Roger Ailes

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“He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote in 1994 in an appropriately punishing postmortem of our disgraced 37th President. “Nixon was so crooked,” he continued, “that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.”

That we’ve found someone who’s far more devious, dishonest and disloyal to occupy the Oval Office is the shame of our time, even if that chastening emotion is in short supply these days. How did we get here?

The reasons are many, but a key architect of this craven and cancerous age was Roger Ailes, a former Nixon media adviser who became Fox News capo, employing unbridled cynicism and vindictiveness to breed a virus that infected the nation, mainstreaming conspiracy theories, alternative facts and bigotry. Was Ailes truly a prejudiced gutter dweller who aimed to divide and destroy our country? Who cares. We are what we pretend to be.

Like Trump, the Worst American™, who’d have been behind bars decades ago in any just society, Ailes would have been swiftly kicked from the corporate suite were it not for the privilege of males with white skin and collars who possess big egos and few morals. That advantage, the decentralization of media and the Reagan Era demolition of the Fairness Doctrine made possible his corrosive career.

Another reason he was tolerated is that success is usually celebrated in America regardless of the means used to attain it.

A fall and a blood clot ended Ailes’ life just months after his Fox reign of terror concluded when a torrent of sexual harassment allegations finally proved too much even for the Murdochs, a ghastly family who enjoy well-appointed lives in penthouses many floors above the despair they create. In a Rolling Stone postmortem, Matt Taibbi chucks Ailes’ remains into a burning Dumpster. His opening:

On the Internet today you will find thousands, perhaps even millions, of people gloating about the death of elephantine Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The happy face emojis are getting a workout on Twitter, which is also bursting with biting one-liners.When I mentioned to one of my relatives that I was writing about the death of Ailes, the response was, “Say that you hope he’s reborn as a woman in Saudi Arabia.”

Ailes has no one but his fast-stiffening self to blame for this treatment. He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America’s vicious and bloodthirsty character.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we’re that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans’ worst fantasies about each other.

Like many con artists, he reflexively targeted the elderly – “I created a TV network for people from 55 to dead,” he told Joan Walsh – where he saw billions could be made mining terrifying storylines about the collapse of the simpler America such viewers remembered, correctly or (more often) incorrectly, from their childhoods.

In this sense, his Fox News broadcasts were just extended versions of the old “ring around the collar” ad – scare stories about contagion. Wisk was pitched as the cure for sweat stains creeping onto your crisp white collar; Fox was sold as the cure for atheists, feminists, terrorists and minorities crawling over your white picket fence.•

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There’s no way any high-ranking official at Fox News was unaware of the alleged behavior of Roger Ailes, who’s been accused by a Cosby-ish number of women of serial sexual harassment and abuse, and also of using spies to collect information on supposed enemies. This scandal runs wide and deep, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if other prominent names resigned for “new opportunities.”

It’s strange Fox has at best an ambiguous relationship with the current GOP candidate Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch supposedly loathes him, while on-air personality Sean Hannity, the dimwitted equipment manager of a lacrosse team serving a suspension, thinks Republicans who punt on supporting Mussolini with moobs are in dereliction of duty. 

That’s an odd half-heartedness because apart from the leaders of the party, who for decades used coded racist language and encouraged conspiracy theories until the GOP did a backstroke across the toilet, no entity has more enabled Trump than Fox, the logical conclusion of its support of an anti-science, whites-first party. Along with gerrymandering, Murdoch’s “news-entertainment” outlet helped protect the GOP as it drifted further and further into dangerous waters, prepared it for the mutineers, captained by the hideous hotelier.

In a smart Vanity Fair “Hive” piece, Sarah Ellison examines the mood at Fox in the wake of the tyrant’s deposition, with the fog of fear still permeating and the statues yet to be toppled. Her opening:

Few people in the news business have valued secrecy quite like Roger Ailes, the former C.E.O. of Fox News. Ailes’s very own corner office on the second floor of 21st Century Fox’s glass and steel headquarters, in Midtown Manhattan, featured a solid wood door that prevented anyone on the outside from peering in. Visitors had to be buzzed in by Ailes or an assistant. They were also captured on-camera, their image projected to a monitor on Ailes’s desk.

Many assumed that such secrecy was a vestige of Ailes’s formative years advising Richard Nixon. Now, it appears that it may have run deeper. Last month, former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against Ailes for sexual harassment—an event that ushered in a litany of former colleagues with similar stories. Weeks later, Ailes resigned. (Ailes has fervently denied all allegations. His lawyer, Susan Estrich, reiterated those denials. A spokesperson for 21st Century Fox also declined to comment for this piece.)

Ailes’s second-floor office now stands empty. Floors below it, in Fox News’s subterranean newsroom, a former Sam Goody retail outlet, staffers are still coming to terms with the rollicking events of the past month. During periods of crisis, reporters and producers tend to bury their heads in their stories, rallying around one another in their commitment to their work. But there is only one topic on people’s minds at Fox News these days: Ailes.

Sentiment in the newsroom is generally split between those who proclaim surprise (particularly regarding the sheer number of women who have alleged that Ailes harassed them) and those who feel professional relief—not all of them women. Ailes was gender-blind when it came to relentlessly pushing his talking points and admonishing those who did not follow along. Still, others said they remain fearful that even discussing Ailes at all could result in some form of punishment.•

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In his just-published New York magazine column, “Stop Beating a Dead Fox,” Frank Rich states the obvious in saying that Fox News actually hurts the GOP and the great majority of its viewers are likely taking medication that may cause weakness, insomnia, dizziness, chest pain, peripheral edema, rash, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, dyspepsia, flatulence, nausea, urinary tract infection, arthralgia, myalgia, back pain, arthritis, sinusitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis, rhinitis, infection, flu-like syndrome and allergic reaction. But, oh, how he states it. Just one paragraph:

“It was the right call. For all its ratings prowess and fat profits, Fox, like the GOP itself, is under existential threat in a fast-changing 21st-century America. Indeed, Megyn Kelly, the latest blonde star in an Ailes stable that seems to emulate Hitchcock’s leading-lady predilections in looks and inchoate malevolence, was promoted to her prime-time perch last year precisely to bring in a younger, less monochromatic audience. It’s a mission that neither she nor any other on-camera talent can accomplish. All three cable-news networks are hemorrhaging young viewers (as are their network-news counterparts) in an era when television is hardly the news medium of choice for Americans raised online and on smartphones. But Fox News is losing younger viewers at an even faster rate than its competitors. With a median viewer age now at 68 according to Nielsen data through mid-January (compared with 60 for MSNBC and CNN, and 62 to 64 for the broadcast networks), Fox is in essence a retirement community.”

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If anyone is wondering why that bastion of truthiness and GOP propaganda outlet Fox News misled its viewers so willfully during the Presidential election, it’s because the channel’s profits, not conservatism, is its chief concern. Of course. From a Vanity Fair excerpt of Zev Chafets’ new book about faux journalist Roger Ailes, a passage in which he discusses his bottom-line bromance with News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch. An excerpt:

“Ailes and Rupert Murdoch are very respectful of each other. Ailes credits Murdoch with realizing that there was a niche audience (‘half the country,’ as Charles Krauthammer, a Fox contributor, drily put it) for a cable news network with a conservative perspective. Murdoch, for his part, assured me that he doesn’t dictate editorial decisions. ‘I defer to Roger,’ he said. ‘I have ideas that Roger can accept or not. As long as things are going well … ‘

One moment of tension occurred in 2010, when Matthew Freud, the husband of Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth and a powerful British public-relations executive, told The New York Times that ‘I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder, and every other global media business aspires to.’ A spokesman for Murdoch replied that his son-in-law had been speaking for himself, and that Murdoch was ‘proud of Roger Ailes and Fox News.’ Ailes mocked Freud in an interview in the Los Angeles Times, saying he couldn’t pick the British flack out of a lineup and suggesting that he (a descendant of Sigmund Freud’s) ‘needed to see a psychiatrist.’

Murdoch often drops by Ailes’s office to joke and gossip about politics. ‘Roger and I have a close personal friendship,’ he told me. Ailes agrees—up to a point.

‘Does Rupert like me? I think so, but it doesn’t matter. When I go up to the magic room in the sky every three months, if my numbers are right, I get to live. If not, I’m killed. Our relationship isn’t about love—it’s about arithmetic. Survival means hitting your numbers.'”

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"He thinks things are going in a bad direction."

FromThe Elephant in the Green Room,” Gabriel Sherman’s just-published New York magazine piece about FOX News honcho Roger Ailes, a ghastly man whose face looks as if it should be attached the hull of a ship:

“So it must have been disturbing to Ailes when the wheels started to come off Fox’s presidential-circus caravan. (Coincidentally or not, this happened more or less when Donald Trump jumped on: ‘They like me on the network,’ Trump told me. ‘I get ratings.’) The problem wasn’t that ratings had been slipping that much—Beck’s show declined by 30 percent from record highs, but the ratings were still nearly double those from before he joined the network. It was that, with an actual presidential election on the horizon, the Fox candidates’ poll numbers remain dismally low (Sarah Palin is polling 12 percent; Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively). Ailes’s candidates-in- waiting were coming up small. And, for all his programming genius, he was more interested in a real narrative than a television narrative—he wanted to elect a president. All he had to do was watch Fox’s May 5 debate in South Carolina to see what a mess the field was—a mess partly created by the loudmouths he’d given airtime to and a tea party he’d nurtured. And, not incidentally, a strong Republican candidate would be good for his business, too. A few months ago, Ailes called Chris Christie and encouraged him to jump into the race. Last summer, he’d invited Christie to dinner at his upstate compound along with Rush Limbaugh, and like much of the GOP Establishment, he fell hard for Christie, who nevertheless politely turned down Ailes’s calls to run. Ailes had also hoped that David Petraeus would run for president, but Petraeus too has decided to sit this election out, choosing to stay on the counterterrorism front lines as the head of Barack Obama’s CIA. The truth is, for all the antics that often appear on his network, there is a seriousness that underlies Ailes’s own politics. He still speaks almost daily with George H. W. Bush, one of the GOP’s last great moderates, and a war hero, which especially impresses Ailes.

All the 2012 candidates know that Ailes is a crucial constituency. ‘You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger,’ one GOPer told me. ‘Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.’ But he hasn’t found any of them, including the adults in the room—Jon Huntsman, Mitch Daniels, Mitt Romney—compelling. ‘He finds flaws in every one,’ says a person familiar with his thinking.

‘He thinks things are going in a bad direction,’ another Republican close to Ailes told me. ‘Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of Obama is a disaster. He thinks Palin is an idiot. He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.'”

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