Roger Ailes, RIP

Fox News founder offered an alternative to the old-line establishment media.

“Roger Ailes, who built Fox News into a cable powerhouse before leaving the company last year, died Thursday morning at the age of 77,” Fox News reported yesterday. “The Ohio-born television pioneer was a confidante of presidents and an acknowledged master of communications. He founded Fox News in 1996 and built it into the nation's long-running No. 1 cable news network.” 

The Fox report quoted Rupert Murdoch, that “Roger and I shared a big idea which he executed in a way no one else could have. In addition, Roger was a great patriot who never ceased fighting for his beliefs.”

In similar style, Fox news host Sean Hannity tweeted that America had lost “one of its great patriotic warriors,” a man who “dramatically and forever changed the political and the media landscape, single-handedly for the better.” Roger Ailes’ competitors had a somewhat different take.

For CNN, “Ailes was a legendary and complicated figure. He was bold, brilliant and charming -- but also profane, intimidating and worse.” Under Ailes, “Fox News promoted Republican candidates and causes and relentlessly attacked what it perceived to be liberal bias in the mainstream media and the entertainment industry.” 

So according to this outfit, founded by Ted Turner in 1980, liberal bias is simply the perception of those, “on the right wing of American politics.” How Mr. Ailes could have built Fox News into a “ratings powerhouse” if the bias was only a perception is not explained. The CNN report devoted attention to the sexual harassment accusations that forced Ailes out last year, citing Gretchen Carlson’s charge that “there had been at least six instances when Ailes talked about her body.” Ailes denied all wrongdoing.

CBS news frontloaded the sexual charges in its report on the death of  Ailes, who “created a toxic culture at the network where sexual harassment was permitted.” CBS cited the allegation of Andrea Tantaros that Fox News was “steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.”

Early in its report, the New York Times noted that Ailes was “a hemophiliac long plagued by obesity and arthritis.” The report cited Ailes’ observation that “If we look conservative it’s because the other guys are so far to the left.” Ailes mocked CNN as the “Clinton News Network” and CBS as the “Communist Broadcasting System.”

Under Ailes, according to the New York Times, Fox News “did its share of straightforward reporting but also unmistakably filtered major news stories through a conservative lens.” The brand was “dominated by right-wing commentators like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, who hurled opinions and vented resentments with a pugnacity that reflected their boss’s own combativeness.” Even so, the Times was not going to argue with Mr. Ailes’ success.

“In January 2002, barely five years after its birth, Fox passed the well-established CNN as the most-watched cable news network.” At the end of Ailes’ tenure, “the network had an average daily viewership of 2 million, more than CNN and the left-leaning MSNBC combined.” So the competitors only “leaned” left and Ailes’ faithful audience was “skewed white, male and old, the median age approaching 70,” all assumed to be defects, a belch of bigotry typical of the old-line establishment media.

On the other hand, the Times put the sexual accusations lower in the story, and closed out by noting that “dozens of seasoned NBC employees” gladly joined Ailes at Fox. Overall, the New York Times’ report was more fair and balanced than most. 

On MSNBC, Chris Matthews said Ailes was successful because he created the kind of news network he wanted to watch, like a sports fan. In this view, offering an alternative to leftist bias had nothing to do with Ailes’ success. MSNBS’s Joe Scarborough likened Roger Ailes to Steve Jobs in terms of influence. While alluding to the “dark side of his character,” Scarborough recalled how Ailes would ignore the big-shot news anchors and take pains to thank the cameramen for their good work.

Born in Warren, Ohio, in 1940, Roger Ailes majored in radio and television at Ohio University. He launched his career in Cleveland and worked his way up to become producer of “The Mike Douglas Show,” where he encountered guest Richard Nixon. Once convinced of the influence of television, Nixon duly hired Ailes, who is profiled in Joe McGinnis’ 1968 The Selling of the President.

In 1988 Ailes authored You Are the Message: Getting What You Want by Being Who You Are, surely worth a second look. His great success made him the target for Gabriel Sherman’s 2014 The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News--and Divided a Country. Apparently, before Ailes built Fox News everybody in the country was of the same mind. In this book Ailes, while at NBC, reportedly offered a female producer an extra $100 a week to have sex with him “whenever I want.” Ailes denied all that, and his life and achievements surely deserve a better book.

After all, Douglas Brinkley wrote Cronkite (2012), a full 819 pages about a CBS talking head who issued false dispatches as a war correspondent, bugged the meetings of Republican candidates, and claimed that the USSR “wasn’t ever a dangerous threat.” Perhaps that sort of blindness prompted Roger Ailes to brand CBS the Communist Broadcasting System.

As Roger Ailes departs, the left screams through the old-line media that Vladimir Putin’s Russia won the 2016 election for Donald Trump. In this tale, the result had nothing to do with a shrill, corrupt, Hillary Clinton, a serial liar and vast-right-wing-conspiracy theorist. As Secretary of State, Clinton gave the Russians virtually everything they wanted, and FBI boss James Comey let her off the hook for an unsecured server and 30,000 deleted emails. But Clinton lost only because Russia won the election for Trump.

It’s the greatest fake news since Stalin’s apologist, Walter Duranty of the New York Times, told the world there was no famine in Ukraine in 1932-33. In reality, Stalin planned the famine, which claimed more than a million lives, one of the worst atrocities of all time. As Roger Ailes knew, the old-line establishment media has always been unfair, unbalanced, and afraid of the truth.