Crazy like a Fox News ex­ec­u­tive

Late tele­vi­sion pow­er­house Ailes changed how con­tent was de­liv­ered

Ottawa Citizen - - MOVIES - JOHN CARUCCI

Roger Ailes might not al­ways have been a house­hold name dur­ing his time at Fox News, but many me­dia com­men­ta­tors be­lieve he changed the TV land­scape for­ever. As the ar­chi­tect of the con­ser­va­tive ca­ble news chan­nel, Ailes cre­ated a bea­con for what he deemed as an un­der­served news mar­ket.

Now the world that Ailes cre­ated is the sub­ject of a new doc­u­men­tary, Di­vide and Con­quer: The Story of Roger Ailes. Di­rected by Alexis Bloom, the film de­con­structs the rise and fall of the late head of Fox News Chan­nel. It is now in the­atres, as well as avail­able on VOD, Ap­ple iTunes and Ama­zon stream­ing ser­vices.

“To be hon­est with you, most of the time that I told peo­ple I was work­ing on a film about Roger Ailes, peo­ple didn’t know who he was. I think peo­ple in me­dia re­ally knew who he was be­cause he made such a big im­pact,” Bloom said.

The gen­eral pub­lic, how­ever, prob­a­bly knows him more for the swift turn of events that led to his ouster. Ailes was brought down by a plethora of sex­ual ha­rass­ment law­suits, both di­rectly and in­di­rectly re­lated to him.

Bloom goes be­yond the scan­dals, break­ing down how the one-time Fox News chair­man built a dy­nasty by de­liv­er­ing con­tent to a con­ser­va­tive au­di­ence and mar­ket­ing it as “fair and balanced” news.

“I think Roger Ailes has changed our po­lit­i­cal land­scape enor­mously, go­ing back from 1968. He ab­so­lutely kind of took show busi­ness and pol­i­tics and kind of fused them in a way no­body else had be­fore,” Bloom said. “He worked in tele­vi­sion. He worked in en­ter­tain­ment, and then he worked for a long time in pol­i­tics, and he was the first one to con­nect them.”

The film’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, Alex Gib­ney, said that con­flu­ence of dis­ci­plines was the “se­cret sauce” that helped cre­ate the news chan­nel’s mes­sage and draw.

“He made it so much more about trib­al­ism, and in a funny way, en­ter­tain­ment. He saw the ‘virtue’ — I say virtue in quotes — in treat­ing ev­ery­thing as com­bat. That didn’t gen­er­ate much light, but it gen­er­ated a lot of heat, which at­tracted a lot of view­ers com­ing in from the cold,” Gib­ney said.

Gib­ney, who won an Os­car for his doc­u­men­tary Taxi to the Dark Side, said that Ailes ruled the news or­ga­ni­za­tion with an iron fist be­cause he never wanted his au­di­ence to lose the mes­sage.

When asked whether Ailes would have ap­proved of Fox News host Sean Han­nity join­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on­stage at a rally in Mis­souri in early Novem­ber, Gib­ney said he finds it ironic.

Af­ter reach­ing the podium, Han­nity sug­gested to the en­thu­si­as­tic crowd that the me­dia cov­er­ing the event — in­clud­ing mem­bers of Fox News — was “fake news.”

“The le­gacy that they have cre­ated is a world of true fake news. That is the le­gacy that they’ve cre­ated — that they are ped­dling be­lief. It’s not news. And that has had a very dam­ag­ing im­pact. But it’s long-last­ing im­pact, and it should be con­cern­ing to us all,” Gib­ney said.

As for whether Ailes would have stopped a Fox per­son­al­ity from join­ing the pres­i­dent at a cam­paign rally, Gib­ney said that if Ailes did “it wouldn’t have been be­cause he be­lieved in that prin­ci­ple, but be­cause he felt he wanted to main­tain the il­lu­sion that it was an ob­jec­tive news net­work.”

The doc­u­men­tary con­cludes with Ailes’ ten­ure be­ing eroded by a flurry of sex­ual ha­rass­ment law­suits, in­clud­ing one by for­mer Fox News an­chor Gretchen Carl­son. But Ailes’ last­ing le­gacy lives on.

“He made flame-thrower TV vi­able and de­sir­able,” said Bloom. “He showed us all that heat over light was the most suc­cess­ful for­mula. Take the jour­nal­ism out, and put the en­ter­tain­ment in. And that might stay with us. He kind of di­vided Amer­ica and cre­ated this out­rage fac­tory, and it’s still go­ing strong.”


A new doc­u­men­tary fol­lows the rise and fall of the late Roger Ailes, who changed TV as the head of Fox News Chan­nel.

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