Under Ailes, Fox News anything but ‘ fair and balanced’
ROGER Ailes, the 73-year-old head of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Network, has been the subject of a few books over the years. Most of them, including this one by New Yorkbased journalist Gabriel Sherman, have been unauthorized. Ailes is a man who has made a career out of controlling the message, whether it be as a TV broadcaster or a political operative. His career coincided with a definite blurring of the lines between those two worlds. In the 1990s, cable news emerged as a major defining player in the political process in the U.S. Here in Canada, we have not seen anything quite like it. Sun TV, owned the Quebecor empire and sometimes described as “Fox north,” has been a dismal failure. Roger Ailes is a complex character who grew up in small-town Ohio. He got his start in TV as a “gopher” on the Mike Douglas Show, a local daytime talk program that began in Cleveland in 1961. (The show later moved to Philadelphia and went national.) Sherman says Ailes realized virtually from his first day on the job that both TV and politics would be his future. As far back as 1967 he allied himself with the Republicans, and quickly became attached to Richard Nixon’s campaign for the White House. Along the way, Ailes succeeded in creating a few myths for himself. After his disastrous showing in the first TV debates during his 1960 campaign against John F. Kennedy, Nixon would gladly have avoided the medium for the rest of his days. Ailes is crediting with loosening up “Tricky Dick” in front of the cameras. He claims things turned around when Nixon appeared on the Mike Douglas Show alongside a notorious belly dancer known as Little Egypt. Sherman interviewed more than 600 sources for his book, but apparently wasn’t able to find anyone who could verify the Little Egypt story. Ailes was never quite part of Nixon’s inner circle at the White House after he was elected in 1968, which may explain how he was able to leave the scene without wearing any of the Watergate mess that brought that administration down in 1974. By the time Nixon and his wife Pat boarded the chopper for the last time on the White House lawn, Roger Ailes was immersed in a relatively brief excursion as a producer of New York theatre. His most notable credit there was a production of the Lanford Wilson play Hot l Baltimore that won some awards, and eventually ran for more than 1,600 performances. Ailes was very active in the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, but in the 1990s shifted his focus exclusively to the world of TV news. After relatively brief stints with a fledgling channel called America’s Talking, as well as some time at MSNBC, he accepted the challenge of taking on Ted Turner’s CNN in the main event of the cable-news battle. With his theatre experience, it’s not surprising he was determined that TV news would be entertaining. That’s undoubtedly why Fox has relied on larger-than-life personalities such as Glen Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Under the leadership of Ailes, the shamelessly partisan Republican Fox News dined out more than its competitors on the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals during the Clinton years in Washington. They also gave it all they had to persuade Americans to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012. While Ailes has been mostly unsuccessful in those political objectives at Fox, he has succeeded in making tons of money for Rupert Murdoch. Fox News is a money machine, bringing in more than triple the audience and revenue of CNN. When all is said and done, The Loudest Voice in the Room is a genuine page-turner, especially for media or political junkies. It would make a very compelling movie for one of Murdoch’s other assets. Roger Currie is a Winnipeg writer and broadcaster. He presents the
news each morning on CJNU 93.7 FM.