“Roger certainly ginned up the fear that pre-existed.”
Filmmaker Alexis Bloom’s Divide and Conquer reveals how Roger Ailes saw America’s division and weaponized it. And how he ruled Fox News with everyday acts of abuse
In 1967, a young television producer approached Richard Nixon to chat about the value of TV in politics. Having lost a presidential bid to the telegenic John F. Kennedy seven years earlier, Nixon hired him—and won the White House.
That man, Roger Ailes, would eventually build Fox News into a wildly profitable right-wing media empire and set the stage for a bloviating reality TV star to land in the White House. But behind the scenes, he was a source of terror for some of the network’s female employees, allegedly harassing numerous staffers—including on-air stars like Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly—and blacklisting some who declined to sleep with him.
The pattern came to light in 2016, when Carlson filed a lawsuit against him. About 10 more women came forward to allege sexual misconduct, and 21st Century Fox paid out $45 million in settlements to the women. “The casualness of his cruelty was shocking,” says filmmaker Alexis Bloom, whose new documentary, Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes, is being released December 7. The film gives insight into Ailes’s lonely early life in Ohio and his rise as a ruthless political consultant during the Reagan era. With opinion-driven cable news in its infancy, he sensed an opportunity for a network that would not just speak to white conservatives but also arouse their outrage and racial resentment. Yet Divide is most fascinating when it traces Ailes’s downfall—including on-camera interviews with the crisis communications gurus who were summoned to his house after he was ousted from Fox News in 2016. Ailes, a lifelong hemophiliac who regarded the condition as a time bomb, died last year while the documentary was in progress, but the 24-hour outrage machine he created lives on.
In an interview with Newsweek, Bloom described what she learned about Ailes’s life, behavior toward women and intense paranoia. Why make a film about Ailes now? I think his impact on the American landscape is profound, culturally and politically. I had a very acute sense that we were living in his world. Do you consider Ailes to be one of the primary architects of the Trump presidency? I do. Roger gave Trump a Fox & Friends slot, every Monday beginning in 2011 [through 2015], where the then-reality star opined on politics. He was famous from The Apprentice, but you have to have political legitimacy. Roger allowed Trump to pivot from being this bombastic real estate guy to being someone people took seriously when he spoke about the economy
At left, Ailes in 2015. Paranoid and punitive, he kept guns in his desk drawer and created Fox News “out of a sense of revenge.” POWER HITTER