By Christopher B. Daly
“If you would strike at a prince, you must kill him.” –Niccolo Machiavelli
The fall of Roger Ailes is an ephocal event in the history of modern news media. For a man who delivers more than $1 billion in annual profit to his boss and who delivers the top viewer ratings in cable TV news to be fired certainly marks the end of an era.
His departure today was brought about by the charges of sexual harrassment filed in court by Fox News on-air star Gretchen Carlson. (Before there was Megyn Kelly, there was Gretchen.)
Ailes was a king-maker who became a powerful prince himself within the kingdom of American conservatism. By assembling a loyal audience for Fox News, Ailes performed several important services for resurgent conservatism:
–Fox News attacked the rest of the news media
–Fox News provided an outlet for conservatives (including climate deniers, conspiracy theorists, and conservative ideologues who could not get on the air otherwise)
–Fox News hounded the Clintons and Obama while endorsing and defending George W. Bush
–Fox News cultivated and sustained Bill O’Reilly (and stood by him when O’Reilly had his own problems with a sexual harrasment claim).
–Fox News, by selling ads for gold bullion, attorneys for the plaintiff’s bar, and many other products, delivered a consistent profit stream to Murdoch’s News Corp.
The back story is well told in the 2014 biography of Ailes by the journalist Gabriel Sherman. The book is titled “The Loudest Voice in the Room” and subtitled “How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News and Divided a Country.” Sherman, a national correspondent for New York Magazine whose recent daily reporting has driven and shaped the coverage of Ailes, lays out the rise of Ailes from the day the young tv producer met Richard Nixon in 1967 and lectured the veteran politician on the power of television.
Ailes went on to work for Nixon, then became an impresario of conservative media. He had a big role in the rise of conservative talk-show champ Rush Limbaugh, then teamed up with conservative media mogul to found Fox News in 1996.
Fox News is the embodiment of Roger Ailes. He is responsible for the shrewd and deeply cynical slogans “Fair and balanced” and “We report/you decide.” Never mind that neither slogan was true. They served the purpose of assembling an audience of American conservatives who consider Fox a national message board.
Ailes harrangued the mainstream media for being liberal, while building the most ideological news operation on the air, all the while denying that he was doing so.
What brought him down was his failure to make an alliance with Murdoch’s sons, who are the future of News Corp. The sons may be less conservative than their father and, as members of a younger generation, they certainly have far less tolerance for the towel-slapping, know-nothing ethos of the Fox News morning show. On that show, whose co-hosts regularly humiliated Gretchen Carlson, who may have more i.q. points than Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade combined. They harped regularly on her looks, her wardrobe, and her hotness.
Under Ailes, Fox News had a history of hiring attractive women and placing them in front of the cameras in ways that displayed their physical attributes. Even in an industry like television, which is obsessed with visuals, Fox News stood out for its use of news babes. Turns out, Ailes — who resembles the late Sidney Greenstreet minus the charm — was “flirting” with them and implying that they should put out for him.
In the end, it would appear, the man who ruled by fear was brought down by one brave woman.