Lessons from one of the best media moguls of all time for one of the worst presidents in modern history.
As CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR agency, I am well aware that personal relationships are vital. Interpersonal skills, relationships and chemistry matter tremendously in business, politics, and in life. History demonstrates occurrences where relationships have changed the course of history, for example, how the personal bond between Roosevelt and Churchill helped end the Second World War.
While disagreements and even fights are inevitable, personal relationships generally can predict a better outcome. In places of power, one can often witness strange bedfellows. President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton are very close personal friends. Russian President Vladimir Putin and former President George W. Bush had a mutual respect and considered one another friends, despite repeated political differences. And while the mantra of the left claims that Democrats are nicer and more accepting than Republicans, the facts are often very different. In fact, multiple studies indicate that liberals are often considerably less charitable than conservatives.
With the importance of inter-personnel relationships, an interesting study can be made examining the relationships of two very powerful people and organizations – President Barack Obama, representing the liberal left, and Roger Ailes on Fox News representing the conservatives.
One of the foremost selling points of Obama was supposedly that he would improve America’s standing in the world and improve relationships that the United States holds worldwide. And in the midst of Obama failing to secure any worldwide support for military action in Syria after the G-12 Summit, it is telling that in addition to being a terrible leader, the man has awful interpersonal skills. Obama and Putin have the worst personal relationship between US and Russian — perhaps even US and Soviet — leaders in history. Putin does not trust, or like Obama; he is very clear about it. Even worse, Putin does not fear Obama, as can be seen from the Snowden affair, and now many other issues as well. His disrespect would clearly not be this profound had he had any chemistry with Obama. (Compare that with Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, whose relationship remained intact despite repeated political crises).
As a front-page article last year in The New York Times noted, President Obama fails miserably at personal relationships. The article said: “The tensions between Mr. Obama and the Gulf states, both American and Arab diplomats say, derive from an Obama character trait: he has not built many personal relationships with foreign leaders. ‘He’s not good with personal relationships; that’s not what interests him,’ said one United States diplomat. “But in the Middle East, those relationships are essential. The lack of them deprives DC of the ability to influence leadership decisions.” Of course, Obama’s Middle East foreign policy– from Benghazi to Egypt – has failed miserably. Both sides of the conflict in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere are against Obama.
Obama publicly lectured China’s President Xi Jinping (who hit back) about China’s disputes with its neighbors. The concept of speaking privately doesn’t exist for Obama (except when he whispers to Russian leaders about his ability to be more lenient in his 2nd term).
Obama even manages to alienate close American allies. As UK media has highlighted in the last few weeks, “The special relationship is over,” in referring to the long-term partnership between the US and the UK. Obama has been insulting and disrespectful to Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and critical of Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai and many others.
As legendary journalist Bob Woodward noted, Obama has no personal relationships with political leaders – Senators or Congressmen – in either party. In addition to being ineffective, he is simply not likeable. There is not a single country with better relations – politically or personally – with America than when Obama took office.
Compare Obama’s behavior and interpersonal skills with Roger Ailes, who created Fox News, the most influential American news station. Ailes, whom Obama once called “the most powerful man in America,” is a study in decency, success and leadership, as one can learn from multiple sources, including Zev Chafets’ unauthorized biography “Roger Ailes: Off Camera.”
Ailes prides himself as a “blue-blood,” a self-made man who values honesty, loyalty, who was followed by more than eighty employees when he left CNBC. Ailes works hard and demands excellence from his employees; noteworthy are the many interpersonal relationships the fierce, right-wing conservative maintains with people he doesn’t agree with. He has had a longstanding, close personal relationship for more than 40 years with Barbara Walters, and a good friendship with uber-liberal Rachel Maddow. He is close with the Kennedy family for many years, and Chris Cuomo says Ailes is a “brilliant teacher” and someone he considers a close friend with whom he discusses personal and professional challenges and problems. Jesse Jackson and uber-liberal Congressman Dennis Kucinich are friends who trust and respect Ailes.
Tom Johnson was head of CNN when CNN & Fox had bitter battles, and has been quoted as saying, “I enjoyed my personal relationship with Roger Ailes.” It has been noted that they quietly collaborated on matters of mutual importance. Something, once again, Obama could probably learn a ton about. Another former head of CNN, Rick Kaplan, said, “The truth is in our business he is admired – I love Roger Ailes.”
Ailes has an employee rulebook with some simple rules that Mr. Obama could learn a lot from, including now with the Syria communications crisis: “Nothing is more important than giving your word and keeping it. Don’t blame others for your mistakes.” Simple, Ailes prizes loyalty and honesty. More values which Obama can learn. Perhaps Obama can also learn from Ailes on foreign policy. Ailes said, “Strength breeds peace. Nobody walks into a bar and picks a fight with the toughest looking guy in the place.”
Obama and Ailes had an exchange in 2008 when they met in Manhattan about Obama’s concerns over how Fox was covering him in the media. As reported in “Roger Ailes: Off Camera,”
Ailes told Obama he was concerned about Obama’s strength on national-security issues. The candidate assured Ailes that he had nothing to worry about. “Well, why are you going around talking about making cuts in weapons systems?” asked Ailes. “If you’re going to cut, why not at least negotiate them and get something in return?” Obama said that Ailes had been misinformed; he was not advocating unilateral cuts. “He said this looking me right in the eyes,” says Ailes. “He never dropped his gaze, which is the usual tell. It was as good a lie as anyone ever told me. I said, ‘Senator, I just watched someone say exactly that on my computer screen before coming over here. Maybe it wasn’t you, but it sure looked like you and sounded like you. I think it was you.
While Fox News is more watched and more profitable than all the other cable networks put together, Obama has harmed America immensely with his inept conduct. From foreign policy to economics to American honor, America has never been at a lower point politically, and it continues to be mired in the worst economic depression since the Great Depression.
Of course, since his election, Obama, the most powerful man in the world, has consistently portrayed himself as the underdog, whether blaming failure on President Bush or someone else. Roger Ailes has a different view on responsibility, saying “If you run into people who are negative, and always telling you that the cat got ran over, and you couldn't get the car started and you've got a cold, the suits are idiots and life isn't fair, you know, you need to get away from those people because they will suck you under and hold you down and drown you.”
The President is at fault for talking too much and not doing enough. He is failing miserably with people at all levels and with what needs to be done. While being President of the United States is nothing like being a President of a media organization, it should be noted that Ailes is the most successful television executive of all-time, and Obama is arguably the worst President in modern history. Obama shall leave behind a legacy of disaster.
Obama should watch and learn more from Fox News – perhaps he can improve as President of the United States of America.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.