Fox News’ Roger Ailes is out of a job at the moment. The sexual harassment charges piled up, with all of them being slowly substantiated, but it’s important to note who this guy is. He’s been central to American politics, and he was in at the beginning of today’s conservatism.
That began with Tricky Dick. In 1967, Ailes, who was producing the Mike Douglas Show, had a long discussion about television in politics with one of the guests, Richard Nixon, who thought television was a gimmick. Nixon, however, listened carefully and then asked Ailes to serve as his Executive Producer for Television. Maybe there was something to this television thing. Nixon’s 1968 election victory might have been Ailes’ doing – he worked hard to make the very odd Nixon more likable and “accessible” and maybe even cool in his own way.
During the 1988 U.S. presidential election, the Willie Horton attack ads run against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis built upon the Southern strategy in a campaign that reinforced the notion that Republicans best represent conservative whites with traditional values. Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes worked on the campaign as George H. W. Bush’s political strategists, and upon seeing a favorable New Jersey focus group response to the Horton strategy, Atwater recognized that an implicit racial appeal could work outside of the Southern states. The subsequent ads featured Horton’s mugshot and played on fears of black criminals. Atwater said of the strategy, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”
Horton, big and black, was the convicted murderer who escaped during a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison and then committed an awful rape along with armed robbery. Even though the furlough program was actually repealed during Dukakis’ second term, Bush’s two guys made Horton the symbol here, a signifier. Dukakis had no clue about bad guys. Dukakis was soft on crime. And black men are frightening. Everyone knows this.
That worked, and years later, in February 1996, Roger Ailes left America’s Talking (now MSNBC) to start the Fox News Channel for Rupert Murdoch. The job was the same – make the angry conservative stiffs the good guys again. Ailes could do that, he’d done it twice before, and Fox News launched on October 7, 1996, and they’ve been working on that ever since. Black men are scary, even Obama. Muslims are scary, Hispanics are scary. Good (white) men take care of scary people.
There is an audience for that. Fox News says that they alone are “fair and balanced” – a counterweight to CNN and certainly MSNBC, and to the three broadcast networks, and to the New York Times and Washington Post and all the rest of the liberal mainstream media that persists in questioning the wisdom of appropriately outraged white conservatives. But there was always an element of “high school” to this. That was no more than their saying that they’re the cool kids, who know what’s what, not those other guys. Everyone remembers such people from high school, and that may be why Roger Ailes hired all those pretty and leggy and young blond women to sit around with the angry old white men – for every Bill O’Reilly a Megyn Kelly. The angry old white men get the hot chicks. That makes them cool, doesn’t it? The taunt is there: Check her out! She’s with me! I’m cool and you’re not!
Donald Trump does the same sort of thing with his third trophy wife. He stands next to her on stage and points at her, grinning. Look what I’ve got and you don’t! He gets the hot chicks, you don’t. In the primaries he tweeted out a side-by-side glamour shot of his ex-model third (and present) wife next to a shot of the wife of Ted Cruz at a bad moment, looking old and frumpy. He thought that was cool, and telling. It’s a Fox News thing. It’s also a Roger Ailes thing, and now that Roger Ailes has time on his hands, he’s working for Donald Trump. If he could make Nixon a good guy, he can do the same for Trump.
That seems to be the plan, but then there was a complication. That was Gabriel Sherman in New York Magazine with The Revenge of Roger’s Angels – “How Fox News women took down the most powerful, and predatory, man in media.”
Trump didn’t need this. He’s underwater with women. About seventy percent of American women, Republican women included, find him somewhere between disgusting at best and appalling at worst. They say they won’t vote for him, and that could cost him the election. Now he’s brought his old friend Roger Ailes onboard his campaign, and now Gabe Sherman drops this bomb. Someone is going to connect the dots.
Slate’s Michelle Goldberg surveys the damage:
Gabriel Sherman gives us fresh details of the depravity of ex-Fox News head Roger Ailes. Sherman quotes a former television producer who says Ailes told her, “If you want to make it in New York City in the TV business, you’re going to have to fuck me, and you’re going to do that with anyone I tell you to.” He reports that Ailes’ longtime executive assistant, Judy Laterza, recruited comely young women for her boss, including an intern who later told the Washington Post that Ailes had propositioned her: “If you sleep with me, you could be a model or a newscaster.” Sherman quotes Karem Alsina, a former Fox makeup artist, describing female anchors coming to see her before private meetings with Ailes: “They would say, ‘I’m going to see Roger, gotta look beautiful!'” One of these anchors, said Alsina, “came back down after a meeting, and the makeup on her nose and chin was gone.”
Sherman has reported even more disturbing stories about Ailes in the past. In July, he gave us the story of Laurie Luhn, Fox’s former director of booking, who claims that Ailes sexually extorted and psychologically tortured her for more than two decades. Among other things, he insisted she perform an erotic dance while he made a video, which, Ailes said, he was going to keep in a safe-deposit box “just so we understand each other.” For his latest piece, Sherman reports that he interviewed 18 women “who shared accounts of Ailes’s offering them job opportunities if they would agree to perform sexual favors for him and for his friends.” In some cases, writes Sherman, Ailes “threatened to release tapes of the encounters to prevent the women from reporting him.” Sherman also reports that Gretchen Carlson, who is suing Ailes for sexual harassment, secretly recorded his overtures.
This is the guy who is advising the Republican presidential nominee, but Goldberg is not surprised there hasn’t been that much talk about this, given the kind of guy Trump is:
Donald Trump is a maelstrom. There is so much chaos around him, and so many startling violations of so many political norms, and no one has the bandwidth to process it all. On Thursday, half his Hispanic advisers quit in the wake of his demagogic Phoenix immigration speech. On Twitter, he’s feuding with both Mexico’s president and Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, whom he called “crazy and very dumb.” As Paul Waldman points out in the Washington Post, there’s been a notable lack of press attention to the illegal contribution Trump’s foundation made to the PAC of Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, at a time when Bondi was receiving complaints from Floridians who said they’d been cheated by Trump University.
This is just more chaos, but Goldberg does not want to leave it at that:
If the Clinton Foundation were accused of doing anything this outrageous, it would be front-page news. The difference in how the two candidates are covered stems, in part, from a long-standing mainstream media tendency to view everything about Bill and Hillary Clinton in the most invidious possible light. But it’s also a result of the fact that Trump is consistently able to bury his old misdeeds with new misdeeds, until all the outrages start to blur together. This week, Mother Jones published an exposé of Trump Model Management’s violation of immigration law and exploitative labor practices. There was enough there to eat up an ordinary news cycle. Instead, the story was just a blip.
Still, in a better world, journalists would ask Trump why Ailes, who was too toxic to remain at Fox, is involved with his campaign. According to the New York Times, Ailes is advising Trump on the fall presidential debates. On Twitter, Sherman posted a blurry CNN screengrab showing Ailes getting out of Trump’s plane in Phoenix this week. He may not be on Trump’s payroll, but he’s part of his inner circle.
And no matter what “some” women may think, Trump has his back:
So far, Trump has defended Ailes and cast aspersions on the women accusing him. “I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them, and even recently,” Trump said in July. “And when they write books that are fairly recently released, and they say wonderful things about him. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying these horrible things about him.”
Of course Trump says such things, and there’s a reason for that:
It’s no surprise that Trump doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously. His own misogyny is extremely well-documented. His first wife, Ivana Trump, accused him of rape in a sworn deposition, saying that he’d assaulted her in a rage after a plastic surgeon she’d recommended botched his scalp surgery. (She’s since said she didn’t mean “rape” in a “literal or criminal sense,” but she’s never recanted her description of what happened.) Trump’s new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, has been charged with domestic violence and accused of sexual harassment. In such company, Ailes doesn’t really stand out.
But it should, as this makes the abnormal too damned normal:
Trump should be asked about Ailes every day as long as they’re working together, even informally. He should be asked not just why he’s associating with Ailes, but whether Ailes is being left alone with any of the women on his campaign. Keeping Ailes around, after all, is not just immoral; he is a one-man hostile work environment. Perhaps the involvement of a disgraced sexual sadist is low on the list of things that are wrong with the Trump campaign. That’s not a reason to ignore it.
Garrison Keillor frames that a bit differently:
You had a very bad month. You tossed out those wisecracks on Twitter and the Earth shook and your ratings among white suburban women with French cookware declined. The teleprompter is not your friend. You are in the old tradition of locker-room ranting and big honkers in the steam room, sitting naked, talking man talk, griping about the goons and ginks and lousy workmanship and the uppity broads and the great lays and how you vanquished your enemies at the bank…
So what do you do this winter? Hang around one of your mansions? Hit some golf balls? Hire a ghostwriter to do a new autobiography?
Those may be the only options, as Katherine Krueger at Talking Points Memo adds additional detail in the Sherman article:
Sherman’s report confirmed speculation that former Fox News host, Gretchen Carlson, who is suing Ailes for sexual harassment and retaliation, possesses taped recordings of Ailes’ alleged advances that back her suit, which opened the floodgates for the Fox News boss’ eventual downfall.
An anonymous source familiar with the suit told New York Magazine that Carlson had started bringing her iPhone to record meetings with Ailes beginning in 2014. A year later, she had taped Ailes suggesting they should have started “a sexual relationship a long time ago,” and saying some problems “are easier to solve” that way, remarks which are quoted verbatim in her civil complaint.
Then add this:
As Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper empire was embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal, Fox News allegedly employed “legally questionable means” to obtain a U.S. journalist’s phone records.
Two anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the incident told Sherman that Dianne Brandi, Fox’s general counsel, hired a private investigator in late 2010 to obtain the home and cell phone records of Joe Strupp, a reporter for the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, which vigorously catalogs the network’s missteps. Through a Fox spokesperson, Brandi denied that allegation.
After Sherman’s story was published, Media Matters president Bradley Beychok released a statement that accused Fox News and Ailes of breaking the law and said the organization was considering legal action.
Then add this:
As Sherman tells it, fired Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit provided an opening for the network’s star anchor. Ailes was no longer lending [Megyn] Kelly his support and she was in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations. When Kelly alleged to James Murdoch that Ailes had once made harassing comments and hugged her inappropriately in his office, Murdoch reportedly urged her to speak to the investigators at the law firm Paul, Weiss, which is conducting an internal probe into the Ailes allegations.
Kelly was the third or fourth woman to speak with investigators, an anonymous source briefed on the investigation told Sherman. After her interview, she reportedly called up current and former Fox staffers to encourage them to speak with the lawyers, and many more women came forward.
In private, Ailes reportedly fumed that Kelly did not publicly defend him amid the allegations, as Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and other on-screen talent did. Ailes’ wife, Elizabeth, allegedly was incensed enough by Kelly’s disloyalty that she pushed for a nuclear option to retaliate against Kelly: recirculating racy photos from a GQ magazine shoot to smear her. Fox News’ PR shop refused to do so, according to the report.
Then add this:
Although there’s been wide speculation that Donald Trump’s 2016 endgame may be to break into cable news with a conservative network that would rival Fox News, anonymous network insiders talked about Trump TV as a near-certainty that was casting a pall over the network’s future.
The current top talent and leadership will only last through Election Day, one unnamed host told Sherman.
“As of November 9, there will be a bloodbath at Fox,” the host said. “After the election, the prime-time lineup could be eviscerated. O’Reilly’s been talking about retirement. Megyn could go to another network. And Hannity will go to Trump TV.”
Is that enough? Well, there’s also this:
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch blames Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chairman and chief executive officer who resigned in July amid sexual harassment allegations, for “laying the groundwork” for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Fox sources told New York magazine…
Ailes and the Republican presidential nominee are longtime friends. The sources said Ailes, who founded Fox in 1996, gave Trump a weekly call-in segment on Fox & Friends to discuss political issues, including the widely debunked “birther” myth he helped perpetuate against Barack Obama, that the president was not born in the United States.
Sources close to Ailes and Trump told the magazine that the former media executive had lunch with the real estate mogul shortly before he announced his White House bid, and continued to give him political advice throughout the primary season…
The relationship between Murdoch and Ailes allegedly became “strained” because Murdoch didn’t approve of the perception that Ailes was allowing Fox News to back Trump.
Okay, that’s not sexual in nature, but it provides a sense of how Ailes operates. He’ll offend anyone to get what he wants, kind of like Donald Trump, although Sherman reports that can be problematic:
One prominent Republican told me that it was Ailes’s well-known reputation for awful behavior toward women that prevented him from being invited to work in the Nixon White House (or, later, in the administration of Bush 41). So after the ’68 election, he moved to New York, where he continued to use his power to demand sex from women seeking career opportunities. During this time Ailes divorced, remarried, and divorced again.
Trump has no problem with that, but this was a pattern:
By all accounts, Ailes had been a management disaster from the moment he arrived at NBC in 1993. But by 1995, things had reached a breaking point. In October of that year, NBC hired the law firm Proskauer Rose to conduct an internal investigation after then–NBC executive David Zaslav told human resources that Ailes had called him a “little fucking Jew prick” in front of a witness.
Yeah, it was time to move on, to the new Fox News, but of course trump has other advisors:
Former congresswoman and regular predictor of the impending apocalypse Michele Bachmann said in a Friday interview that the 2016 presidential race would be the country’s “last election.”
“I don’t want to be melodramatic but I do want to be truthful,” the evangelical Christian said in an interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Brody File. “I believe without a shadow of a doubt this is the last election. This is it. This is the last election.”
Bachmann, who advises Donald Trump on religious issues and foreign policy, explained that demographic change in the United States posed a disadvantage to Republican candidates since the country’s growing share of minority voters were more inclined to vote for Democrats.
“It’s a math problem of demographics and a changing United States,” she said. “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who lives in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring in to the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.”
Roger Ailes hasn’t hit on her yet.