Trac­ing rise, fall of Fox News master­mind Ailes

Boston Herald - - MOVIES - By JAMES VERNIERE – [email protected]­her­ald.com

Roger Ailes, the fallen master­mind be­hind Fox News, me­dia con­sul­tant (be­fore there was such an hon­orific) to 1968 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Richard Nixon, and after him Ron­ald Rea­gan and the re­cently de­ceased Ge­orge H.W. Bush (Hello, the Wil­lie Hor­ton ads), is the sub­ject of Alexis Bloom’s search­ing doc­u­men­tary “Di­vide and Con­quer: The Story of Roger Ailes.”

At the heart of Ailes’ Fox News strat­egy, ac­cord­ing to one of the film’s com­men­ta­tors, was his abil­ity to “rile up the cra­zies.” It worked. Ailes di­vided the coun­try and drew lines be­tween “or­di­nary peo­ple” and “the elites,” and Fox News, where an ap­pre­cia­tive cult blos­somed around the net­works’ leggy, mostly blond and short-skirted an­chors and com­men­ta­tors, grew to be big­ger than the es­tab­lished net­works that had looked down their noses at Fox and its fans.

Born and raised in War­ren, Ohio, where his stern, abu­sive fa­ther was a fac­tory fore­man and a union man, Ailes, who was a he­mo­phil­iac and fan of Nazi pro­pa­gan­dist Leni Riefen­stahl,

started his tele­vi­sion ca­reer as a pro­ducer for the Philadel­phia-based “The Mike Dou­glas Show,” where he al­legedly sex­u­ally harassed a model, who re­mained quiet about the (un­nec­es­sar­ily reen­acted) ex­pe­ri­ence, un­til ap­pear­ing in this film.

Ar­guably overus­ing the creepy mu­sic and sound ef­fects, Bloom, whose pre­vi­ous cred­its in­clude “Bright Lights: Star­ring Car­rie Fisher and Deb­bie Reynolds,” paints a por­trait of a man who was “pro­foundly para­noid,” work­ing be­hind bul­let­proof glass and a steel-re­in­forced door at Fox HQ in Man­hat­tan. Ailes, who started his own talk net­work and took tap-danc­ing les­sons and mar­ried a woman who was “a cross be­tween Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and a school­marm,” brought Sean Han­nity and Bill O’Reilly to Fox. Fox rose me­te­or­i­cally on the heat gen­er­ated by the Clin­tonLewin­sky scan­dal. It is un­de­ni­ably chill­ing to hear CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, formerly of “Fox & Friends,” de­scribe Ailes’ at­tempt to ma­nip­u­late her into a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship in ex­change for greater suc­cess on the net­work.

Bloom cuts fre­quently to the tilted, slightly gri­mac­ing, bul­let-headed head shot of Ailes that made him look like Al­fred Hitch­cock’s scarier kid brother. At home in the vil­lage of Cold Spring, N.Y., where Ailes and his wife lived in a hill­top manor, Ailes mis­read the mood when he bought a lo­cal news­pa­per and tried to top­ple the town’s un­will­ing-to­bend-the-knee su­per­vi­sor.

Then, former Fox News an­chor Gretchen Carl­son ac­cused Ailes of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. After con­sult­ing with his friend Don­ald Trump, Ailes de­nied it. But other voices emerged, in­clud­ing the net­work’s one­time talk show star, con­ser­va­tive high priest­ess and even­tual Trump neme­sis Megyn Kelly, and at the urg­ing of his two sons, even Ru­pert Mur­doch bailed. Ailes was even­tu­ally locked out of the Fox build­ing on Av­enue of the Amer­i­cas. Ac­cord­ing to this film, since 2004, 21st Cen­tury Fox has paid out more than $163 mil- lion in sex­ual ha­rass­ment set­tle­ments. Ailes died within a year of leav­ing Fox News. (“Di­vide and Con­quer: The Story of Roger Ailes” con­tains sex­u­ally sug­ges­tive lan­guage and pro­fan­ity.)

AP FILE

NEWS MAKER: The doc­u­men­tary ‘Di­vide and Con­quer: The Story of Roger Ailes’ takes a hard look at the late CEO of Fox News.

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