Baron Roger Ailes
Rolling Stone put out a fantastic piece yesterday on Roger Ailes. Much of it is already pretty well-known, but there were some fascinating insights into just how depraved and pathetic the guy really is.
In the fable Ailes tells about his own life, he made a clean break with his dirty political past long before 1996, when he joined forces with Murdoch to launch Fox News. “I quit politics,” he has claimed, “because I hated it.” But an examination of his career reveals that Ailes has used Fox News to pioneer a new form of political campaign – one that enables the GOP to bypass skeptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion. The network, at its core, is a giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism.
The result is one of the most powerful political machines in American history. One that plays a leading role in defining Republican talking points and advancing the agenda of the far right. Fox News tilted the electoral balance to George W. Bush in 2000, prematurely declaring him president in a move that prompted every other network to follow suit. It helped create the Tea Party, transforming it from the butt of late-night jokes into a nationwide insurgency capable of electing U.S. senators. Fox News turbocharged the Republican takeover of the House last fall, and even helped elect former Fox News host John Kasich as the union-busting governor of Ohio – with the help of $1.26 million in campaign contributions from News Corp. And by incubating a host of potential GOP contenders on the Fox News payroll– including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – Ailes seems determined to add a fifth presidential notch to his belt in 2012. “Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he’s now doing 24/7 with his network,” says a former News Corp. executive. “It’s come full circle.”
Fear is what powers the infernal machine of Fox Nooze. Ailes rules his domain like a petty tyrant, consumed by his own hatred and fear. His deep paranoia has him convinced that Al Qaeda is actively pursuing him, and keeps a small army of body guards around him at all times. His cowardice has caused him to turn his New York office into a bunker, and buy up all the houses surrounding his own to keep his imagined enemies at bay.
Barricading himself behind a massive mahogany desk, Ailes insisted on having “bombproof glass” installed in the windows – even going so far as to personally inspect samples of high-tech plexiglass, as though he were picking out new carpet. Looking down on the street below, he expressed his fears to Cooper, the editor he had tasked with up-armoring his office. “They’ll be down there protesting,” Ailes said. “Those gays.”
Inside his blast-resistant office at Fox News headquarters, Ailes keeps a monitor on his desk that allows him to view any activity outside his closed door. Once, after observing a dark-skinned man in what Ailes perceived to be Muslim garb, he put Fox News on lockdown. “What the hell!” Ailes shouted. “This guy could be bombing me!” The suspected terrorist turned out to be a janitor. “Roger tore up the whole floor,” recalls a source close to Ailes. “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim – which is consistent with the ideology of his network.”
Indeed every aspect of his character seems to flow from his deep loathing of “the other” and any who rise to their defense. A sad, shell of a man who, despite his money and power, is consumed with fear.
In his professional life, Ailes has achieved great monetary success, yet he’s nothing more than a One-trick Pony.
While working for Nixon, he produced staged “news” events with pre-screened soft-ball questions asked by a friendly crowd whom he lovingly referred to as “an applause machine”. He stoked the anger of white southerners against the equal rights movement and worked tirelessly to paint Nixon as the protector of “White America”. This came to be known as “The Southern Strategy”
He then worked at a conservative TV network called TVN that produced right-wing news clips to be used by local outlets without credit for a fraction of the cost of doing their own reports. It was a pure propaganda operation that was bankrolled by beer mogul Joseph Coors. Their stated goal was to inject “our philosophy in the news”, and even produced pieces for the government under the Ford administration for a time. Their slogan of course was “Fair and Balanced”.
While working for George H. W. Bush, Ailes once again returned to his staged “news” events by setting up a live interview with Dan Rather during which he sat off camera with cue cards directing Bush on how to answer. He was also responsible for one of the most notorious race-baiting ads of modern politics, the “Willie Horton” ad.
His dirtiest move came during the general election – a TV ad centering on Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who had escaped from a Massachusetts prison during a weekend furlough when Michael Dukakis was governor and later assaulted a couple, stabbing the man and raping the woman. “The only question,” Ailes bragged to a reporter, “is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand – or without it.”
Knowing that such an overt move could backfire on the campaign, Ailes instead opted to evoke Horton by showing a line of convicts entering and exiting a prison through a revolving door of prison bars. An early take of the ad used actual prisoners. “Roger and I looked at it, and we worried there were too many blacks in the prison scene,” campaign manager Lee Atwater later admitted. So Ailes reshot the ad to zero in on a single black prisoner – sporting an unmistakably Horton-esque Afro. The campaign also benefited from a supposedly “independent” ad that exuberantly paraded Horton’s mug shot. The ad was crafted by Larry McCarthy – a former senior vice president at Ailes Communications Inc.
Now if all of this sounds familiar to you, it should. This is what Roger Ailes’ Fox Nooze does 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Fake “news” events, loaded questions, scripted dialog, blatant race-baiting, baseless smears, and outright lies. It’s all there. That’s the thing about Roger, he’s not terribly smart or creative, he just figured out that if you keep people ignorant and scared, you can generate anger just like charging a battery. Once you have the rubes powered up, you can send them in any direction you want.
The damage done by Mr. Ailes and his propaganda machine to our nation has been devastating. There have always been angry, ignorant fools out there ready to inject their insanity into the mainstream political discussion, but they were never allowed to shape and control that discussion until Roger Ailes paraded them out on the public stage under the disguise of his “News” channel.
Of all the right-wing power brokers that have harmed our democracy over the last 40 years, Baron Ailes is certainly one of the worst. A despicable, worthless excuse of a man, whose only achievement has been to exploit the very worst impulses of humanity to power his very own money-making machine, and then used that machine to destroy the lives of countless people. He truly is a monster.
I’m not the first to use Baron Harkonnen as Roger Ailes, but an apt comparison is an apt comparison. Thanks for the inspiration.
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