Roger Ailes: Off Camera

BOOK: Roger Ailes: Off Camera
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Roger Ailes: Off Camera
Zev Chafets
Sentinel HC (2013)

“When you’ve got Roger Ailes on your side, you do not lose.”—Rush Limbaugh
Roger Ailes is the quintessential man behind the curtain. He more or less invented modern politi­cal consulting and helped Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush win their races for the White House. Then he reinvented himself as a master of cable television, first as the head of CNBC and, since 1996, as the creator and leader of Fox News, the most influential news network in the country.
To liberals, Ailes is an evil genius who helped polarize the country by breaking the mainstream media’s long monopoly on what constitutes news. To conservatives, he’s a champion of free speech and fair reporting whose values and view of Amer­ica reflect their own. But no one doubts that Ailes has transformed journalism. Barack Obama once called him “the most powerful man in America”— and given that Fox News has changed the way millions understand the world, it may be true.
Yet for all that fame and infamy, very few people know the real person behind the headlines.
Journalist Zev Chafets received unprecedented access to Ailes and his family, friends, and Fox News colleagues. The result is a candid, compelling portrait of a fascinating man. We see Ailes in action at Fox News and hear him reflect on personal mat­ters he has never before discussed publicly. And we discover the heart of his sometimes surprising political beliefs: his profane piety and his unwav­ering belief in the values of his small-town Ohio boyhood.
Ailes loves to fight, but he is a happy warrior who has somehow managed to charm and befriend many of the people he has defeated in political campaigns and television wars. Barbara Walters, Rachel Maddow, Jesse Jackson, the Kennedy clan— all are unexpected Ailes fans.
Chafets also gives us an unprecedented look at the inner workings of Fox News and explores Ailes’s relationships with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Megyn Kelly, Neil Cavuto, Chris Wallace, and the other stars he has nurtured.
Ultimately, Ailes is neither villain nor hero but a man full of contradictions and surprises. As Chafets writes, “What will he do next? What stokes his competitive fires and occasional rages? How to reconcile his acts of exceptional loyalty and pri­vate generosity (even to rivals) with his impulse to present himself to the world as a ruthless leg breaker? What makes Roger run—and where, if anywhere, is the finish line? As Ailes himself might say: I report, you decide.”

About the Author

is the author of twelve books of fiction, media criticism, and social and political commentary. He is a frequent contributor to the
New York Times Magazine
and a former columnist for the
New York Daily News


Double Vision

Heroes and Hustlers, Hard Hats and Holy Men

Members of the Tribe

Devil’s Night

A Match Made in Heaven

Cooperstown Confidential

Rush Limbaugh


Inherit the Mob

The Bookmakers

The Project

Hang Time

Whacking Jimmy
(as William Wolf)


Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014, USA

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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Copyright © Zev Chafets, 2013


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.



: Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

: AP Photo / Jennifer Graylock

: Patrick McMullan / / Sipa USA

: Rob Kim / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images



Chafets, Zev.

Roger Ailes / Zev Chafets.

pages cm

Includes index.

Summary: “An illuminating look at the life, politics, and practices of Roger Ailes, founder and CEO of Fox News Channel. As a political consultant, he helped put Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush in the White House”—Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-1-101-60826-5

1. Ailes, Roger. 2. Businesspeople—United States—Biography. 3. Executives—United States—Biography. 4. Political consultants—United States—Biography. 5. Fox News. I. Title.

HC102.5.A35C43 2013




To Betty Chafets Miller, the Matriarch


Roger Ailes looked across his desk at me and said, “Some people say that I’m simple, and some people say that I’m complex. What do you think?”

Good question. For months, Ailes and I had been meeting regularly at Fox News headquarters in midtown Manhattan, at his home in Putnam County, and at public and private gatherings. He allowed me to sit in on his meetings, introduced me to his family, and gave his inner circle the green light to talk to me. In that time I got a closer, more prolonged look at Roger Ailes than any journalist ever has. He was naturally curious about what I had concluded. Simple or complex?

The answer itself isn’t simple. Ailes, in his years as a political consultant, created images for a living, and his own narrative is constructed from the sturdy materials of American mythology. In our first meeting, he said he had dug ditches as a kid and would be happy to go back to it if the whole media empire thing ever fell apart. Ailes is no more likely than I am to dig ditches (and a lot less likely to need to) but I got his point. He is a blue-collar guy from a factory town in Ohio who has stayed close to his roots. That day, and subsequently, I found him plainspoken, wryly profane, caustic, and anxious for me to know that he doesn’t give a good goddamn about fancy parties, political correctness, or the esteem of the Manhattan media
. After I had known him for a while I asked what he would do if he were president of the United States. He said that he would sign no legislation, create no new regulations, and allow the country to return to its natural, best self, which he locates, with modest social amendments, somewhere in midwestern America circa 1955. In 2011, he won a Horatio Alger Award, and said, “People who believe they can win will eventually win.” What could be simpler than that?

Still, Ailes is not another working-class stiff who got ahead through hard work and the power of positive thinking. For fifty years, he has navigated the waters of show business, national politics, and big-time media. He taught Dick Nixon new tricks, stepped in as Reagan’s emergency debate coach when the Great Communicator needed help communicating, and held George H. W. Bush’s hand all the way to the White House. He more or less invented modern political consulting and made a small fortune along the way. When he left politics, he talked his way into the number one job at CNBC and then convinced Rupert Murdoch to gamble a billion dollars, give or take, on an idea and a handshake. The gamble became Fox News, one of the most lucrative and influential news organizations on the planet. The last time they met, Barack Obama, not a Fox News fan, called Ailes “the most powerful man in America.” If a Machiavelli society gave an award, it would be on Ailes’s mantel, next to the Horatio.

Writing about a man as wily and charming as Ailes is a challenging business, and from the outset we established ground rules. He cooperated with me, but the book is not authorized. I checked his quotes for accuracy (which is my practice in any case) but he had no control over the manuscript. When he said something was off the record (which he rarely did) it stayed off; everything else was fair game.

Ailes opened up Fox News, which is usually about as reporter-friendly as Teheran. I spent time with Fox executives and on-air personalities, toured usually off-limits venues, and spent many hours with Ailes himself. He was open with me, although I never thought he was telling me everything. He intends to write an autobiography someday, and I imagine he is holding something in reserve. The result, this book, is not a formal biography. It is a record of almost a year spent watching Roger Ailes in action.

My access came at a price. It always does. The dynamic between a writer and his subject, especially one as controversial and powerful as Roger Ailes, necessarily contains elements of mutual seduction and self-interest and sometimes mistrust. Ailes didn’t want to be eviscerated by a reporter. I didn’t want to get conned by a master image maker.

Roger Ailes has his admirers, some of them surprising, and his detractors—entire organizations dedicated to discrediting him and all his works. I talked to a great many people on both sides. But Ailes is the main character, and I have left him front and center, allowing him to speak for himself. Ailes is a fascinating man, full of contradictions and surprises. He has certainly transformed American media and political discourse. How has he done it? What will he do next? What stokes his competitive fires and occasional rages? How to reconcile his acts of exceptional loyalty and private generosity (even to rivals) with his impulse to present himself to the world as a nasty, ruthless leg breaker? What makes Roger run—and where, if anywhere, is the finish line? Is he, in the end, simple or complex? It remains an excellent question. As Ailes himself might say: I report, you decide.

BOOK: Roger Ailes: Off Camera
6.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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