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How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory

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In recent years, Ailes has increasingly become a headache for News Corp. In 2004, to protect his pal Rudy Giuliani, Ailes apparently interceded in the case of Bernie Kerik, the former New York police commissioner who had been nominated on Giuliani’s recommendation to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik proved to be a train wreck: In the most offensive of his indiscretions, he had commandeered an apartment overlooking Ground Zero – intended for rescue and recovery workers – as a love shack for trysts with his book editor, News Corp.’s own Judith Regan. Acting more like a political consultant than a news executive, Ailes appears to have resorted to Watergate-style obstruction of justice. According to court documents, the Fox News chairman “told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign.” The records reveal that Ailes “advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.” The allegation featured prominently in a wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by Regan, which reportedly cost News Corp. more than $10 million to settle.

Many within Murdoch’s family have come to viscerally hate Ailes. Murdoch’s third wife, Wendi, has worked to soften her husband’s politics, and his son James has persuaded him to embrace the reality of global warming – even as Ailes has led the drumbeat of climate deniers at Fox News. Matthew Freud, Murdoch’s son-in-law and a top PR executive in Britain, recently told reporters, “I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’ horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.”

“Rupert is surrounded by people who regularly, if not moment to moment, tell him how horrifying and dastardly Roger is,” says Wolff, the Murdoch biographer. “Wendi cannot stand Roger. Rupert’s children cannot stand Roger. So around Murdoch, Roger has no supporters, except for Roger himself.”

Ailes begins each workday buffered by the elaborate private security detail that News Corp. pays to usher him from his $1.6 million home in New Jersey to his office in Manhattan. (His country home – in the aptly named village of Garrison – is phalanxed by empty homes that Ailes bought up to create a wider security perimeter.) Traveling with the Chairman is like a scene straight out of 24. A friend recalls hitching a ride with Ailes after a power lunch: “We come out of the building and there’s an SUV filled with big guys, who jump out of the car when they see him. A cordon is formed around us. We’re ushered into the SUV, and we drive the few blocks to Fox’s offices, where another set of guys come out of the building to receive ‘the package.’ The package is taken in, and I’m taken on to my destination.”Ailes is certain that he’s a top target of Al Qaeda terrorists. “You know, they’re coming to get me,” he tells friends. “I’m fully prepared. I’ve taken care of it.” (Ailes, who was once arrested for carrying an illegal handgun in Central Park, now carries a licensed weapon.) Inside his blast-resistant office at Fox News headquarters, Ailes keeps a monitor on his desk that allows him to view any activity outside his closed door. Once, after observing a dark-skinned man in what Ailes perceived to be Muslim garb, he put Fox News on lockdown. “What the hell!” Ailes shouted. “This guy could be bombing me!” The suspected terrorist turned out to be a janitor. “Roger tore up the whole floor,” recalls a source close to Ailes. “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim – which is consistent with the ideology of his network.”

Ailes knows exactly who is watching Fox News each day, and he is adept at playing to their darkest fears in the age of Obama. The network’s viewers are old, with a median age of 65: Ads cater to the immobile, the infirm and the incontinent, with appeals to join class action hip-replacement lawsuits, spots for products like Colon Flow and testimonials for the services of Liberator Medical (“Liberator gave me back the freedom I haven’t had since I started using catheters”). The audience is also almost exclusively white – only 1.38 percent of viewers are African-American. “Roger understands audiences,” says Rollins, the former Reagan consultant. “He knew how to target, which is what Fox News is all about.” The typical viewer of Hannity, to take the most stark example, is a pro-business (86 percent), Christian conservative (78 percent), Tea Party-backer (75 percent) with no college degree (66 percent), who is over age 50 (65 percent), supports the NRA (73 percent), doesn’t back gay rights (78 percent) and thinks government “does too much” (84 percent). “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully,” says a former News Corp. colleague. “He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.”

 From the time Obama began contemplating his candidacy, Fox News went all-out to convince its white viewers that he was a Marxist, a Muslim, a black nationalist and a 1960s radical. In early 2007, Ailes joked about the similarity of Obama’s name to a certain terrorist’s. “It is true that Barack Obama is on the move,” Ailes said in a speech to news executives. “I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?’” References to Obama’s middle name were soon being bandied about on Fox & Friends, the morning happy-talk show that Ailes uses as one of his primary vehicles to inject his venom into the media bloodstream. According to insiders, the morning show’s anchors, who appear to be chatting ad-lib, are actually working from daily, structured talking points that come straight from the top. “Prior to broadcast, Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson – that gang – they meet with Roger,” says a former Fox deputy. “And Roger gives them the spin.”

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