cable. NBC was thinking along the lines of extending its network news to cable&mdashall Brokaw, all the time. Roger Ailes was thinking more along the lines of "divide and conquer." What Mr. Ailes understood about the political nature of television back in 1968 he would be able to put into practice on cable television thirty years later. "Roger got cable," says Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC. "Everybody else learned it, studying Roger. Well, maybe not CNN. CNN still doesn't get it. But Roger got it from day one."
What did he get? Well, he got what he was temperamentally equipped to get: that cable news would be different from broadcast news. That cable news didn't have to please all Americans. That a committed audience was better than a broad one. And that the best audience of all was one you had all to yourself&mdashone that had not only been ignored, but one that felt ignored.
He pitched that idea to NBC.
So he quit, and he called Rupert Murdoch. The cunning international media tycoon asked him the question that would come to define Fox News, and so our era: "Can you build me a network that can beat CNN?"
Listen again, folks: beat CNN, an American company. Not "compete with." And certainly not "play nice with."
And this is what Roger Ailes remembers answering: "Yes, if you take away whoever stands in the way of my complete control and get me distribution. I can beat CNN because CNN has never had any competition and won't know what to do. And MSNBC will ignore me, because they're arrogant. And if they ignore me for two years, I'll destroy them."
So Roger Ailes began studying CNN. Studying the screen, searching for weaknesses.
He found two: Boring. Biased.
He took out a notepad and wrote, "Fair and balanced" and "We report. You decide."
The best audience of all was one you had all to yourself&mdashone that had not only been ignored, but one that felt ignored.
And here we are today, boys and girls. It's Mr. Ailes's world. We just get spun in it. Is Fox News "fair and balanced"? Doesn't matter. Because fair and balanced is not a description of Fox News it's an attack on everyone else. And what really makes Fox News different from other respectable news organizations is that its original charge, from the Emperor of the Outback, was neither "report" nor even "decide." It was "win."
"Well, winning is a lot more interesting than the other alternative," Mr. Ailes said recently, when asked by Esquire to justify his consuming need to win at every turn, damn the consequences. Oh, come on, Mr. Ailes. Esquire has no ax to grind and will bend over backward to give you a fair shake. But you know as well as we do: That's just spin. You told us yourself: You just can't help yourself. You told us yourself that when you saw MSNBC's new advertising campaign, Lean Forward, you said, "Lean? They paid Spike Lee $3 million for 'Lean'? What kind of word is that? Isn't that their problem&mdashthat they're leaning? Didn't anybody say, What about 'move'?"
And so once again, you took out your pad, wrote down "Move For-ward," and in four hours had your own campaign on the air for $1,500.
Pretty clever, Mr. Ailes. You win again. You must be proud of yourself. We wonder if you'll still be proud when you do the math and figure out what was lost when you did an entire ad campaign for fifteen hundred clams instead of three million:
There's a professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism by the name of Dick Wald. Yeah, yeah, we know&mdashRoger Ailes doesn't give a CNN ratings share about what some professor at Columbia journalism school has to say. Indeed, whenever he's asked what qualifies him to be the head of a major television-news network, he gives the same answer: "I dug ditches for a living, there are no parties that I want to go to, and I didn't go to Columbia journalism school." But Professor Wald is no mere don, no mere pointy-headed practitioner of the liberal arts. He used to be the president of NBC News. He likes Roger Ailes. And if you ask him the secret of Mr. Ailes's success, he'll say it's pretty simple: "Roger, in many ways, is just more competent. He just does it better. The anchors are better. The crispness of the reporting is better. The anchors don't interrupt, the shows move along, and the point of view is clear. It's just a good product. Roger found an area in which he could reach each audience member individually. That's the big difference between Fox and CNN."
Then he adds this, about the difficulty of taking on Roger Ailes: "You can't beat Roger fighting on territory he's left behind."
Pretty astute for a professor. Indeed, it might be the most astute thing Esquire's ever heard on the subject of Mr. Ailes, because it explains why he drives his opponents absolutely nuts. The pundits, the professors, the professional journalists, the left-wingers, the tree huggers, the liberal blogosphere, President Obama&mdashthey all keep trying to catch him on violations of rules that they follow and he doesn't. "Frankly, Roger doesn't give a shit," says an associate. "He just doesn't have the governor that other media executives have. He does things they would never do, says things they would never say."
And recently Roger Ailes gave us a demonstration of precisely what the associate&mdashand Professor Wald&mdashmight mean.
It was Veteran's Day, and he was watching TV in his office on the second floor of the News Corp. building in New York City. He does a lot of that. Yes, that's right: Roger Ailes likes to watch. He watches TV, he studies TV, mostly with the sound off, so that he can observe one of the rules he does follow&mdashif someone's doing something to make you turn the sound on, then they're doing something interesting. On a wall in his office, there are screens broadcasting Fox News and Fox Business Network, as well as CNN, HLN, MSNBC, and CNBC. He watches them all, from the corner of his eye, and if you give him three seconds, he'll give you the world . a world of criticism for each one, including his own. That's because he knows how to follow his own eye&mdashshow Roger Ailes a television screen, he'll tell you what works, what doesn't, and how to make it better. "I tell my people that if they want to be artists of television, the screen is their canvas, but they have to repaint it every three seconds." Then he said: "Look at all those screens. Where does your eye go?"
You really want to know the truth, Mr. Ailes?
We don't know about you, but Esquire's eye goes to the screen featuring your creamy redhead, Jenna Lee.
Sure, that's a Fox screen, and so you win again. But&mdashif you don't mind our saying so&mdashit didn't exactly require an advanced degree in TV geniusology to see the potential of Ms. Jenna Lee.
Wait&mdashit did? "Well, she didn't look anything like she looks now when she came here. She'd just completed Columbia journalism school, and she wanted to be a writer. But I met with her and sent her down to hair and makeup to clean her up a little. When she came back, I took a look at her and said, 'What would you think of going on air?' I had to work with her a little to bring her pitch down, and now she's going to be a big star. And she wanted to be a writer."
So that's how it's done&mdashthat's how Fox has become the Schwab's drugstore for right-wing mean girls. But if you listen to Mr. Ailes, it's not simply a matter of beauty it's a matter of authenticity. "Look at the girl over there on HLN. African-American. Attractive, though she needs a haircut. And she doesn't know how to dress&mdashher dress is too busy, look what it's doing to the screen. And they use her too much. But she has an interesting look. Look at the difference between her and the anchor. She's just being herself. She's not trying to do anything. She's just trying to tell him a story. That's interesting. He's trying to be an anchor. He's trying to project authority. It's always more interesting watching people be who they are than it is watching people try to be who they are not.
By "Megyn," he means, of course, Fox fox Megyn Kelly, the meanest of the mean girls, the heaving, sumptuous blond with the wide-set eyes, the briskly triangular chin, and the porno sneer she directs at ill-fated liberal guests. Roger Ailes loves Megyn Kelly (in a fatherly way, of course): "She's a host. For one thing, she's fearless&mdashshe'd crawl down a smokestack for a story. But look at the way she moves. She'd move like that if she was arguing at the dinner table. Very natural. O'Reilly's the same way. He's an Irishman who likes to argue. He'd do it anywhere. We just found a way for him to do it on TV."
Now, if you talk to some other network people, they'll tell you that Roger's not exactly the first person to figure out that people would rather look at pretty girls reading the news than plain ones. "Roger's just willing to go further than anyone else," one industry insider says. "He takes the obvious further than anyone else. Everybody else goes halfway, and they wind up looking foolish." Roger, however, has a different take. He is able to hire authentic talent&mdashthat is, talent who have the ability to appear authentic in front of a camera&mdashbecause he himself is authentic. "I'm not trying to be anyone," he says. "You know why other executives always hire phonies? Because they're phonies. They hire phonies because they like phonies. They're comfortable with them." It's the same reason they all hire left-wingers&mdash"because they are left-wingers.
"Look," he said, "it's Veteran's Day, and we're the only ones doing anything about it. So maybe people like us because we like veterans. Those other networks probably had to have a meeting about it. They probably worried that if they were pro-veteran, people would think they were pro-war." See, that's the difference: Fox is pro-veteran and the other networks are . well, they're not even pro-choice. "They say they're pro-choice. They're proabortion! Some of the talent who come to Fox come here because the other networks require them to be proabortion."
Then he told a story of triumph, about wearing a flag pin to an event at New York's Museum of Television & Radio after 9/11 and being accosted by none other than Morley Safer and "that asshole Dick Wald" for giving up his journalistic objectivity. They really got on him, asking how he could possibly be fair and balanced sporting a flag pin, until finally he'd had enough: " 'Look,' I said, 'I might be a little squishy about killing babies. But I'm pro-choice about flag pins!' "
O-kay . and so Esquire called Dick Wald afterward for comment. "I remember it a little differently," he said. "We weren't asking whether Roger had a right to wear a flag pin. I would never do that. What we were talking about, if I remember correctly, was whether anchors should wear flag pins. I seem to remember something about Roger asking his anchors to wear flag pins. ."
And then we heard it. Do you? Listen closely. Yes . that's the terrible sound of someone trying to beat Roger Ailes on territory Roger has long ago left behind.
There is a restaurant in New York City called Michael's. If you haven't heard about it, don't worry&mdashyou have a life. You're out there trying to make ends meet. You have more important things to worry about than what kind of table you get at Michael's compared with what kind of table your competitor at another network or at another newspaper or another magazine gets. You have more to worry about than your standing amongst the media elite. Because that's who goes to Michael's. It is not the kind of place an average American goes to. It is not even the kind of place an average New Yorker goes to. It is a clubhouse for media people and for only media people&mdashfor exactly the people whose contempt Roger Ailes regards as an inspiration and a reward for a job well done.
Does Roger Ailes have a table at Michael's?
Of course he does. He has the best table at Michael's. He goes there for lunch, and this is how one of his guests describes the experience of eating with him: "You'll be sitting at his table at Michael's, and he'll grouse about not getting any respect and being an outsider while everybody is lining up to kiss his ring. And you'll be like, Roger, you're at Michael's, you're at the best table&mdashwhat more do you want?"
"I tell my people that if they want to be artists of television, the screen is their canvas, but they have to repaint it every three seconds."
Is Roger Ailes a cynical man? Not at all. He really believes the things he says. He really believes that he is an average American. He really believes that he is looked down upon by those who admire and fear him. He really believes that he is the only man in America who can be called fat with impunity. He really believes that his power is rooted in his disregard for what people think of him. He really believes that he is the only genuine person in the media business. He really believes that Fox is fair and balanced. He really believes that his success has very little to do with politics and very much to do with television. He really believes&mdashdespite his subsequent apologies&mdashthat the people who fired poor Juan Williams from NPR are Nazis. He really believes that he seeks out liberal voices as ardently as he seeks out conservative ones. He really believes that until his arthritis immobilized him, he could always have gone back to digging ditches for a living. He really believes that despite being immobilized by arthritis, he could handle himself if someone challenged him to a fight, and that whoever comes to New York to fight him shouldn't bother buying a plane ticket home.
Okay, then: Is Roger Ailes crazy? Now that's a good question . because Roger Ailes believes that you are&mdashor, at the very least, that you think you are. It's his grand theory of human behavior. "Look," he says, "there isn't a day that goes by that everybody doesn't say to themselves, 'Am I nuts?' They do it in their heads. People think that they're nuts." He has such confidence in the validity of this theory that he created a show for his America's Talking network called exactly that&mdashAm I Nuts? He's so confident that he built Fox News as a twenty-four-hour Am I Nuts? for American conservatives. See, what Roger Ailes has done at Fox is find a way to mainstream extremity for fun and, of course, for profit. He's found out that people need the validating experience of extremity in the same way that he does. And he takes extreme positions and says extreme things because he needs to, because they allow him to make the choice that's at the heart of his power.
"It would be a lie to say that I don't care what people say about me," he says. "Every human being cares unless they're nuts. Am I nuts? But you can't allow that to override your mission. You cannot allow whether someone likes you or not to alter your course of action. Sometimes I think, Sure, that hurts my feelings. But it's not so important that I will adjust what I'm doing because someone is not going to like me."
One day, some bullies beat up Roger Ailes as he walked home from school. His father hated to see him bruised and bloodied, but he didn't want to fight his son's battles for him, so he taught him how to fight, and sent him back to school with the words, "Remember, son, for them it's a fight, for you it's life and death."
You have heard this story before. You might have even told this story before, because it's an average American story, and you, the Esquire reader, are an average American. Certainly, you wouldn't be surprised to hear a man like Roger Ailes tell it, because it's exactly the kind of story powerful men tell to burnish their myths at their coveted tables at Michael's. But what if Roger Ailes is a powerful man because he really is different from other powerful men? What if Roger Ailes really does have to win every fight because every fight is a matter of life and death? So listen again to an average American story from an average American childhood, and ask if Roger Ailes is an average American after all:
When he was a baby, he fell out of his crib. He split his lip and he bled. A lot of babies do the same thing. But Roger kept on bleeding. Remember, this was seventy years ago. There was hardly anything known about hemophilia back then. And there was certainly not much that could be done about it, except transfusions of whole blood. "Well, you died. That's what you knew about it. I was told many times I wasn't going to make it."
The closest he came to dying was when he was seven or eight. He bit his tongue when he jumped off the roof of the garage. His mouth filled with blood and the blood would not stop, the blood soaked the sheets of his bed, and he heard the doctor tell his father that there was nothing he could do. Roger Ailes was going to bleed out through his tongue. But his father was a fighter that is, he got into fights, and Roger admired him for it. Now he fought for his son's life. He picked Roger up, swaddled in bloody bedclothes, and drove him to the Cleveland Clinic with a police escort. At the factory where he worked, the old man tracked down everybody who had type-O-positive blood, and now he called upon all of them to come to Cleveland for his son. They did, and Roger can still remember their names, Dirtyneck Watson and the rest, men filthy from work who lined up one after another to give Roger their blood, arm to arm. " 'Well, son, you have a lot of blue-collar blood in you, never forget that,' my father said after I got through it, and I never have. A lot of what we do at Fox is blue-collar stuff."
"There isn't a day that goes by that everybody doesn't say to themselves, 'Am I nuts?'"
But he was never that kid, not really. He couldn't be. The disease he had was the Royal Disease, the disease of Queen Victoria's progeny, a disease considered effete, a mortal taint. He used to have to sit on a pillow at school. He wasn't able to go out at recess. And so one day he asked his parents to let him walk to school, like the other kids, and they let him. "And some guys beat me up. I went home a little beat up and my dad, I saw tears in his eyes for the first time. I'd never seen it. And he said, 'That's never going to happen to you again.' He taught me how to fight. And he told me to stay away from any fight that I could. 'But if you have no options, then remember, son, for them it's a fight. For you, it's life and death.' "
Everybody bleeds. We bleed all the time. We bleed when we move, we bleed when we bump into things. But for many years&mdashthere wasn't much that could be done for hemophilia until the sixties&mdashRoger kept on bleeding. That's why he has such bad arthritis: because blood collects in the joints and ruins them. And that's why he labors under the judgment of his bulk and finds it so deeply unfair when people call him fat. Because he can't move. And that's why he found a way to fight so many of his life-and-death battles through the television screen: It was his way of fighting the kids he saw playing outside through the window. And that's why he's so sensitive and so instinctively alert to other people's stuff . why one day, when he was talking about the need for his anchors to have warmth, and the subject of President Obama's warmth problem came up, he responded quickly, instantly, "Well, maybe if your father left you when you were two, your stepfather left you when you were four, and your mother was out of your life when you were ten, you wouldn't be warm, either."
So what kind of man has to win all the time? The kind of man whose wounds are always fresh.
So what happens when a man like . Roger Ailes comes to America and tries to fit in with average Americans? Well, ask your fellow Americans in Putnam County, New York&mdashthey know. Of course, to hear Roger Ailes tell it, he is no different from anyone else. He has a wife and a kid. He's trying to protect them. He's trying to give them a legacy. He also probably needed some extra space&mdasha second home where he could mount George Soros's head on his wall. So, like any average American, Roger Ailes bought some land and started working on that dream house&mdashthat dream mansion, really&mdashabout an hour and a half north of Manhattan, in the sleepy Hudson River Valley village of Garrison, in the township of Philipstown, in the county of Putnam. It's Mr. Ailes's kind of place&mdashthe kind of place with history (Benedict Arnold slept there) a view, across the river, of West Point (where Mr. Ailes occasionally lectures on media and the military) a volunteer fire department (where he likes to hang out) and one of the highest per capita incomes in the United States. He thought of retiring there with his wife and son. Maybe writing his memoirs so his son wouldn't have to learn about his father by reading his obituary in The New York Times.
I. “Leave Him Alone”
In the morning of July 6, James and Lachlan Murdoch were on opposite sides of Sun Valley, Idaho. Lachlan was finishing a workout at the decidedly downtown Ketchum YMCA. James was hiking down a bike trail after attending an early-morning session at the annual Allen & Co. conference. Every July, the conference jams the small Friedman Memorial Airport with the Gulfstream jets of the world’s media and technology billionaires, who gather in the ski town to negotiate their own preservation. James and Lachlan had both attended the conference before, but they were always in the shadow of their father, Rupert Murdoch. This year was different. For the first time, they were there on their own terms, at least for the moment, and it might have felt as if they were finally operating by their own rules.
At a little after 10 A.M., Mountain time, Lachlan pulled out his cell phone and dialed Julie Henderson, the executive vice president and chief communications officer at 21st Century Fox, the Murdoch family company, to check in. “Have you seen the suit?” she asked. “What suit?” he replied. Henderson explained that Gretchen Carlson, a former co-host of Fox & Friends, had sued Roger Ailes personally for sexual harassment.
Lachlan dialed James, who had been named C.E.O. of 21st Century Fox a little more than a year earlier. Lachlan, the older of the two, had contented himself with the role of executive co-chairman of Fox and co-chairman of its sister company, News Corp. “Have you seen the lawsuit against Roger?,” Lachlan asked. James had not. The brothers had been rivals much of their lives, vying for the attention and good opinion of their father, the founder and executive chairman of both companies. The relationship between Rupert, who is now 85, and his sons could be complicated. It could also be oddly corporate. It took a meal at the Allen conference in July 2013 for the three men to get together and hammer out how they would all share power at the top of the Murdoch companies. Rupert always did what he thought made sense for the business, and the sons sometimes ended up as collateral damage. Lachlan, for instance, had left for Australia in 2005 after Rupert sided with Ailes over his son in a Fox Television dispute. Rupert had always been protective of the boys, but it was not always clear that they were his top priority.
Now, unexpectedly, the sons were facing a test together: one of their father’s closest deputies was being accused of a very serious offense. The brothers had a long and fractious relationship with this man. James’s wife, Kathryn Murdoch, found Ailes particularly distasteful. When their promotions had been announced, in 2015, Ailes had publicly said that he would continue reporting directly to Rupert, only to be brought up short: he would, in fact, have to report to Rupert’s sons. And at this moment, in July, as a crisis arose, Rupert himself was unavailable: he was in the air, on his way back from France, where he had been spending time on his boat in the Mediterranean with his fourth wife, Jerry Hall. What came next proved easier to accomplish because Rupert Murdoch was not immediately there to weigh in.
James and Lachlan agreed to meet back at the Sun Valley Resort, just north of Dollar Mountain, where they were staying, courtesy of Allen & Co. Julie Henderson forwarded the lawsuit to them and to Gerson Zweifach, the general counsel of 21st Century Fox, who was at his desk in New York. By Murdoch standards, Zweifach was a new hire. He had joined the company in 2012, lured away from Williams & Connolly as Murdoch desperately sought help in containing the phone-hacking scandal in Britain, which was enveloping his newspapers there. The group arranged a conference call. Zweifach then contacted Fox News to ask about the circumstances of Carlson’s departure. He didn’t know Carlson or many of the other personalities at Fox News, which operated with great autonomy within the broader media conglomerate. Part of the reason for that was the nature of Murdoch’s laissez-faire approach to management, but part of it was also the nature of Roger Ailes, who fiercely guarded his business and his control over it. “Leave him alone,” Rupert used to say about Ailes, according to a former top executive. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Zweifach quickly learned that Carlson’s contract had expired and was not being renewed. Carlson herself had learned this summarily only on June 23. She had come off the set of her show, The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, and been called into a meeting with Fox News general counsel Dianne Brandi and Bill Shine, a senior executive vice president. Since then, the company had heard nothing—until the lawsuit. The silence was a warning to anyone versed in corporate escape routes. Typically, if someone is trying to simply negotiate a better severance from a company on the way out the door, the person will engage in a negotiation over terms before filing suit. Carlson hadn’t done that, a sign that her intentions were more complicated, and possibly included deep anger and a desire to expose certain facts to public view. In fact, Carlson had been speaking to her attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, of the firm Smith Mullin, about her treatment at Fox and a possible suit against Ailes, since the fall of 2015. She had spent the past year gathering evidence by surreptitiously recording a number of conversations with Ailes. She hadn’t been planning to actually file until September 2016, but by not renewing the contract Fox News had inadvertently sped up the time-table. Carlson quickly called her attorney, who was recovering from surgery on a hamstring. They rushed to ready their legal action.
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The unexpected events of that July 6 morning in Sun Valley would call to action an army of lawyers and advisers on various sides of the fault lines that ran through the relationships among Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, and Rupert Murdoch’s sons. These three parties had coexisted, not always happily, for years, and the lawsuit of one woman was about to unleash forces that had long been held in check. This account includes the perspective of most of the people involved, either directly or through intermediaries.
How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory
At the Fox News holiday party the year the network overtook archrival CNN in the cable ratings, tipsy employees were herded down to the basement of a Midtown bar in New York. As they gathered around a television mounted high on the wall, an image flashed to life, glowing bright in the darkened tavern: the MSNBC logo. A chorus of boos erupted among the Fox faithful. The CNN logo followed, and the catcalls multiplied. Then a third slide appeared, with a telling twist. In place of the logo for Fox News was a beneficent visage: the face of the network&rsquos founder. The man known to his fiercest loyalists simply as “the Chairman” &ndash Roger Ailes.
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&ldquoIt was as though we were looking at Mao,&rdquo recalls Charlie Reina, a former Fox News producer. The Foxistas went wild. They let the dogs out. Woof! Woof! Woof! Even those who disliked the way Ailes runs his network joined in the display of fealty, given the culture of intimidation at Fox News. &ldquoIt&rsquos like the Soviet Union or China: People are always looking over their shoulders,&rdquo says a former executive with the network&rsquos parent, News Corp. &ldquoThere are people who turn people in.&rdquo
The key to decoding Fox News isn&rsquot Bill O&rsquoReilly or Sean Hannity. It isn&rsquot even News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch. To understand what drives Fox News, and what its true purpose is, you must first understand Chairman Ailes. &ldquoHe is Fox News,&rdquo says Jane Hall, a decade-long Fox commentator who defected over Ailes&rsquo embrace of the fear-mongering Glenn Beck. &ldquoIt&rsquos his vision. It&rsquos a reflection of him.&rdquo
Ailes runs the most profitable &ndash and therefore least accountable &ndash head of the News Corp. hydra. Fox News reaped an estimated profit of $816 million last year &ndash nearly a fifth of Murdoch&rsquos global haul. The cable channel&rsquos earnings rivaled those of News Corp.&rsquos entire film division, which includes 20th Century Fox, and helped offset a slump at Murdoch&rsquos beloved newspapers unit, which took a $3 billion write-down after acquiring The Wall Street Journal. With its bare-bones news­gathering operation &ndash Fox News has one-third the staff and 30 fewer bureaus than CNN &ndash Ailes generates profit margins above 50 percent. Nearly half comes from advertising, and the rest is dues from cable companies. Fox News now reaches 100 million households, attracting more viewers than all other cable-news outlets combined, and Ailes aims for his network to &ldquothrow off a billion in profits.&rdquo
The outsize success of Fox News gives Ailes a free hand to shape the network in his own image. “Murdoch has almost no involvement with it at all,” says Michael Wolff, who spent nine months embedded at News Corp. researching a biography of the Australian media giant. “People are afraid of Roger. Murdoch is, himself, afraid of Roger. He has amassed enormous power within the company &ndash and within the country &ndash from the success of Fox News.”
Fear, in fact, is precisely what Ailes is selling: His network has relentlessly hyped phantom menaces like the planned &ldquoterror mosque&rdquo near Ground Zero, inspiring Florida pastor Terry Jones to torch the Koran. Privately, Murdoch is as impressed by Ailes&rsquo business savvy as he is dismissive of his extremist politics. “You know Roger is crazy,” Murdoch recently told a colleague, shaking his head in disbelief. “He really believes that stuff.”
To watch even a day of Fox News &ndash the anger, the bombast, the virulent paranoid streak, the unending appeals to white resentment, the reporting that&rsquos held to the same standard of evidence as a late-­October attack ad &ndash is to see a refraction of its founder, one of the most skilled and fearsome operatives in the history of the Republican Party. As a political consultant, Ailes repackaged Richard Nixon for television in 1968, papered over Ronald Reagan&rsquos budding Alzheimer&rsquos in 1984, shamelessly stoked racial fears to elect George H.W. Bush in 1988, and waged a secret campaign on behalf of Big Tobacco to derail health care reform in 1993. “He was the premier guy in the business,” says former Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins. “He was our Michelangelo.”
In the fable Ailes tells about his own life, he made a clean break with his dirty political past long before 1996, when he joined forces with Murdoch to launch Fox News. “I quit politics,” he has claimed, “because I hated it.” But an examination of his career reveals that Ailes has used Fox News to pioneer a new form of political campaign &ndash one that enables the GOP to bypass skeptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion. The network, at its core, is a giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism.
The result is one of the most powerful political machines in American history. One that plays a leading role in defining Republican talking points and advancing the agenda of the far right. Fox News tilted the electoral balance to George W. Bush in 2000, prematurely declaring him president in a move that prompted every other network to follow suit. It helped create the Tea Party, transforming it from the butt of late-night jokes into a nationwide insurgency capable of electing U.S. senators. Fox News turbocharged the Republican takeover of the House last fall, and even helped elect former Fox News host John Kasich as the union-busting governor of Ohio &ndash with the help of $1.26 million in campaign contributions from News Corp. And by incubating a host of potential GOP contenders on the Fox News payroll&ndash including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum &ndash Ailes seems determined to add a fifth presidential notch to his belt in 2012. “Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he&rsquos now doing 24/7 with his network,” says a former News Corp. executive. “It&rsquos come full circle.”
Take it from Rush Limbaugh, a “dear friend” of Ailes. “One man has established a culture for 1,700 people who believe in it, who follow it, who execute it,” Limbaugh once declared. “Roger Ailes is not on the air. Roger Ailes does not ever show up on camera. And yet everybody who does is a reflection of him.”
The 71-year-old Ailes presents the classic figure of a cinematic villain: bald and obese, with dainty hands, Hitchcockian jowls and a lumbering gait. Friends describe him as loyal, generous and “slap your mama funny.” But Ailes is also, by turns, a tyrant: “I only understand friendship or scorched earth,” he has said. One former deputy pegs him as a cross between Don Rickles and Don Corleone. “What&rsquos fun for Roger is the destruction,” says Dan Cooper, a key member of the team that founded Fox News. “When the light bulb goes on and he&rsquos got the trick to outmaneuver the enemy &ndash that&rsquos his passion.” Ailes is also deeply paranoid. Convinced that he has personally been targeted by Al Qaeda for assassination, he surrounds himself with an aggressive security detail and is licensed to carry a concealed handgun.
Ailes was born in 1940 in Warren, Ohio, a manufacturing outpost near Youngstown. His father worked at the Packard plant producing wiring for GM cars, and Roger grew up resenting the abuse his father had to take from the “college boys” who managed the line. Ailes has called his father a “Taft Republican,” and the description is instructive: Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio led a GOP uprising to block the expansion of the New Deal in the late 1930s, and spearheaded passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which beat back the power of labor unions.
Roger spent much of his youth in convalescence. A sickly child &ndash hemophilia forced him to sit out recess at school &ndash he had to learn to walk again after getting hit by a car at age eight. His mother worked out of the house, so he was raised in equal measure by his grandmother and TV. “Television and I grew up together,” he later wrote.
A teenage booze hound &ndash “I was hammered all the time” &ndash Ailes said he “went to state school because they told me I could drink.” There was another reason: His father kicked him out of the house when he graduated from high school. During his stint at Ohio University, where he studied radio and television, his parents divorced and left the house where he had spent so much of his childhood recovering from illness and injury. “I went back, the house was sold, all my stuff was gone,” he recalled. “I never found my shit!” The shock seems to have left him with an almost pathological nostalgia for the trappings of small-town America.
In college, Ailes tried to join the Air Force ROTC but was rejected because of his health. So he became a drama geek, acting in a bevy of collegiate productions. The thespian streak never left Ailes: His first job out of college was as a gofer on The Mike Douglas Show, a nationally syndicated daytime variety show that featured aging stars like Jack Benny and Pearl Bailey in a world swooning for Elvis and the Beatles. In many ways, Ailes remains a creature of that earlier era. His 1950s manners, martini-dry ripostes and unreconstructed sexism give the feeling, says one intimate, “like you&rsquore talking to someone who&rsquos been under a rock for a couple of decades.”
Ailes found his calling in television. He proved to be a TV wunderkind, charting a meteoric rise from gofer to executive producer by the age of 25. Ailes had an uncanny feel for stagecraft and how to make conversational performances pop on live television. But it was behind the scenes at Mike Douglas in 1967 that Ailes met the man who would set him on his path as the greatest political operative of his generation: Richard Milhous Nixon. The former vice president &ndash whose stilted and sweaty debate performance against John F. Kennedy had helped doom his presidential bid in 1960 &ndash was on a media tour to rehabilitate his image. Waiting with Nixon in his office before the show, Ailes needled his powerful guest. “The camera doesn&rsquot like you,” he said. Nixon wasn&rsquot pleased. “It&rsquos a shame a man has to use gimmicks like television to get elected,” he grumbled. “Television is not a gimmick,” Ailes said. &ldquoAnd if you think it is, you&rsquoll lose again.”
The exchange was a defining moment for both men. Nixon became convinced that he had met a boy genius who could market him to the American public. Ailes had fallen hard for his first candidate. He soon abandoned his high-powered job producing Westinghouse&rsquos biggest hit and signed on as Nixon&rsquos “executive producer for television.” For Ailes, the infatuation was personal &ndash and it is telling that the man who got him into politics would prove to be one of he most paranoid and dirty campaigners in the history of American politics. “I don&rsquot know anyone else around that I would have done it for,” Ailes has said, “other than Nixon.”
It was while working for Nixon that Ailes first experimented with blurring the distinction between journalism and politics, developing a knack for manipulating political imagery that would find its ultimate expression in Fox News. He knew his candidate was a disaster on TV. “You put him on television, you&rsquove got a problem right away,” Ailes told reporter Joe McGinniss in The Selling of the President 1968. “He looks like somebody hung him in a closet overnight, and he jumps out in the morning with his suit all bunched up and starts running around saying, ‘I want to be president.’ &thinsp “But the real problem, as Ailes saw it, was a media establishment that he viewed as hostile to Republicans. The “only hope,” he recalled, “was to go around the press and go directly to the people” &ndash letting the campaign itself shape the candidate&rsquos image for the average voter, “without it being interpreted for him by a middleman.”
To bypass journalists, Ailes made Nixon the star of his own traveling roadshow &ndash a series of contrived, newslike events that the campaign paid to broadcast in local markets across the country. Nixon would appear on camera in theaters packed with GOP partisans &ndash “an applause machine,” Ailes said, “that&rsquos all that they are.” Then he would field questions from six voters, hand-­selected by the campaign, who could be counted on to lob softball queries that played to Nixon&rsquos talking points. At the time, Nixon was consciously stoking the anger of white voters aggrieved by the advances of the civil rights movement, and Ailes proved eager to play the race card. To balance an obligatory “Negro” on a panel in Philadelphia, Ailes dreamed of adding a “good, mean Wallacite cab driver. Wouldn&rsquot that be great? Some guy to sit there and say, ‘Awright, Mac, what about these niggers?'”
Ailes had essentially replaced professional journalists with every­day voters he could manipulate at will. “The events were not staged, they were fixed,” says Rick Perlstein, the author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. “People were supposed to ask tough questions. But asking a tough question &ndash let alone knowing how to follow up &ndash is a skill. Taking that task out of the hands of reporters and putting it into the hands of inexperienced amateurs was brilliant in itself.”
As for actual journalists? “Fuck ’em,” Ailes said. “It&rsquos not a press conference &ndash it&rsquos a television show. Our television show. And the press has no business on the set.” The young producer forced reporters to watch the events backstage on a TV monitor &ndash just like the rest of America. “Ailes figured out a way to bring reporters to heel,” Perlstein says.
After Nixon was elected, Ailes was soon fired by the White House. He had brazenly insulted his boss in the McGinniss book while playing up his own talent as an image-maker, and Nixon, as always, took the snub personally. “In the television field, we have made the move that we should have made long ago,” the president sniffed to his chief of staff in a memo uncovered by Rolling Stone, adding that Ailes was not among “the first-rate men that we could have in this field.”
Out on his own, Ailes briefly returned to the passion for the theater he discovered during his college days. In perhaps the oddest chapter of his professional life, he formed a partnership with Kermit Bloomgarden &ndash the famed producer of Death of a Salesman &ndash and set out to conquer Broadway. Their first production: an environmental-themed musical called Mother Earth. When the show flopped, folding after just a dozen performances in 1972, it nearly bankrupted Ailes. The next year, though, he was back in the game, scoring an edgy off-Broadway hit with The Hot L Baltimore, which the New York Drama Critics&rsquo Circle named Best American Play of 1973. He was later nominated for an Emmy for a documentary on Federico Fellini, and produced a TV special from the Fantasy Suite at Caesars Palace for Liberace, whom Ailes knew fondly as “Lee.”
But Ailes couldn&rsquot stay away from the theater of politics. In 1974, his notoriety from the Nixon campaign won him a job at Television News Incorporated, a new right-wing TV network that had launched under a deliberately misleading motto that Ailes would one day adopt as his own: “fair and balanced.” TVN made no sense as a business. The project of archconservative brewing magnate Joseph Coors, the news service was designed to inject a far-right slant into local news broadcasts by providing news clips that stations could use without credit &ndash and for a fraction of the true costs of production. Once the affiliates got hooked on the discounted clips, its president explained, TVN would “gradually, subtly, slowly” inject “our philosophy in the news.&rdquo The network was, in the words of a news director who quit in protest, a “propaganda machine.”
But TVN&rsquos staff of professional journalists revolted over the ideo­logical pressure by top management. So the fledgling operation purged 16 staffers and brought in Ailes to command the newsroom. “He was involved in the creation of the effort,” recalled Paul Weyrich, a leading figure in the New Right who had close ties to Coors. “He was sort of the godfather behind the scenes.”
During the time he spent at TVN, Ailes began to plot the growth of a right-wing network that looked very much like the future Fox News. The network planned to invest millions in satellite distribution that would enable TVN to not just distribute news clips but provide a full newscast with its own anchors &ndash a business model that was also employed by an upstart network called CNN. For Ailes, it was a way to extend the kind of fake news that he was regularly using as a political strategist. “I know certain techniques, such as a press release that looks like a newscast,” he told The Washington Post in 1972. “So you use it because you want your man to win.”
Under Ailes, TVN even signed an open-ended contract to produce propaganda for the federal government, providing news clips and scripts to the U.S. Information Agency &ndash a hand-in-glove relationship with the Ford administration that Ailes insisted created no conflict of interest. But TVN collapsed in 1975, depriving Ailes of the chance to implement his vision for a right-wing news network. &ldquoThey were losing money and they weren&rsquot able to control their journalists,&rdquo says Kerwin Swint, author of the Ailes biography, Dark Genius. Ailes would have to wait two decades to launch another &ldquofair and balanced&rdquo propaganda machine &ndash and when he did, he would make sure that the journalists he employed were prepared to toe the party line.
Following the failure of TVN, Ailes re­dedicated himself to political consulting. Over the next decade, drawing on the tactics he honed working for Nixon, he helped elect two more conservative presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In 1984, after the 73-year-old Reagan stumbled badly in his first debate with Walter Mondale, the campaign tapped Ailes to prep the president for the next showdown. At the time, Reagan was beginning to exhibit what his son Ron now describes as early signs of Alzheimer&rsquos, and his age and acuity were becoming a central issue in the campaign. Ailes &ndash a veteran of Reagan&rsquos media team in 1980 who was overseeing the creation of the legendary &ldquoMorning in America&rdquo campaign &ndash knew that framing one good shot in a debate could make the difference come Election Day. &ldquoRoger had the presence to be a director,&rdquo says Ed Rollins, who managed the &rsquo84 campaign. &ldquoAnd Reagan, who had always been around directors, would listen to Roger.&rdquo
Ailes &ndash known on the Reagan team as &ldquoDr. Feelgood&rdquo &ndash told the Gipper to ditch the facts and figures. &ldquoYou didn&rsquot get elected on details,&rdquo he told the president. &ldquoYou got elected on themes.&rdquo For Ailes, the advice reflected a core belief: People watch TV emotionally. He armed Reagan with a one-liner to beat back any question about his mental agility &ndash and the president&rsquos delivery was pitch-perfect. &ldquoI want you to understand that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign,&rdquo Reagan winked. &ldquoI am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent&rsquos youth and inexperience.&rdquo
Four years later, Ailes was in such high demand that the entire GOP field, with the exception of Pat Robertson, paid court. After hearing all the pitches, Ailes agreed to work for Bush &ndash an effete New Englander who even Richard Nixon said &ldquocomes through as a weak individual on television.&rdquo Worse still, Bush had baggage: He was neck-deep in the Iran-Contra scandal that had secretly sent arms to Tehran and used the profits to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua. Ailes saw an opportunity to address both shortcomings in a single, familiar strategy &ndash attack the media.
In January 1988, Ailes rigged an interview about the scandal with Dan Rather of CBS News by insisting on an odd caveat: that the interview be conducted live. That not only gave the confrontation the air of a prizefight &ndash it enabled Ailes himself to sit just off-camera in Bush&rsquos office, prompting his candidate with cue cards. As soon as Rather, who was in the CBS studio in New York, began his questioning, Bush came out swinging, claiming that he had been misled about the interview&rsquos focus on Iran-­Contra. When the exchange got tricky for Bush, Ailes flashed a card: walked off the air. A few months earlier, Rather had stormed off camera upon learning his newscast had been pre-empted by a women&rsquos tennis match. Clenching his fist, Ailes mouthed: Go! Go! Just kick his ass!
Bush proceeded to hit Rather below the belt. &ldquoIt&rsquos not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran,&rdquo he said. &ldquoHow would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?&rdquo It was the mother of all false equivalencies: the fleeting petulance of a news anchor pitted against the high crimes of a sitting vice president. But it worked as TV. &ldquoThat bite of Bush telling Rather off played over and over and over again,&rdquo says Roger Stone, an infamous political operative who worked with Ailes on the Nixon campaign. &ldquoIt was a perfect example of Roger understanding the news cycle, the dynamics of the situation and the power of television.&rdquo
Ailes became the go-to man on the Bush campaign, especially when it came to taking down the opposition. &ldquoOn any campaign you have a small table of inside advisers,&rdquo says Mary Matalin, the GOP consultant. &ldquoRoger always had the clearest vision. The most robust, synthesized, advanced thinking on things political. When you came to a strategy impasse, he&rsquod be the first among equals. I can&rsquot remember a single incident where he lost a fight.&rdquo As usual, Ailes knew how to use television to skew public perception. His dirtiest move came during the general election &ndash a TV ad centering on Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who had escaped from a Massachusetts prison during a weekend furlough when Michael Dukakis was governor and later assaulted a couple, stabbing the man and raping the woman. &ldquoThe only question,&rdquo Ailes bragged to a reporter, &ldquois whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand &ndash or without it.&rdquo
Knowing that such an overt move could backfire on the campaign, Ailes instead opted to evoke Horton by showing a line of convicts entering and exiting a prison through a revolving door of prison bars. An early take of the ad used actual prisoners. &ldquoRoger and I looked at it, and we worried there were too many blacks in the prison scene,&rdquo campaign manager Lee Atwater later admitted. So Ailes reshot the ad to zero in on a single black prisoner &ndash sporting an unmistakably Horton-esque Afro. The campaign also benefited from a supposedly &ldquoindependent&rdquo ad that exuberantly paraded Horton&rsquos mug shot. The ad was crafted by Larry McCarthy &ndash a former senior vice president at Ailes Communications Inc.
After the campaign, ailes kept on playing the Willie Horton card against Democrats. Working for Rudy Giuliani in 1989, he even tried the tactic against David Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York, running ads that exploited the criminal record of a Dinkins staffer who had served time for kidnapping. But this time, the tactic backfired. Dinkins made Ailes himself the issue, labeling him &ldquothe master of mud.&rdquo Giuliani lost the race, and Ailes went into a deep political slump. In 1990, he tried to take out bow-tied Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois and whiffed. The following year, he blew a special election in Pennsylvania. One political observer at the time declared that Ailes was becoming &ldquoan albatross.&rdquo
A few months later, Ailes made a show of exiting the political arena. &ldquoI&rsquove been in politics for 25 years,&rdquo he told The New York Times in 1991. &ldquoIt&rsquos always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.&rdquo But instead of giving up his work as a political consultant, Ailes simply went underground. Keenly aware that his post-Horton reputation would be a drag on President Bush, Ailes took no formal role with the re-election campaign. But he continued to loom so large behind the scenes that campaign allies referred to him as &ldquoour Deep Throat.&rdquo
He quietly prepped the president for his State of the Union address in 1992, and he served as an attack dog for the campaign, once more blasting what he saw as the media&rsquos liberal bias. &ldquoBill Clinton has 15,000 press secretaries,&rdquo Ailes blared. &ldquoAt some point, even you guys will have to get embarrassed.&rdquo (Last November, Ailes deployed the same line against President Obama, reducing the number of press secretaries to only 3,000.)
Ailes also pushed Bush campaign manager James Baker to &ldquoget on the fucking offensive&rdquo and &ldquogo for the red meat.&rdquo From his office in Manhattan, Ailes advised the campaign to spin Clinton&rsquos graduate-school train trip to Moscow into a tale of a Manchurian candidacy. &ldquoThis guy&rsquos hiding something,&rdquo Ailes barked over a speakerphone in Baker&rsquos office. Clinton&rsquos public fuzziness about the trip was proof enough, insisted Ailes: &ldquoNobody&rsquos that forgetful.&rdquo President Bush soon appeared on Larry King Live, following the redbaiting advice to the letter. &ldquoI don&rsquot have the facts,&rdquo the president insinuated, &ldquobut to go to Moscow one year after Russia crushed Czechoslovakia, and not remember who you saw &ndash I think the answer is, level with the American people.”
In advance of the final debate of 1992, Bush called in his two closest confidants, Baker and Ailes, to help him prepare at Camp David. The advice Ailes offered could serve as a mission statement for Fox News. &ldquoForget all the facts and figures,&rdquo he said, &ldquoand move to the offense as quickly as possible.”
After Bush lost to Clinton, Ailes kept right on claiming that he was through with politics. In 2001, as part of a House hearing into election night news coverage, Ailes submitted biographical materials to Congress under oath that made the break explicit: &ldquoIn 1992, Ailes retired completely from political and corporate consulting to return full-time to television.&rdquo
That is a lie. At the time, Ailes was certainly becoming a force in tabloid TV. He had helped launch The Maury Povich Show in 1991, and &ndash in his first brush with the News Corp. empire &ndash he consulted on A Current Affair. But in 1993 &ndash the year after he claimed he had retired from corporate consulting &ndash Ailes inked a secret deal with tobacco giants Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds to go full-force after the Clinton administration on its central policy objective: health care reform. Hillarycare was to have been funded, in part, by a $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes. To block the proposal, Big Tobacco paid Ailes to produce ads highlighting &ldquoreal people affected by taxes.&rdquo
According to internal memos, Ailes also explored how Philip Morris could create a phony front group called the &ldquoCoalition for Fair Funding of Health Care&rdquo to deploy the same kind of &ldquoindependent&rdquo ads that produced Willie Horton. In a precursor to the modern Tea Party, Ailes conspired with the tobacco companies to unleash angry phone calls on Congress &ndash cold-calling smokers and patching them through to the switchboards on Capitol Hill &ndash and to gin up the appearance of a grassroots uprising, busing 17,000 tobacco employees to the White House for a mass demonstration.
But Ailes&rsquo most important contribution to the covert campaign involved his new specialty: right-wing media. The tobacco giants hired Ailes, in part, because he had just brought Rush Limbaugh to the small screen, serving as executive producer of Rush&rsquos syndicated, late-night TV show. Now they wanted Ailes to get Limbaugh onboard to crush health care reform. &ldquoRJR has trained 200 people to call in to shows,&rdquo a March 1993 memo revealed. &ldquoA packet has gone to Limbaugh. We need to brief Ailes.”
Ailes and Limbaugh were more than co-workers. The two jocular, balding right-wingers had met carousing in Manhattan a few years earlier and had become fast friends: Both were reviled for the virulence of their politics, and both saw themselves as victims of what Ailes would call &ldquoliberal bigots.&rdquo In a 2009 speech, Limbaugh credited Ailes for teaching him &ldquohow to take being hated as a measure of success.&rdquo Ailes, in fact, would become a father figure to the king of right-wing talk. &ldquoThe things I&rsquove learned from him about being a man, about the country, about how to be a professional, nobody else taught me,&rdquo Limbaugh said. &ldquoWhen Roger Ailes is on your team, you do not lose.&rdquo
In August 1993, Ailes made his biggest foray into television since his days as a producer for Mike Douglas: He became the head of CNBC, America&rsquos top business network. In his three years as boss, he more than quintupled profits and minted stars like Chris Matthews and Maria Bartiromo. He also helped launch a new cable network called America&rsquos Talking, an odd mash-up of television and talk radio. &ldquoThe lineup really comes out of my head,&rdquo Ailes said. Shows on the new network included Bugged! (about things that irritate people), Pork (a takedown of pork-barrel spending) and Am I Nuts? (a call-in psychiatry hour).
Then in his early fifties, Ailes had shed 40 pounds by curbing his Häagen-Dazs habit, and he had shaved off the salt-and-pepper goatee he sported during his days as a GOP operative. But what he refused to give up was politics. As head of CNBC, he continued to produce Limbaugh&rsquos TV show on the side &ndash and he remained on the take from Big Tobacco, pocketing a $5,000 monthly retainer from Philip Morris &ldquoto be available.&rdquo In 1994, when the tobacco giant tried to stave off harsher regulation by unveiling a voluntary initiative to curb youth smoking, it once again called on Roger to activate Rush: &ldquoAsk Ailes to try to prime Limbaugh to go after the antis for complaining.&rdquo
But despite his success at CNBC, Ailes wasn&rsquot being given the power he craved to shape public opinion. In a move that took him by surprise, his bosses at NBC decided to shut down America&rsquos Talking and hand its channel over to an all-news venture called MSNBC. Ailes felt that his creation had been hijacked. The man who imagined himself the king of political infighters had been cut off at the knees.
Ailes responded as he always did to setbacks: by throwing himself into another political battle. This time, though, he would do things on his own terms. Securing release from his NBC contract without a noncompete agreement, he immediately joined forces with a media giant who was equally unabashed in using his news operations as instruments of political power. As Jack Welch &ndash then the CEO of NBC&rsquos parent company GE &ndash put it at the time, &ldquoWe&rsquoll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.&rdquo
Rupert Murdoch had long been obsessed with gaining a foothold in the TV news business. He made a failed run at buying CNN, only to see Time Warner scoop up the prize. Even before he hired Ailes, Murdoch had several teams at work on a germinal version of Fox News that he intended to air through News Corp. affiliates. The false starts included a 60 Minutes-style program that, under the guise of straight news, would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program. &ldquoThe idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving,&rdquo says Dan Cooper, managing editor of that first iteration of Fox News. Like Joseph Coors before him at TVN, Murdoch envisioned his new network as a counterweight to the &ldquoleft-wing bias&rdquo of CNN. &ldquoThere&rsquos your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda,&rdquo says Eric Burns, who served for a decade as media critic at Fox News. &ldquoThat&rsquos its original sin.&rdquo
Murdoch found Ailes captivating: powerful, politically connected, funny as hell. Both men had been married twice, and both shared an open contempt for the traditional rules of journalism. Murdoch also had a direct self-interest in targeting regulation-­minded liberals, whose policies threatened to interfere with his plans for expansion. &ldquoRupert is driven by a twofold dynamic: power and money,&rdquo says a former deputy. &ldquoHe had a lot of business reasons to shake up Washington, and he found in Roger the perfect guy to do it.&rdquo
But Ailes was determined not to repeat what he saw as the mistakes of TVN, the ideological forerunner of Fox News. Before signing on to run the new network, he demanded that Murdoch get &ldquocarriage&rdquo &ndash distribution on cable systems nationwide. In the normal course of business, cable outfits like Time Warner pay content providers like CNN or MTV for the right to air their programs. But Murdoch turned the business model on its head. He didn&rsquot just give Fox News away &ndash he paid the cable companies to air it. To get Fox News into 25 million homes, Murdoch paid cable companies as much as $20 a subscriber. &ldquoMurdoch&rsquos offer shocked the industry,&rdquo writes biographer Neil Chenoweth. &ldquoHe was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.&rdquo Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for. Ailes hailed Murdoch&rsquos &ldquonerve,&rdquo adding, &ldquoThis is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.&rdquo
Ailes was also determined not to let the professional ethics of journalism get in the way of his political agenda, as they had at TVN. To secure a pliable news staff, he led what he called a &ldquojailbreak&rdquo from NBC, bringing dozens of top staffers with him to Fox News, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and morning host Steve Doocy &ndash loyalists who owed their careers to Ailes. Rounding out his senior news team, Ailes tapped trusted Republicans like veteran ABC correspondent Brit Hume and former George H.W. Bush speechwriter Tony Snow.
Ailes then embarked on a purge of existing staffers at Fox News. &ldquoThere was a litmus test,&rdquo recalled Joe Peyronnin, whom Ailes displaced as head of the network. &ldquoHe was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.&rdquo When Ailes suspected a journalist wasn&rsquot far enough to the right for his tastes, he&rsquod spring an accusation: &ldquoWhy are you a liberal?&rdquo If staffers had worked at one of the major news networks, Ailes would force them to defend working at a place like CBS &ndash which he spat out as &ldquothe Communist Broadcast System.&rdquo To replace the veterans he fired, Ailes brought in droves of inexperienced up-and-comers &ndash enabling him to weave his own political biases into the network&rsquos DNA. To oversee the young newsroom, he recruited John Moody, a conservative veteran of Time. As recounted by journalist Scott Collins in Crazy Like a Fox, the Chairman gave Moody explicit ideological marching orders. &ldquoOne of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,&rdquo Ailes told Moody. &ldquoAnd we&rsquove got to fight that.&rdquo Reporters understood that a right-wing bias was hard-wired into what they did from the start. &ldquoAll outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom,&rdquo says a former anchor. &ldquoBut you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color &ndash and that your color was red.&rdquo Red state, that is.
Murdoch installed ailes in the corner office on Fox&rsquos second floor at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. The location made Ailes queasy: It was close to the street, and he lived in fear that gay activists would try to attack him in retaliation over his hostility to gay rights. (In 1989, Ailes had broken up a protest of a Rudy Giuliani speech by gay activists, grabbing demonstrator by the throat and shoving him out the door.) Barricading himself behind a massive mahogany desk, Ailes insisted on having &ldquobombproof glass&rdquo installed in the windows &ndash even going so far as to personally inspect samples of high-tech plexiglass, as though he were picking out new carpet. Looking down on the street below, he expressed his fears to Cooper, the editor he had tasked with up-armoring his office. &ldquoThey&rsquoll be down there protesting,&rdquo Ailes said. &ldquoThose gays.&rdquo
Befitting his siege mentality, Ailes also housed his newsroom in a bunker. Reporters and producers at Fox News work in a vast, windowless expanse below street level, a gloomy space lined with video-editing suites along one wall and an endless cube farm along the other. In a separate facility on the same subterranean floor, Ailes created an in-house research unit &ndash known at Fox News as the &ldquobrain room&rdquo &ndash that requires special security clearance to gain access. &ldquoThe brain room is where Willie Horton comes from,&rdquo says Cooper, who helped design its specs. &ldquoIt&rsquos where the evil resides.&rdquo
If that sounds paranoid, consider the man Ailes brought in to run the brain room: Scott Ehrlich, a top lieutenant from his political-­consulting firm. Ehrlich &ndash referred to by some as &ldquoBaby Rush&rdquo &ndash had taken over the lead on Big Tobacco&rsquos campaign to crush health care reform when Ailes signed on with CNBC. According to documents obtained by Rolling Stone, Ehrlich gravitated to the dark side: In a strategy labeled &ldquoUnderground Attack,&rdquo he advised the tobacco giants to &ldquohit hard&rdquo at key lawmakers &ldquothrough their soft underbelly&rdquo by quietly influencing local media &ndash a tactic that would help the firms &ldquostay under the radar of the national news media.&rdquo
At Fox News, Ehrlich kept up a relentless drumbeat against the Clinton administration. A reporter who joined the network from ABC promptly left in horror after a producer approached him, rubbing her hands together and saying, &ldquoLet&rsquos have something on Whitewater today.&rdquo Ailes mined the Monica Lewinsky scandal for ratings gold, bringing Matt Drudge aboard as a host, and heaped rumor on top of the smears. Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard &ndash the News Corp. property with the most direct crossover on Fox News &ndash trafficked in gossip &ldquothat there&rsquos a second intern who was sexually involved with the president. If there is, that will certainly be dynamite.&rdquo
But it was the election of George W. Bush in 2000 that revealed the true power of Fox News as a political machine. According to a study of voting patterns by the University of California, Fox News shifted roughly 200,000 ballots to Bush in areas where voters had access to the network. But Ailes, ever the political operative, didn&rsquot leave the outcome to anything as dicey as the popular vote. The man he tapped to head the network&rsquos &ldquodecision desk&rdquo on election night &ndash the consultant responsible for calling states for either Gore or Bush &ndash was none other than John Prescott Ellis, Bush&rsquos first cousin. As a columnist at The Boston Globe, Ellis had recused himself from covering the campaign. &ldquoThere is no way for you to know if I am telling you the truth about George W. Bush&rsquos presidential campaign,&rdquo he told his readers, &ldquobecause in his case, my loyalty goes to him and not to you.&rdquo
In any newsroom worthy of the name, such a conflict of interest would have immediately disqualified Ellis. But for Ailes, loyalty to Bush was an asset. &ldquoWe at Fox News,&rdquo he would later tell a House hearing, &ldquodo not discriminate against people because of their family connections.&rdquo On Election Day, Ellis was in constant contact with Bush himself. After midnight, when a wave of late numbers showed Bush with a narrow lead, Ellis jumped on the data to declare Bush the winner &ndash even though Florida was still rated too close to call by the vote-tracking consortium used by all the networks. Hume announced Fox&rsquos call for Bush at 2:16 a.m. &ndash a move that spurred every other network to follow suit, and led to bush wins headlines in the morning papers.
&ldquoWe&rsquoll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not,&rdquo says Dan Rather, who was anchoring the election coverage for CBS that night. &ldquoBut when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical. Led by Fox, the narrative began to be that Bush had won the election.&rdquo
Dwell on this for a moment: A &ldquonews&rdquo network controlled by a GOP operative who had spent decades shaping just such political narratives &ndash including those that helped elect the candidate&rsquos father &ndash declared George W. Bush the victor based on the analysis of a man who had proclaimed himself loyal to Bush over the facts. &ldquoOf everything that happened on election night, this was the most important in impact,&rdquo Rep. Henry Waxman said at the time. &ldquoIt immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people&rsquos minds that he was the man who won the election.&rdquo
After Bush took office, Ailes stayed in frequent touch with the new Republican president. &ldquoThe senior-level editorial people believe that Roger was on the phone every day with Bush,&rdquo a source close to Fox News tells Rolling Stone. &ldquoHe gave Bush the same kind of pointers he used to give George H.W. Bush &ndash delivery, effectiveness, political coaching.&rdquo In the aftermath of 9/11, Ailes sent a back-channel memo to the president through Karl Rove, advising Bush to ramp up the War on Terror. As reported by Bob Woodward, Ailes advised Bush that &ldquothe American public would tolerate waiting and would be patient, but only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible.&rdquo
Fox News did its part to make sure that viewers lined up behind those harsh measures. The network plastered an American flag in the corner of the screen, dolled up one female anchor in a camouflaged silk blouse, and featured Geraldo Rivera threatening to hunt down Osama bin Laden with a pistol. The militarism even seemed to infect the culture of Fox News. &ldquoRoger Ailes is the general,&rdquo declared Bill O&rsquoReilly. &ldquoAnd the general sets the tone of the army. Our army is very George Patton-esque. We charge. We roll.&rdquo
Ailes likes to boast that Fox News maintains a bright, clear line between its news shows, which he touts as balanced, and prime-time hosts like O&rsquoReilly and Hannity, who are given free rein to voice their opinions. &ldquoWe police those lines very carefully,&rdquo Ailes has said. But after Bush was elected, Ailes tasked John Moody, his top political lieutenant, to keep the newsroom in lockstep. Early each morning, Ailes summoned Moody into his office &ndash often joined by Hume from the Washington bureau on speakerphone &ndash and provided his spin on the day&rsquos news. Moody then posted a daily memo to the staff with explicit instructions on how to slant the day&rsquos news coverage according to the agenda of those on &ldquothe Second Floor,&rdquo as Ailes and his loyal cadre of vice presidents are known. &ldquoThere&rsquos a chain of command, and it&rsquos followed,&rdquo says a former news anchor. &ldquoRoger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.&rdquo
When the 9/11 Commission began investigating Bush&rsquos negligence in the lead-up to the terrorist attacks, Moody issued a stark warning: &ldquoThis is not &lsquoWhat did he know and when did he know it?&rsquo stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate. Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let&rsquos not desecrate that.&rdquo In a 2003 memo on Bush&rsquos overtures for Middle East peace, Moody again ordered the staff to champion the president: &ldquoHis political courage and tactical cunning are worth noting in our reporting throughout the day.&rdquo During the 2004 campaign, Moody highlighted John Kerry&rsquos &ldquoflip-flop voting record&rdquo &ndash a line that dovetailed with the attacks coming out of the White House. In fact, Fox News was working ­directly with the Bush administration to coordinate each day&rsquos agenda &ndash as Bush&rsquos own press secretary, Scott McClellan, later conceded. &ldquoWe at the White House,&rdquo McClellan said, &ldquowere getting them talking points.&rdquo (Ailes and Fox News declined repeated requests from Rolling Stone for an interview.)
When Bush was re-elected, Murdoch and Ailes toasted the victory together in the control room of Fox News, celebrating until three in the morning. The network&rsquos relentless GOP boosterism had not only been good for ratings, it also appeared to have paid dividends for the network&rsquos corporate parent. Acting nakedly in Murdoch&rsquos interests, the FCC blocked satellite-TV provider EchoStar&rsquos $27 billion acquisition of DirecTV in 2002 as being anti-competitive. That cleared the way for News Corp. &ndash which had originally been outbid &ndash to buy control of DirecTV for a mere $6.6 billion.
But despite their commercial and political triumphs, the relationship between Murdoch and Ailes has grown rocky. The more profits soared at Fox News, the more Ailes expanded his power and independence. In 2005, he staged a brazen coup within the company, conspiring to depose Murdoch&rsquos son Lachlan as the anointed heir of News Corp. Ailes not only took over Lachlan&rsquos portfolio &ndash becoming chair of Fox Television &ndash he even claimed Lachlan&rsquos office on the eighth floor. In 2009, Ailes earned a pay package of $24 million &ndash a deal slightly larger than the one enjoyed by Murdoch himself. He brags privately that his contract also forbids Murdoch &ndash infamous for micromanaging his newspapers &ndash from interfering with editorial decisions at Fox News.
In recent years, Ailes has increasingly become a headache for News Corp. In 2004, to protect his pal Rudy Giuliani, Ailes apparently interceded in the case of Bernie Kerik, the former New York police commissioner who had been nominated on Giuliani&rsquos recommendation to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik proved to be a train wreck: In the most offensive of his indiscretions, he had commandeered an apartment overlooking Ground Zero &ndash intended for rescue and recovery workers &ndash as a love shack for trysts with his book editor, News Corp.&rsquos own Judith Regan. Acting more like a political consultant than a news executive, Ailes appears to have resorted to Watergate-style obstruction of justice. According to court documents, the Fox News chairman &ldquotold Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani&rsquos presidential campaign.&rdquo The records reveal that Ailes &ldquoadvised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.&rdquo The allegation featured prominently in a wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by Regan, which reportedly cost News Corp. more than $10 million to settle.
Many within Murdoch&rsquos family have come to viscerally hate Ailes. Murdoch&rsquos third wife, Wendi, has worked to soften her husband&rsquos politics, and his son James has persuaded him to embrace the reality of global warming &ndash even as Ailes has led the drumbeat of climate deniers at Fox News. Matthew Freud, Murdoch&rsquos son-in-law and a top PR executive in Britain, recently told reporters, &ldquoI am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes&rsquo horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.&rdquo
&ldquoRupert is surrounded by people who regularly, if not moment to moment, tell him how horrifying and dastardly Roger is,&rdquo says Wolff, the Murdoch biographer. &ldquoWendi cannot stand Roger. Rupert&rsquos children cannot stand Roger. So around Murdoch, Roger has no supporters, except for Roger himself.&rdquo
Ailes begins each workday buffered by the elaborate private security detail that News Corp. pays to usher him from his $1.6 million home in New Jersey to his office in Manhattan. (His country home &ndash in the aptly named village of Garrison &ndash is phalanxed by empty homes that Ailes bought up to create a wider security perimeter.) Traveling with the Chairman is like a scene straight out of 24. A friend recalls hitching a ride with Ailes after a power lunch: &ldquoWe come out of the building and there&rsquos an SUV filled with big guys, who jump out of the car when they see him. A cordon is formed around us. We&rsquore ushered into the SUV, and we drive the few blocks to Fox&rsquos offices, where another set of guys come out of the building to receive &lsquothe package.&rsquo The package is taken in, and I&rsquom taken on to my destination.&rdquoAiles is certain that he&rsquos a top target of Al Qaeda terrorists. &ldquoYou know, they&rsquore coming to get me,&rdquo he tells friends. &ldquoI&rsquom fully prepared. I&rsquove taken care of it.&rdquo (Ailes, who was once arrested for carrying an illegal handgun in Central Park, now carries a licensed weapon.) Inside his blast-resistant office at Fox News headquarters, Ailes keeps a monitor on his desk that allows him to view any activity outside his closed door. Once, after observing a dark-skinned man in what Ailes perceived to be Muslim garb, he put Fox News on lockdown. &ldquoWhat the hell!&rdquo Ailes shouted. &ldquoThis guy could be bombing me!&rdquo The suspected terrorist turned out to be a janitor. &ldquoRoger tore up the whole floor,&rdquo recalls a source close to Ailes. &ldquoHe has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim &ndash which is consistent with the ideology of his network.&rdquo
Ailes knows exactly who is watching Fox News each day, and he is adept at playing to their darkest fears in the age of Obama. The network&rsquos viewers are old, with a median age of 65: Ads cater to the immobile, the infirm and the incontinent, with appeals to join class action hip-replacement lawsuits, spots for products like Colon Flow and testimonials for the services of Liberator Medical (&ldquoLiberator gave me back the freedom I haven&rsquot had since I started using catheters&rdquo). The audience is also almost exclusively white &ndash only 1.38 percent of viewers are African-American. &ldquoRoger understands audiences,&rdquo says Rollins, the former Reagan consultant. &ldquoHe knew how to target, which is what Fox News is all about.&rdquo The typical viewer of Hannity, to take the most stark example, is a pro-business (86 percent), Christian conservative (78 percent), Tea Party-backer (75 percent) with no college degree (66 percent), who is over age 50 (65 percent), supports the NRA (73 percent), doesn&rsquot back gay rights (78 percent) and thinks government &ldquodoes too much&rdquo (84 percent). &ldquoHe&rsquos got a niche audience and he&rsquos programmed to it beautifully,&rdquo says a former News Corp. colleague. &ldquoHe feeds them exactly what they want to hear.&rdquo
From the time Obama began contemplating his candidacy, Fox News went all-out to convince its white viewers that he was a Marxist, a Muslim, a black nationalist and a 1960s radical. In early 2007, Ailes joked about the similarity of Obama&rsquos name to a certain terrorist&rsquos. &ldquoIt is true that Barack Obama is on the move,&rdquo Ailes said in a speech to news executives. &ldquoI don&rsquot know if it&rsquos true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, &lsquoWhy can&rsquot we catch this guy?&rsquo&rdquo References to Obama&rsquos middle name were soon being bandied about on Fox & Friends, the morning happy-talk show that Ailes uses as one of his primary vehicles to inject his venom into the media bloodstream. According to insiders, the morning show&rsquos anchors, who appear to be chatting ad-lib, are actually working from daily, structured talking points that come straight from the top. &ldquoPrior to broadcast, Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson &ndash that gang &ndash they meet with Roger,&rdquo says a former Fox deputy. &ldquoAnd Roger gives them the spin.&rdquo
Fox & Friends is where the smear about Obama having attended a madrassa was first broadcast, with Doocy &ndash an Ailes lackey from his days at America&rsquos Talking &ndash stating unequivocally that Obama was &ldquoraised as a Muslim.&rdquo And during the campaign, the show&rsquos anchors flogged Obama&rsquos reference to his own grandmother as a &ldquotypical white person&rdquo so relentlessly that it even gave Fox News host Chris Wallace pause. When Wallace appeared on the show that morning, he launched a rebuke that seemed targeted at Ailes as much as Doocy. &ldquoI have been watching the show since six o&rsquoclock this morning,&rdquo Wallace bristled. &ldquoI feel like two hours of Obama-bashing may be enough.&rdquo
The Obama era has spurred sharp changes in the character and tone of Fox News. &ldquoObama&rsquos election has driven Fox to be more of a political campaign than it ever was before,&rdquo says Burns, the network&rsquos former media critic.&ldquoThings shifted,&rdquo agrees Jane Hall, who fled the network after a decade as a liberal commentator. &ldquoThere seemed suddenly to be less of a need to have a range of opinion. I began to feel uncomfortable.&rdquo Sean Hannity was no longer flanked by Alan Colmes, long the network&rsquos fig-leaf liberal. Bill Sammon, author of At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election, was brought in to replace Moody as the top political enforcer. And Brit Hume was replaced on the anchor desk by Bret Baier, one of the young guns Ailes hired more than a decade ago to inject right-wing fervor into Fox News.
Most striking, Ailes hired Glenn Beck away from CNN and set him loose on the White House. During his contract negotiations, Beck recounted, Ailes confided that Fox News was dedicating itself to impeding the Obama administration. &ldquoI see this as the Alamo,&rdquo Ailes declared. Leading the charge were the ragtag members of the Tea Party uprising, which Fox News propelled into a nationwide movement. In the buildup to the initial protests on April 15th, 2009, the network went so far as to actually co-brand the rallies as &ldquoFNC Tax Day Tea Parties.&rdquo Veteran journalists were taken aback. &ldquoI don&rsquot think I&rsquove ever seen a news network throw its weight behind a protest like we are seeing in the past few weeks,&rdquo said Howard Kurtz, the then-media critic for The Washington Post. The following August, when the Tea Party launched its town-hall protests against health care reform, Fox & Friends urged viewers to confront their congressmen face to face. &ldquoAre you gonna call?&rdquo Gretchen Carlson demanded on-air, &ldquoor are you gonna go to one of these receptions where they&rsquore actually there?&rdquo The onscreen Chyron instructed viewers: HOLD CONGRESS ACCOUNTABLE! NOW IS THE TIME TO SPEAK YOUR MIND.
Fox News also hyped Sarah Palin&rsquos lies about &ldquodeath panels&rdquo and took the smear a step further, airing a report claiming that the Department of Veterans Affairs was using a &ldquodeath book&rdquo to encourage soldiers to &ldquohurry up and die.&rdquo (Missing from the report was any indication that the end-of-life counseling materials in question had been promoted by the Bush administration.) At the height of the health care debate, more than two-thirds of Fox News viewers were convinced Obama­care would lead to a &ldquogovernment takeover,&rdquo provide health care to illegal immigrants, pay for abortions and let the government decide when to pull the plug on grandma. As always, the Chairman&rsquos enforcer made sure that producers down in the Fox News basement were toeing the party line. In October 2009, as Congress weighed adding a public option to the health care law, Sammon let everyone know how Ailes expected them to cover the story. &ldquoLet&rsquos not slip back into calling it the &lsquopublic option,&rsquo&rdquo he warned in an e-mail. &ldquoPlease use the term &lsquogovernment-run health insurance&rsquo … when­ever possible.&rdquo Sammon neglected to mention that the phrase he was pushing had been carefully crafted by America&rsquos Health Insurance Plans, the industry&rsquos largest lobbying organization, which had determined that the wording was &ldquothe most negative language to use when describing a &lsquopublic plan.&rsquo&rdquo
The result of this concerted campaign of disinformation is a viewership that knows almost nothing about what&rsquos going on in the world. According to recent polls, Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers. They are 12 percentage points more likely to believe the stimulus package caused job losses, 17 points more likely to believe Muslims want to establish Shariah law in America, 30 points more likely to say that scientists dispute global warming, and 31 points more likely to doubt President Obama&rsquos citizenship. In fact, a study by the University of Maryland reveals, ignorance of Fox viewers actually increases the longer they watch the network. That&rsquos because Ailes isn&rsquot interested in providing people with information, or even a balanced range of perspectives. Like his political mentor, Richard Nixon, Ailes traffics in the emotions of victimization.
&ldquoWhat Nixon did &ndash and what Ailes does today in the age of Obama &ndash is unravel and rewire one of the most powerful of human emotions: shame,&rdquo says Perlstein, the author of Nixonland. &ldquoHe takes the shame of people who feel that they are being looked down on, and he mobilizes it for political purposes. Roger Ailes is a direct link between the Nixonian politics of resentment and Sarah Palin&rsquos politics of resentment. He&rsquos the golden thread.&rdquo
During his days as an overt political consultant, Roger Ailes reshaped Republican politics for the era of network television. Now, as chairman of Fox News, he has reshaped a television network as a force for Republican politics. &ldquoIt&rsquos a political campaign &ndash a 24/7 political campaign,&rdquo says a former Ailes deputy. &ldquoNobody has been able to issue talking points to the American public morning after morning, day after day, night after night.&rdquo Perhaps the only media figure in history with a greater sway over the American electorate was Father Charles Coughlin, the redbaiting Catholic ideologue whose corrosive radio sermons &ndash laced with anti-Semitism and economic populism &ndash reached nearly a third of the country during the Great Depression.
&ldquoAiles is actually much more sophisticated than Coughlin,&rdquo says Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and author of The Age of Reagan. &ldquoCoughlin was only on the air once a week, and it was clear that what he presented was his opinion. Fox News is totalized: It&rsquos an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it&rsquos broadcast as &lsquothe news.&rsquo That&rsquos why Ailes is a genius. He&rsquos combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way &ndash one that blurs the distinction between the two.&rdquo
The phenomenal political power and economic prowess of Fox News has inspired imitation. In recent years, MSNBC has tried to refashion itself as the anti-Fox, with a prime-time lineup stacked with liberal commentators. Such contortions, say media veterans, only strengthen Fox News, emboldening Ailes to tack even further to the right. &ldquoHe can say, &lsquoI&rsquom not doing anything anyone else isn&rsquot doing &ndash I&rsquom just doing it on the other side of the fence,&rsquo &thinsp &rdquo says Dan Rather.
But Ailes has not simply been content to shift the nature of journalism and direct the GOP&rsquos message war. He has also turned Fox News into a political fundraising juggernaut. During her Senate race in Delaware, Tea Party darling Christine O&rsquoDonnell bragged, &ldquoI&rsquove got Sean Hannity in my back pocket, and I can go on his show and raise money.&rdquo Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate who tried to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada, praised Fox for letting her say on-air, &ldquoI need $25 from a million people &ndash go to SharronAngle.com and send money.&rdquo Completing the Fox-GOP axis, Karl Rove has used his pulpit as a Fox News commentator to promote American Crossroads, a shadowy political group he founded, promising that the money it raised would be put &ldquoto good use to defeat Democrats who have supported the president&rsquos agenda.&rdquo
But the clearest demonstration of how Ailes has seamlessly merged both money and message lies in the election of John Kasich, a longtime Fox News contributor who eked out a two-point victory over Democrat Ted Strickland last November to become governor of Ohio. While technically a Republican, Kasich might better be understood as the first candidate of the Fox News Party. &ldquoThe question is no longer whether Fox News is an arm of the GOP,&rdquo says Burns, the network&rsquos former media critic, &ldquobut whether it&rsquos becoming the torso instead.&rdquo
The host of a weekend show called Heartland, Kasich made 42 appearances as a contributor on Fox after he announced his interest in running, frequently guest-hosting on The O&rsquoReilly Factor. He also appeared 16 times as an active candidate, using the network as a platform to make naked fundraising appeals. Most striking of all, News Corp. itself chipped in $1.26 million to the Republican Governors Association, making it one of the largest single contributors to the club Kasich was seeking to join. Murdoch made no bones about why he made such a generous donation to the GOP cause: It was driven, he said, by &ldquomy friendship with John Kasich.&rdquo Since becoming governor, Kasich has repealed collective-­bargaining rights for 350,000 state workers and killed a stimulus-­funded project to develop high-speed rail for the state.
Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America&rsquos most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypass­ing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as &ldquomatadors&rdquo who want to &ldquotear down the social order&rdquo with their &ldquoelitist, horse-dung, social­ist thinking.&rdquo Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line. “I&rsquom not in politics,” Ailes recently boasted. “I&rsquom in ratings. We&rsquore winning.”
The only thing that remains to be seen is whether Ailes can have it both ways: reaching his goal of $1 billion in annual profits while simultaneously dethroning Obama with one of his candidate-­employees. Either way, he has put the Republican Party on his payroll and forced it to remake itself around his image. Ailes is the Chairman, and the conservative movement now reports to him. “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us,” said David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter. “Now we&rsquore discovering that we work for Fox.”
Fox News covered up sexual harassment claims
When Carlson took her job at Fox News, she signed a non-disclosure agreement and a mandatory arbitration agreement that barred her from talking about her experiences publicly and forced her to take legal disputes into arbitration rather than to open court. In a TIME cover story, Carlson spoke about how corporations strategically deploy NDAs and mandatory arbitration clauses to cover up rampant sexual harassment. Even when women risk the professional consequences by coming forward with claims of abuse, these legal maneuvers ensure that bad behavior will remain a secret, allowing perpetrators to remain in power.
As more women came forward with sexual harassment claims against Ailes, O’Reilly and other powerful men at Fox News, it became clear that dozens of women had experienced misogyny and worse at the network. Fox News, for instance, had agreed to settle a sexual harassment suit against O’Reilly for a whopping $32 million&mdashand then decided to renew his contract. Ailes fought to protect himself and other powerful men at the network while women who worked there had little recourse for their mistreatment.
Ailes began his career in television as a production assistant at Cleveland's KYW-TV, the station that launched the Mike Douglas Show, a popular daytime talk and variety show of the 1960s. At age 28, Ailes became the show's producer. He met Richard Nixon for the first time when Nixon appeared as a guest on the Douglas show, beginning the relationship that led to Ailes' hiring as a media consultant for Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. Ώ]
Ailes founded Roger Ailes & Associates which later became Ailes Communications in New York which he owned between 1970 and 1992. The company is described in his biographical note accompanying tesimony to the Energy and Commerce Committee as "a diversified communications consulting company whose clients included three U.S. Presidents, several senators and governors, as well as Fortune 500 CEO's". It was, in fact, mainly a political strategy party for commercial interests. 
Ailes political work has included:
- working as a media adviser to Richard M. Nixon Presidential Campaign in 1967-68
- working as a consultant in 1984 to Ronald Reagan and
- working on George H. W. Bush's 1988 Presidential campaign
- providing advice to the campaign of George W Bush.
Roger Ailes was an American television executive and media consultant. He was the chairman and CEO of Fox News, Fox Television Stations and 20th Television, from which he resigned in July 2016 after allegations of sexual harassment were made by 23 women. Ailes was a media consultant for Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, and for Rudy Giuliani's first mayoral campaign. In 2016, he resigned from Fox News after being accused of sexual harassment by several female Fox employees, including on-air personalities Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly. Shortly afterward, he became an adviser to the Donald Trump campaign, where he assisted with debate preparation.
Ailes suffered from hemophilia, a medical condition in which the body is impaired in its ability to produce blood clots. He died on May 18, 2017 at the age of 77 after suffering a subdural hematoma that was aggravated by his hemophilia. (Wikipedia, CC BY-SA)
How Roger Ailes disgraced Fox News and tarnished a unique legacy
While Donald Trump’s bizarre coronation as the Republican presidential candidate unfolded in Cleveland this week, some 400 miles to the east another king of the American right was facing execution.
Roger Ailes, Fox News chairman and chief executive, Rupert Murdoch’s closest general and èminence grise to a gallery of Republican presidents, was negotiating his exit from a job he has held for 20 years, his reputation in shreds amid allegations of sexual impropriety at the network – the latest reportedly from Fox News’s brightest star.
As Fox News parsed every second of Trump’s accession in Cleveland, Fox PR people batted away reporters keen to ask star anchor Megyn Kelly whether she had been sexually harassed by Ailes. 21st Century Fox, the news channel’s parent company, had already confirmed an investigation into earlier allegations of harassment but attempted to dampen down speculation that Ailes was out in a series of chilly statements.
In a scene that echoed the countless political sex scandals Ailes has overseen, the fallen Fox boss left the News Corp building on Sixth Avenue in New York in the supportive company of his wife, Elizabeth Tilson, on Tuesday night, trailed by photographers.
By Wednesday morning the game appeared to be over. Under the headline “What The Fox!”, Murdoch’s New York Post reported: “Roger Ailes, who built top-rated cable network Fox News, was out as chairman last night, sources said.” In the bottom right corner of the front page a big, smiling picture of Ailes was inset with the images of two women he allegedly propositioned: Gretchen Carlson, who has sued Ailes, and Kelly.
A day later he was out. In a statement, Murdoch praised Ailes for his “remarkable contribution to our company and our country”. In their own statement, Murdoch’s sons, no fans of Ailes, also praised the fallen TV king but noted: “We continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect.”
The beginning of the end for the once unassailable Ailes came earlier this month when Carlson, a former co-host of top rated Fox & Friends, filed suit in a New Jersey court, claiming Ailes “sabotaged her career because she refused his sexual advances and [she] complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment”.
Ailes has denied any wrongdoing and characterized Carlson’s claims as revenge for her demotion following a ratings slide. Kelly has yet to comment on the allegations, first made in New York magazine, that she was also the target of Ailes’s unwanted attentions.
It’s an ignominious end to a stellar career. Before creating the US’s most popular cable network Ailes helped Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush capture the White House. Murdoch told Ailes’s biographer, Zev Chafets, the two “have a close personal friendship”.
Tellingly, Murdoch has not ridden to Ailes’s defence. Not all the Murdoch clan are fans: his sons James and Lachlan, heirs to the empire, have both clashed with Ailes. They reportedly regard his politically and socially conservative views as anachronistic and, in a battle that mirrors the one going on in the Republican party, have pushed for Fox to be more inclusive and less combative on issues such as race, sexuality and gender.
Matthew Freud, the British PR executive and husband of Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, told the New York Times in 2010 that he and other family members were “ashamed and sickened” by Ailes’s “horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards”. But while Fox was flying Rupert wasn’t listening, not even to his sons, and Ailes seemed untouchable.
Just over a decade ago, Lachlan Murdoch lost a corporate spat with Ailes that led him to quit the US for Australia Ailes literally moved into his office. A little over a year ago, Murdoch announced his sons were taking over more of the running of the company. Speculation was rife that Ailes was out, but Murdoch stepped in to kill that speculation and renewed his favourite’s contract with a ringing endorsement.
The two had “a special relationship”, said Murdoch. “Lachlan, James and I are delighted that Roger will be leading key businesses for us and our shareholders for years to come, and he has our unwavering support.”
Perhaps he could have survived one lawsuit. But with Kelly reportedly encouraging other women to come forward and Carlson’s lawyers claiming another 20 women have contacted them about Ailes, the Most Powerful Man in Television had become a liability.
“Elite espouser of conservative family values undone by sex scandal” seems like a perfect Fox story. At least, if the protagonist was a Democrat. But this is one sorry tale that Fox, and the Republicans, must wish could be swept away, at least until after November’s election.
Trump versus Hillary Clinton is shaping up to be one of the fiercest political dog fights in recent history. After a rocky start to their relationship, with Trump attacking Kelly and the network, peace has been declared – a peace that Ailes had brokered. Now the Republicans have lost their most decorated general even before the real battle has even begun.
Roger Ailes leaves Fox News on Tuesday with his wife, Elizabeth Tilson. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
In his book The Loudest Voice in the Room, New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman – who broke much of this week’s developments – details the Fox boss’s management style: he does not seek out breaking news or scoops, he looks for through-lines and narratives, for ways to shoot and stage the news, not what news to break.
Benghazi, Clinton’s emails, Obama’s birth certificate: these are stories that Fox has pounded in its relentless drive to stir up its loyal viewers. But it seems it’s the ideology behind these topics as much as the news itself that interests Ailes. The common theme? Liberals are liars.
It’s been a lucrative philosophy: Fox News’s revenue is much larger than its cable competitors CNN and MSNBC, and its newsgathering operation is far, far smaller. “Fox has nothing like the Time Warner Center of the Atlanta CNN headquarters,” said one commentator who has regularly appeared on Fox. “Fox is far scrappier, CNN an impressive, vast organization.”
Fox News’s “top-rated” status is significant in light of the uniquely TV-centric election going on at the moment. Its ratings aren’t necessarily that attractive to advertisers unless they’re committed to the news format, because of the age of the network’s demographic – Fox’s median viewing age is 67, and at 49 viewers are assumed to have formed their buying habits and don’t pull nearly as many ad dollars from firms trying to find converts to new products. But advertising is secondary for Fox News anyway – the network is in 94.7m households, for each of which it receives a dollar a month.
But it turns out that demographic is incredibly important for other, even more significant reasons than the welfare of advertisers, namely that there’s a product that changes every few years in which baby boomers are disproportionately interested: politicians.
Young voters “punch below their weight” at the polls, according to a recent report by Pew research, which said in May that though voting-age millennials were now as populous as baby boomers, they were not nearly as inclined to show up in force. Boomers began turning 65 in 2011.
In Ailes, a man who would personally hand out conservative talking points to commentators on his network’s slate of mostly talk shows, the Republicans (and Murdoch) found a man who was uniquely tuned to the fears and desires of those ageing, conservative voters.
Born in 1940 in Warren, Ohio, Ailes had a tough childhood. A haemophiliac, his father reportedly beat him with an electrical cord. When his parents divorced his mother claimed Ailes’s father had threatened to kill her.
After graduating from Ohio University and working for campus radio, Ailes started at the very bottom of the broadcast world as a property assistant on Cleveland’s NBC affiliate, KYW-TV, and worked his way up to producer and then executive producer of that station’s locally produced variety program, The Mike Douglas Show. Within six years of beginning as a lowly prop assistant, he led the show to national syndication and had an Emmy to show for his efforts.
For two years he tried to run a wire service-style conservative syndicated TV network called TVN for beer magnate Joseph Coors, a rare professional failure, and after a long stint in political consulting and speechwriting for everyone from Nixon to Barbara Bush, he returned to the medium he loved to breathe life into CNBC, a then sleepy financial news network, before founding Fox News for Murdoch in 1996. From there, every step of the way, his political instincts have informed and shaped his subordinates’ news coverage.
Fox News took the concept of a popular and inexpensive medium, talk radio – Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and many of Fox’s other major draws over the years are seasoned and talented radio hosts – and turned it into attractively staged television, complete with a few reporters to provide only as much gravitas as necessary. It wasn’t news on the cheap, it was a new kind of entertainment, and one at which Ailes proved the master. Until Tuesday. Now the news he once showed such ability to control has spun him out the door.
How Roger Ailes Became the Most Powerful Man in TV News
T he media world reveres hackers and derides hacks, and although by the time of his Thursday dethroning as CEO of Fox News following allegations of sexual harassment Roger Ailes had come to seem something of the latter, he will shuffle off with riches and acclaim due to an unlikely run as the former.
21st Century Fox announced on Thursday that Ailes would step down as CEO of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, to be replaced on an interim basis by Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, Fox News’s parent company. The move came 15 days after Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, filed a lawsuit against Ailes alleging sexual harassment. A number of other women subsequently came forward with similar allegations spanning decades. The claims prompted Fox to retain the law firm Paul, Weiss to conduct an investigation, during which some 10 women reportedly came forward with stories about Mr. Ailes’ unwanted and inappropriate conduct, according to the New York Times. The prominent anchor Megyn Kelly reportedly told investigators that Ailes sexually harassed her when she was new to the network nearly 10 years ago.
Ailes has denied the allegations. 21st Century Fox’s announcement of Ailes’s departure did not mention the lawsuit. Spokespeople for the company did not immediately respond to TIME’s request to speak to Ailes.
Before turning Fox News into a cultural force used to advance a particular set of beliefs&ndashsome overt, such as the political views of its prime-time hosts, others somewhat more subtle, such as the stereotypically blond and coiffed look of its female hosts&ndashAiles recognized the power of television to shape political discourse. He had Marshall McLuhan’s grasp for the significance of the medium with Morton Downey Jr.’s taste for the tawdry. In a long career that ping-ponged between both politics and TV&mdashand in his run at Fox, erased any practical distinction between the two&mdashhe invented and reinvented himself too many times to count. He survived bumpy times in his disciplines and a shift in mass tastes, cultivating fierce loyalty and abiding fear among his staffers and elevating paranoia to a high art.
Ailes&rsquo first act sprung from the heartland. By age 27, the northeast Ohio native had become executive producer of The Mike Douglas Show, a gauzy &rsquo60s daytime chatfest that had gained a following on the air in Cleveland before syndication nationwide. As the legend goes, on one fateful 1968 day the show had booked then-Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon among other guests (though not, as some accounts have had it, a belly dancer and her snake). Nixon wound up chatting backstage with Ailes. Though the precise language of their interchange has taken several forms now decades later, Nixon said something along the lines of, “It’s a shame a man has to use gimmicks like television to get elected.&rdquo According to Ailes’ account of the event, he retorted something like, &ldquoTelevision is not a gimmick. And if you think it is, you’ll lose again.” Before too long, Ailes joined the campaign.
The popular accounting of the 1960 presidential race had credited Kennedy&rsquos upset of Nixon in part to the incumbent vice president&rsquos pallid unease on camera during the first of the debates. And so in &rsquo68, the young media consultant Ailes put Nixon in a series of town-hall-style commercials where he took questions from an audience of supposed regular people. (They had actually been rounded up from local Republican meetings.) About his client, Ailes told journalist Joe McGinniss for his book The Selling of the President 1968, &ldquoA lot of people think Nixon is dull. They look at him as the kind of kid who always carried a book bag, who was 42 years old the day he was born. They figure other kids got footballs for Christmas. Nixon got a briefcase and he loved it&hellip Now you put him on television, you&rsquove got a problem right away. He&rsquos a funny-looking guy&hellipThat’s why these shows are important: to make them forget all that.”
Ailes&rsquos signature insight: Television, by its very nature, caricatured everyone desperate or misfortunate enough to appear on its airwaves. Politicians could fall victim to that, or they could use it to their advantage. As he wrote in his 1988 book You Are The Message, &ldquoIf your audience likes you, they’ll forgive just about everything else you do wrong. If they don’t like you, you can hit every rule right on target and it doesn’t matter.&rdquo
Nixon would win a landslide electoral victory, and McGinniss&rsquos book became a bestseller upon its release in October 1969, with Ailes as its star. He had fashioned himself an image &hellip as the consummate image-fashioner. Though his on-the-record candor had raised eyebrows at the White House, he had not followed the Nixon crew to Pennsylvania Avenue, opting instead to produce a pair of short-lived talk shows and a shorter-lived Broadway musical while also consulting for a variety of Republicans (including Nixon). During one 1970 campaign, while advising underdog Robert Taft Jr. in an ultimately successful U.S. Senate bid from Ohio, Ailes gave the candidate a folded-up piece of paper before a debate, telling him to use it only if he needed it. Taft read the note and won the debate. It read simply: &ldquoKILL.&rdquo The musical&mdashMother Earth, a rock production about the ecological ravages of pollution&mdashdid not quite kill. It lasted 12 performances. Ailes had more success with The Hot l Baltimore, an off-Broadway play about the riff-raff, druggies and prostitutes living in a condemned hotel. Ailes made sure that one of the play’s promotional photographs featured an actress wearing only a towel, and he made sure to shoot it himself.
In the early 1980s, Ailes would pilot a number of successful senatorial campaigns, with some of his clients (Mitch McConnell, Dan Quayle, Al D&rsquoAmato) turning into big names after they arrived in Washington. He also landed a brief gig producing NBC&rsquos Tomorrow show with Tom Snyder, which aired each night after Johnny Carson. As would become his signature, Ailes pushed the show toward tabloid fare. He booked an interview with Charles Manson in his prison cell and attended himself. His efforts couldn&rsquot save Tomorrow and it was replaced by David Letterman.
But his electoral triumphs during the same period had helped to insinuate him in Ronald Reagan&rsquos reelection bid. It was Ailes who coached up the president after a lackluster performance in the first 1984 debate against Walter Mondale. As Gabriel Sherman recounts in his Ailes biography, The Loudest Voice in the Room, Reagan said he found himself hamstrung by needing to remember a litany of facts. Ailes responded: &ldquoYou know, Mr. President, the American people want you to be a leader and don&rsquot care whether you don&rsquot know a billion or a million, and we&rsquoll ensure going forward you won&rsquot have those big cram sessions.&rdquo
Ailes&rsquos biggest campaign would come in &rsquo88, when he was charged with selling Reagan&rsquos vice president George H.W. Bush. (That year TIME would dub Ailes &ldquoThe Dark Prince of Negative Advertising&hellip Falstaffian in his appetites for food, combat and attention.&rdquo) Sherman writes that Ailes told Bush to play Gary Cooper&mdashthe tough guy. Accordingly, Ailes coaxed Bush into squabbling on-air with CBS&rsquos Dan Rather and told him he could not under any circumstances wear short-sleeved shirts. Though Ailes has long denied any involvement in perhaps the most infamous maneuver from that campaign, a race-baiting ad blaming Michael Dukakis for the actions of felon Willie Horton, Ailes was quoted in TIME&rsquos story as eager to attack Dukakis on that front. &ldquoThe only question,&rdquo he said, &ldquois whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it.&rdquo
As after &rsquo68, Ailes did not follow his victorious client to the White House. But he kept his hand in Republican politics, assisting Rudy Giuliani on his losing mayoral bid in 1989, and producing ads for Big Tobacco front groups, e.g., Californians Against Unfair Tax Increases, which argued in a series of overheated negative ads that increased taxes on smokes would lead to smuggling and a wave of violent crime. Ailes’ ads failed to stop the tax increase. He also published his book, executive-produced his friend Rush Limbaugh&rsquos foray into syndicated television and invented an electoral-politics board game, &ldquoRisky Strategy.&rdquo And he remained voluble in the presence of reporters. He told the Chicago Tribune of President Clinton: “He’s not a bad guy. To be honest with you, if I wanted to go out on a Friday night drinking and looking for girls, I’d like to go with him.”
But Ailes began to change then, too. The portly maven&mdashwho used to joke that much of his girth was muscle&mdashdropped 40 pounds and shaved his signature goatee. Perhaps it was a concession to to his new corporate masters in 1993, General Electric brought him in to helm its fledgling cable business-news channel, CNBC, and to develop a chat-driven channel named America&rsquos Talking. Then again, Ailes did not turn entirely abstinent: When legendary G.E. CEO Jack Welch had bypass surgery and commanded the executive dining room&rsquos chefs to cook healthy food, Ailes reportedly said &ldquoI&rsquom not eating this crap,&rdquo and ordered a double cheeseburger and fries.
Cable news had been starved for a figure like Ailes. CNN had launched long before CNBC (and its erstwhile competitor, Financial News Network, which was folded in after a merger) and had achieved dominance by building a global footprint, vivifying the experience of reading a national newspaper. But outsize personalities had little place there. At CNBC, Ailes coined the slogan &ldquoFirst in business, first in talk.&rdquo He was the programmer behind Hardball with Chris Matthews. (Another programmer, Elizabeth Tilson, who held jobs at both channels would eventually become Ailes&rsquos third wife.)
America&rsquos Talking showed off Ailes’ freewheeling side. He brought in an old Mike Douglas hand as his deputy. The network boasted a series (Pork) devoted to exposing government waste, a psychologist-hosted show named Am I Nuts?, a call-in advice show with writer E. Jean Carroll, and an interview show, Straight Forward, hosted by Ailes himself. A clip from 1995 shows him wearing a paisley tie, attentively interviewing Judy Collins in a studio decorated like a college professor&rsquos study. Later Ailes chats with her when she&rsquos at the piano.
The channel, however, was about to fall through a trapdoor. America&rsquos Talking made it a year and a half before NBC brass, responding to favorable market conditions and aided by a $220 million investment from Microsoft, opted to turn the channel into MSNBC, a putative high-tech competitor to CNN. And shortly thereafter Ailes wound up at Fox. (His exit agreement, according to Sherman, included language that prohibited him from working for CNN, Dow Jones or Bloomberg. Rupert Murdoch&rsquos News Corp. was fair game.)
The format change was one thing that occasioned his arrival at Fox. So too did a feud with David Zaslav, then a rival executive in the NBC cable hierarchy and now the CEO of Discovery. Ailes was alleged to have called Zaslav an antisemitic slur, according to Sherman’s biography. Both men have denied it.
But the primary cause for Ailes&rsquos landing there was that it made so much sense. Murdoch had for his whole career approached the news with high spirits and irreverence. And Ailes was those qualities incarnate. The network&rsquos much-dissected political sensibilities may have more than anything else been means to an end.
&ldquoWe&rsquoll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up,&rdquo Welch reportedly told a top lieutenant upon the unveiling of Fox News. That day, Jan. 30, 1996, was 7,478 days before the day when Ailes exited the top job. Under Murdoch&rsquos supervision, Ailes presided over an increasingly successful business at a time when more traditional news outlets were fighting ratings declines and revenue shortfalls. And among Ailes’ creations at Fox was a series of outsize stars, the women among whom all had a particular look and affect, and whose appearance was fair game for on-air conversation. The future of Fox News is now unclear, but certain is that among Ailes’ tangled legacy will be a culture tainted by what some women say is decades of sexual harassment. In the end&mdashduring the same week that the party that revered and feared Ailes crumbled in Cleveland&mdashhis creation proved his undoing.
Roger Ailes' Wife, Beth Ailes, Stood By His Side Until His Death
Connie Britton plays her in the upcoming movie, Bombshell.
You've probably heard of Bombshell by now: The new movie starring Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie, and Nicole Kidman that tells the story of the fall of former chairman and CEO of Fox News and Fox Television Stations, Roger Ailes. He was forced out of the media company in July 2016 after numerous women at the network came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against him. (You can read a step-by-step account of his downfall here.)
During the scandal, the one person who continually stood by his side was his wife of 20 years, Elizabeth Ailes. Here, everything you need to know about Ailes and her relationship with her husband.
The couple met at work.
Roger and Elizabeth met at CNBC when she was a programming executive and he was in charge of the channel. "Ailes seemed &lsquoinfatuated&rsquo with the Marilyn Monroe look-alike," a former CNBC executive said in a New York Magazine article from 1997, referring to Elizabeth.
In 1998, the couple was married by then-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani at City Hall. She was 37, and he was 58 at the time. Two years later, their son Zachary was born.
She has experience in the media industry.
Much like her partner, Elizabeth has a background in media. She received a journalism degree from Southern Connecticut State University. She started at NBC News Radio after graduation and then was a booker and researcher for NBC News at Sunrise and Before Hours, according to her website.
Roger became the CEO of Fox News in 1996 and left CNBC due to a conflict between him and another executive. Before leaving, Elizabeth was promoted to Vice President of Programming at America's Talking, which is now known as MSNBC.
In 2008, the couple bought the Putnam County Courier and the Putnam Country News and Recorder newspapers. Elizabeth was named owner and publisher for both publications and was said to have "the same kind of aggressiveness that Roger Ailes used on a larger stage" when she was running them, according to Vanity Fair.
Elizabeth sold both of the newspapers in December 2016 to Editor-in-Chief Douglas Cunningham just six months after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger.
She stood by him during the sexual harassment accusations.
During the lawsuit that sparked Roger's $40 million resignation from Fox News, Elizabeth stood by her husband.
According to New York Magazine, after Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly declined to stand by Roger during the lawsuit, Elizabeth suggested to the Fox News PR team to "release racy photos of Kelly published years ago in GQ Magazine as a way of discrediting her." It didn't end up happening since her request was turned down. "This is not about money," she reportedly said. "This is about his legacy."
It appears that Elizabeth did not know anything about her husband's behavior throughout the years. Sources say that she was "taking all of the revelations especially hard," as rumors swarmed of a possible divorce considering she was living in New York and he was residing in Florida.
The couple did, however, stay married until Roger's death in May 2018. He died of hemophilia, which is said to have been triggered by when he fell and hit his head in his Florida home days prior.
She made sure Fox News didn't report on Ailes' death first.
To ensure Fox News would not be the one to break the news of his death, Elizabeth emailed Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report writing, "I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning. Roger was a loving husband to me, to his son Zachary and a loyal friend to many. He was also a patriot, profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise, and to give back. During a career that stretched over more than five decades, his work in entertainment, in politics, and in news affected the lives of many millions. And so even as we mourn his death, we celebrate his life."
She keeps to herself these days.
Elizabeth has mainly stayed hidden from any kind of spotlight since 2016. She keeps to herself at her home in Palm Beach, Florida with her son Zachary. Sometimes Ailes will tweet photos of Roger or their son from an unverified account, or post on her blog. According to her website, she's now involved with non-profit organizations that primarily focus on social welfare and workforce development.
You can watch the trailer for Bombshell, below:
Bombshell premieres in theaters everywhere December 20, 2019.
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