After Bush took office, Ailes stayed in frequent touch with the new Republican president. “The senior-level editorial people believe that Roger was on the phone every day with Bush,” a source close to Fox News tells Rolling Stone. “He gave Bush the same kind of pointers he used to give George H.W. Bush – delivery, effectiveness, political coaching.” In the aftermath of 9/11, Ailes sent a back-channel memo to the president through Karl Rove, advising Bush to ramp up the War on Terror. As reported by Bob Woodward, Ailes advised Bush that “the American public would tolerate waiting and would be patient, but only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible.”
Fox News did its part to make sure that viewers lined up behind those harsh measures. The network plastered an American flag in the corner of the screen, dolled up one female anchor in a camouflaged silk blouse, and featured Geraldo Rivera threatening to hunt down Osama bin Laden with a pistol. The militarism even seemed to infect the culture of Fox News. “Roger Ailes is the general,” declared Bill O’Reilly. “And the general sets the tone of the army. Our army is very George Patton-esque. We charge. We roll.”
Ailes likes to boast that Fox News maintains a bright, clear line between its news shows, which he touts as balanced, and prime-time hosts like O’Reilly and Hannity, who are given free rein to voice their opinions. “We police those lines very carefully,” Ailes has said. But after Bush was elected, Ailes tasked John Moody, his top political lieutenant, to keep the newsroom in lockstep. Early each morning, Ailes summoned Moody into his office – often joined by Hume from the Washington bureau on speakerphone – and provided his spin on the day’s news. Moody then posted a daily memo to the staff with explicit instructions on how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his loyal cadre of vice presidents are known. “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed,” says a former news anchor. “Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.”
When the 9/11 Commission began investigating Bush’s negligence in the lead-up to the terrorist attacks, Moody issued a stark warning: “This is not ‘What did he know and when did he know it?’ stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate. Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let’s not desecrate that.” In a 2003 memo on Bush’s overtures for Middle East peace, Moody again ordered the staff to champion the president: “His political courage and tactical cunning are worth noting in our reporting throughout the day.” During the 2004 campaign, Moody highlighted John Kerry’s “flip-flop voting record” – a line that dovetailed with the attacks coming out of the White House. In fact, Fox News was working directly with the Bush administration to coordinate each day’s agenda – as Bush’s own press secretary, Scott McClellan, later conceded. “We at the White House,” McClellan said, “were getting them talking points.” (Ailes and Fox News declined repeated requests from Rolling Stone for an interview.)
When Bush was re-elected, Murdoch and Ailes toasted the victory together in the control room of Fox News, celebrating until three in the morning. The network’s relentless GOP boosterism had not only been good for ratings, it also appeared to have paid dividends for the network’s corporate parent. Acting nakedly in Murdoch’s interests, the FCC blocked satellite-TV provider EchoStar’s $27 billion acquisition of DirecTV in 2002 as being anti-competitive. That cleared the way for News Corp. – which had originally been outbid – to buy control of DirecTV for a mere $6.6 billion.
But despite their commercial and political triumphs, the relationship between Murdoch and Ailes has grown rocky. The more profits soared at Fox News, the more Ailes expanded his power and independence. In 2005, he staged a brazen coup within the company, conspiring to depose Murdoch’s son Lachlan as the anointed heir of News Corp. Ailes not only took over Lachlan’s portfolio – becoming chair of Fox Television – he even claimed Lachlan’s office on the eighth floor. In 2009, Ailes earned a pay package of $24 million – a deal slightly larger than the one enjoyed by Murdoch himself. He brags privately that his contract also forbids Murdoch – infamous for micromanaging his newspapers – from interfering with editorial decisions at Fox News.
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