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Fox News chief Roger Ailes: More complex than his critics would like to believe

By   /   March 25, 2013  /   No Comments

THE BOSS: A new Ailes biography smashes misconceptions about the Fox News chief. (Photo: Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images)

THE BOSS: A new Ailes biography smashes misconceptions about the Fox News chief. (Photo: Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images)

By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – To conservatives, Fox News chief Roger Ailes is a superstar, a hero helping to retake the media from the dreaded liberals.

Those liberals see Ailes as Satan’s spawn, a roughneck and loudmouth orchestrating what Hillary Clinton famously called “a vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Zac Chafets’ new Off Cameraprovides an inside look at the head of Fox News, a master message-man who helped the likes of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

It turns out that Ailes, a bulldog of a man with a propensity for profane language and crude humor, is not the racist bigot and liberal-hater some groups, including his main detractor Media Matters for America, have created.

Throughout the book, Ailes’ friendships with African-Americans bust Media Matters’ anti-Ailes narratives. In his early years, producing for the widely popular The Mike Douglas Show, Ailes regularly featured black artists and guests, including James Brown, Ray Charles and Chuck Barry.

Because of Ailes, the show grew in popularity with black artists. “After the death of Dick ClarkAretha Franklin said that American Bandstand had been important, but the place she really loved was The Mike Douglas Show,” Chafets writes.

Ailes speaks of his pre-show chats with civil-rights champion Martin Luther King Jr., a regular guest on the show. The news man also proudly owns a picture he took with Malcom X six weeks before his death.

Perhaps the left’s hatred of Ailes stems from his refusal to dip into identity politics. He’s a devout believer in MLK’s famous assertion that people should be judged on the content of their individual character, not their skin color. Nevertheless, while Fox News regularly commemorates Black History Month every February, Ailes isn’t necessarily a fan.

“Every month is something else,” Ailes told Chafets. “I’m waiting for Lithuanian Midget Month. You know what? One of my relatives actually was a Lithuanian midget.”

Unbeknownst to many, Ailes runs an internship program for minority college kids, fearing they lack appropriate contacts and connections to score themselves spots in highly competitive newsrooms. “Minority kids don’t have any opportunities like that, so I decided to be their contact,” Ailes said.

According to Chafets, it was Ailes who helped usher Glenn Beck from Fox after the controversial host held a rally on the National Mall on August 28, 2010, 47 years to the day after the reverend delivered his world-changing address. That, Chafets writes, was “the final straw,” Chafets writes, in an increasingly troubled relationship between the two men. In that instance, Ailes conferred with none other than the Rev. Al Sharpton.

And it was Ailes who defended a black news analyst for calling Tucker Carlson “a bow-tying white boy.”

Still, that’s not enough for Media Matters. In its own review of Off Camera, the organization skewered Chaftets and Ailes. “Not simply a collection of hosannas to its subject for rising to the top of his field, the book serves as an attempt to write a new history for Roger Ailes,” the group says.

Media Matters also accuses Chafets of becoming part of the right-wing public relations effort to hedge the public against an upcoming Ailes book by Gabriel Sherman, sure to take a harsher look at the media mogul.

Chafets’ book is indeed more of a soft-focus biography than an in-your-face expose. It isn’t perfect, but it reveals and accentuates uncomfortable truths for America’s left: Ailes calls MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow a friend, he gave Reverend Jesse Jackson’s daughter a job and bailed out black analyst Juan Williams after Williams admitted that he, too, might initially be suspicious of fellow passengers in “Muslim garb” on an airplane.

Sure, the pages boast all the typical Ailes mojo. He called Vice President Joe Biden “as dumb as an ashtray,” said liberal economist and Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman  a “dope” who loves to give away money, and criticized President Barack Obama’s lack of private-sector experience.

But unlike some news outlets, Ailes and Fox openly embrace the idea of speaking to a certain news audience – that’s why Ailes and Murdoch teamed up to found the news network.

Here’s Ailes’ explanation:

“The first rule of media is bias selection,” Ailes says. “Most of the media bullshit you about who they are. We don’t. We’re not programming to conservatives, we’re just not eliminating their point of view.”

Fox News serves as the most conservative news outlet in the nation, but it’s not nearly as conservative as its boss, nor is at as right as those supposedly objective networks are left, Chafetz says. He finds that according to independent researchers, Fox receives a center-right 40 on the political spectrum, with the higher number, the more liberal the program. “The nightly news shows on the broadcast networks all hover around 65,” Chafets notes.

Ailes himself notched a 25 in the independent study, taken in 2004.

Ailes, while rife with personality flaws, is a quintessential American success story, the son of a blue-collar worker.

“One time I visited my father at work and saw him getting dressed down by some college boy executive at work,” Roger recalls. “I asked him why he was taking that kind of shit. I remember exactly what he said. He said ‘I’m taking the guff so that someday you will be by the one giving orders.’”

He attended a cheap college, worked his way to the top and religiously avoided taking government money. “I didn’t want to have to tell my kid someday that I had been on the government payroll,” Ailes told Chafets.

As his father dreamed, Ailes gives the orders now and it’s working splendidly. His lineup has been No. 1 for years and his top shows occasionally outperform entire news networks.

“I thought, either this man is crazy or he has the biggest set of balls I’ve even seen,” Murdoch told Chafets.

Creating a multi-million dollar entity from scratch while serving as the biggest target of America’s rabid left?

We now know Roger Ailes isn’t crazy.

Contact: Dustin@Watchdog.org or @DustinHurst via Twitter.

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Dustin is the Social Media Coordinator for Watchdog.org and a staff writer for Northwest Watchdog. He specializes in finding government waste, reporting on elections and innovating new media strategies.