Roger Ailes and a Soundtrack of Barnyard Animals, Bleating
Here are a few quotes, and a few thoughts, on “Bad News,” Jill LePore's New Yorker piece on FOX News president Roger Ailes, as Gabriel Sherman's tell-all book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” gets ready to go on sale:
Roger Ailes was born in Warren, Ohio, in 1940. He has hemophilia, which didn’t stop his father from beating him with an electrical cord. A story Ailes has told—“his Rosebud story,” according to Stephen Rosenfield, who worked with Ailes in the nineteen-seventies—is about a lesson he learned in his bedroom as a boy. His father, holding out his arms, told him to jump off the top bunk and then deliberately failed to catch him, saying, “Don’t ever trust anybody.”
Ailes became a wunderkind producer of “The Mike Douglas Show,” met Nixon in '67, helped him get elected in '68, etc., etc. Then we get this:
In the nineteen-eighties, Ailes’s politics grew more conservative, as did the G.O.P. Between 1980 and 1986, Ailes helped get thirteen Republican senators and eight members of Congress elected, including Dan Quayle and Mitch McConnell. He also played a crucial role in the Presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He urged Reagan to disarm Walter Mondale in debate by promising not to make age an issue. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” Reagan said. Ailes calmed Bush’s nerves before his first debate against Michael Dukakis. “If you get in trouble out there, just call him an animal fucker,” Ailes whispered. According to a team of reporters from Newsweek, Ailes had proposed an ad, which never ran, called “Bestiality.” It would have featured a screen of text—“In 1970, Governor Michael Dukakis introduced legislation in Massachusetts to repeal the ban on sodomy and bestiality”—shown over a soundtrack of barnyard animals, bleating.
The brunt of the piece is comparing Ailes to yellow journalist (and inspiration for Charles Foster Kane) William Randoph Hearst, who was often accused of being a Fascist. (LePore: “This charge derived, in part, from the fact that Hearst had professed his admiration for Hitler and Mussolini.”) In the 1930s, Hearst tried to preempt an unauthorized, negative biography with the authorized postive kind, just as Ailes is doing today. LePore, a history professor at Yale, thinks this is pointless since history will decide. But she also thinks it's pointless to attack Ailes as it was to attack Hearst. The problem isn't Ailes' FOX; it's the people who watch Ailes' FOX.
“The audience he craves he also hates,” LePore says of Kane, which could also mean Hearst, which could also mean Ailes. It's not a bad avenue of exploration for FOX haters. At the least, there is in the typical FOX line a condemnation of its audience, most of whom, after all, aren't millionaires or job creators. They're people watching TV in the middle of the day.
LePore reminds us that Ailes might not be doing his cause any good, either. During the heyday of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine, Republicans won 7 of 10 presidential elections, but since its repeal by Reagan's anti-regulation forces in 1987, and the rise of Rush Limbaugh and FOX-News and et al., they've gone 3-4.
“I left politics a number of years ago,” Roger Ailes said when he took over FOX in 1996. “We expect to do fine, balanced journalism.”