After Shaping Media And Politics For Decades, Ailes Is Out At Fox News | KALW

After Shaping Media And Politics For Decades, Ailes Is Out At Fox News

Jul 22, 2016
Originally published on July 22, 2016 6:11 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As the convention ends, we're also saying goodbye to one of the great figures of conservative media. Roger Ailes resigned as head of Fox News. His departure comes amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment, some of them going back decades. NPR's David Folkenflik has covered Ailes for years.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard and a familiar figure on Fox News. He says Fox gave conservatives hope.

FRED BARNES: They were so used to thinking that the media was completely barren as far as they were concerned. There was nothing there for them. It was all liberals. And then Fox comes along, and they really glommed on it.

FOLKENFLIK: I caught up with Barnes outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland - fitting, perhaps, that the end game for Ailes arrived as Republicans gathered there. Ailes' first big success came in Cleveland as a producer of the local variety and talk program, "The Mike Douglas Show."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS COULD BE THE START OF SOMETHING")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: And this could be the start of something big.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: The start of something big, all right. "The Mike Douglas Show" went national. So did Ailes. After Richard Nixon appeared on the show, Ailes gave the candidate some classic advice. Go around the press in televised appearances. Former college football coach Bud Wilkinson, a Nixon fan, moderated.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUD WILKINSON: No one has any idea what questions will be asked. Mr. Nixon cannot possibly know.

FOLKENFLIK: Ailes ended up advising the Nixon White House. He advised President Reagan's reelection campaign in 1984 and George H.W. Bush's White House bid in 1988, a climactic moment early that year. Ailes warned Bush that CBS News anchor Dan Rather was primed to go after him on the Iran-contra scandal during a live interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE H W BUSH: Well, Dan, let's be careful here because you're drawing a political profile...

DAN RATHER: Yes, sir, I want you to be careful, Mr. Vice President, because the problem here...

GEORGE H W BUSH: I will be careful...

FOLKENFLIK: Bush ordinarily had a patrician reserve. Ailes goaded him to rumble.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE H W BUSH: It's not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York?

FOLKENFLIK: Ailes left politics again to build up CNBC. He later jumped at the chance to run Rupert Murdoch's Fox News channel, defined as an alternative to the liberal media. Fox surged after the disputed 2000 election and the September 2001 terror strikes. The channel draped itself in patriotism, a constant Ailes refrain. Fox became the top-rated cable news channel and has been ever since. Once again, Fred Barnes.

BARNES: At Fox, everything's due to Roger. Roger created this out of - it's entirely his vision. And what he created, you know, one guy creating that - I'm still amazed.

FOLKENFLIK: One of Ailes' former executives once told me you just had to watch Fox to understand his obsessions. The channel was drenched in stories about sex. Here's Fox's Brian Kilmeade.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN KILMEADE: And thank you, Hooters. That's how I wake up every day. But it actually applies to this story.

FOLKENFLIK: Women on Fox were often overtly sexualized, steered to revealing outfits, the cameras lingering over their legs. While news reports were often straight ahead, opinions were dominated by a pugilistic, populist strain of conservatism, often stirring resentment toward minorities. Here's former Fox News host Glenn Beck on President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GLENN BECK: This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don't know what it is.

FOLKENFLIK: Ailes never fully shed his partisan activities, encouraging Chris Christie and General David Petraeus to run against Obama in 2012. Above all, Ailes wanted Fox News to referee Republican Party politics. That backfired in a sense last August, when Fox News host Megyn Kelly confronted Donald Trump in the first Republican debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEGYN KELLY: You've called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals. Your Twitter account...

DONALD TRUMP: Only Rosie O'Donnell.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

KELLY: No, it wasn't.

FOLKENFLIK: Trump attacked Kelly and Fox News and appeared repeatedly on rival networks, driving up their ratings. Ailes effectively sued for peace with Trump, alienating Kelly. When Gretchen Carlson filed suit earlier this month alleging sexual harassment, some anchors and hosts defended Ailes. Megyn Kelly cooperated with the corporate inquiry, reportedly saying Ailes had harassed her, too. Ailes' management style knit together fierce loyalty and paranoia. Many Fox News journalists have told me of their deep fear of offending Ailes. Until Carlson's lawsuit, his charisma and his accomplishments held sway - no longer. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.