“Ailes is the most successful executive in television by a wide margin, and he has been so for more than a decade. He is also, in a sense, the head of the Republican Party, having employed five prospective presidential candidates and done perhaps more than anyone to alter the balance of power in the national media in favor of the Republicans.”
Roger Ailes, 71 this year, is Fox News’ American Chairman, in charge of all content on America’s dominant right-wing news channel. He’s a skilled political operator, having worked on the campaigns of Richard Nixon, Ronald Regan, and George Bush snr. But with the support of Rupert Murdoch, he created Fox News in 1996 – and since then, he’s been able to set the political agenda, rather than just managing it. Two extraordinary essays on Fox’s grand vizier have come out this month, and both are well worth the read.
The latest issue of Rolling Stone carries a profile of Ailes by Tim Dickinson, headed ‘How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory’. It’s a thoroughly readable piece of longform journalism, tracing Ailes’ career from small-time actor, to broadway star, then media and political advisor for some of America’s most conservative Commanders-in-Chief, before his final form – as all-controlling Chairman of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing opinionmaker Fox News. Allegations include Ailes considers himself an al Quada target, and lives in a bomb-proof office with bullet-proof windows.
How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory
Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone, 25 May 2011
Gabriel Sherman’s article, in the New Yorker, hits the same notes (the quote that leads this post comes from here), but also details the messy internal politics that Ailes maintains to keep his grip on power. One commentator calls it “one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time”.
Sherman perhaps more accurately skewers Ailes’ need to control the narrative. Ailes fills Fox News with ‘presidents in waiting’ – Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum all have their own shows. While a Fox News anchorchair is viewed as Ailes giving his preferred candidates free publicity for their views, it also allows Ailes to control the narrative – the candidates are portrayed in the way he wants them to be portrayed. He is entirely in control.
Also facinating is Ailes’ relationship with his star pupil, Glenn Beck. Sherman’s article starts with Beck’s firing from the network at the hand of Ailes, who feels he has lost control of Beck and therefore the narrative. And Beck is sucking oxygen away from the people Ailes ultimately wants the public watching – his candidates.
Ailes’ gamesmanship, as both Dickinson and Sherman record it, is unbelievable. Ailes built the Tea Party up into a rightwing, ultra conservative force that helped sweep Democrats from Congress. But in the aftermath of the 2011 Tucson shooting, in which Democrat Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot by a man linked in the public mind with Fox News, Ailes has had no hesitation in directing his team to tone down their coverage. Now, much of the heat has been taken out of the Tea Party; those interviewed in Sherman’s article seem confident Ailes has something up his sleeve to replace them.
Gabriel Sherman, The New Yorker, 22 May 2011
Ailes has now responded to the articles, which he describes as “fantasy” and “fiction”. Speaking to The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz (@howardkurtz), Ailes argues that he’s the reasonable one – and that he’d hire Hillary Clinton if he had the chance.
Howard Kurtz, The Daily Beast, 5 June 2011
The view from the Twittersphere
Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein points out Kurtz’ article gives Ailes a free ride in rebutting Dickinson’s allegations, but does little to press the Chairman further on their truthfulness.