Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Extraordinary Revelations About Roger Ailes That Puts Mainstream Media in Perspective

In The Loudest Voice in the Room, Gabriel Sherman reports on  the life and times of Republican strategist-turned-cable television executive Roger Ailes.

The Daily Beast has an advance copy of the book and reports these nuggets are in it:
-In his 20s, Ailes displayed a killer instinct for corporate politics, maneuvering to oust his boss and leapfrog over his betters to become executive producer of The Mike Douglas Show, the popular daytime program on which he told guest Richard Nixon, before the taping, that if still thought television was a gimmick, he’d lose the 1968 presidential election. Nixon hired him as his campaign media advisor a few weeks later.

-Ailes was “a big fan” of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s notorious favorite filmmaker—not for her Nazi ideology but for her cinematic talent as a propagandist. “Ailes was especially taken by Riefenstahl’s use of camera angles.”

-Although he was distrusted by the president and his inner circle, Ailes persisted in offering advice to the Nixon White House, writing in a memo to Haldeman that Nixon should position himself for his 1972 reelection campaign by submitting to a series of sympathetic, “humanizing” TV interviews packaged by Ailes. His choice of interviewer: David Frost

-As executive producer of NBC’s Tomorrow late-night show starring Tom Snyder, Ailes hired a twenty-something female segment producer named Randi Harrison who told Ailes that his $400-a-week salary offer was too low. “If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want I will add an extra hundred dollars a week,” Ailes allegedly responded. “I was in tears by the time I hit the street,” she later recalled. Last week, a Fox News spokesperson called Harrison's allegation "false." During a job interview with Shelley Ross, the future executive producer of Good Morning America, Ailes “posed romantically suggestive questions and made flirtatious comments about her appearance. ‘This is making me uncomfortable,’ Ross recalled telling Ailes.”

-Running CNBC in the early 1990s, Ailes hired PR man Brian Lewis after testing his skills as a spin doctor. The New York Observer was working on an unflattering story about Ailes, he told Lewis. “Kill the story,” he ordered, pointing to the telephone. “Here?” Lewis asked. Ailes watched as Lewis bullied the journalist into deep-sixing the item. “Nice job,” he told his new employee, who became one of Ailes’ closest confidants. For 16 years, Lewis headed the notoriously combative PR department at Fox News, occasionally planting negative stories about Fox News employees considered disloyal. “I shoved a Scud up his ass!” he regularly crowed after a successful hit. Increasingly he and Ailes argued. “You demand loyalty from people, but you never show it,” he complained to the boss, prompting Ailes to hurl a water bottle at him. In 2008, he told Ailes he was voting for Barack Obama, on the theory that an Obama presidency would be better for business than a John McCain White House. He was summarily fired last summer—for what Fox News publicly claimed were “financial irregularities”; Lewis later reportedly received a multi-million-dollar settlement for agreeing not to spill Ailes’s secrets.

-Ailes tried to intimidate Time magazine writer Kurt Andersen, who was working on a potentially negative cover story involving Ailes’s friend Rush Limbaugh. “How would you like it if a CNBC camera crew followed your children home from school?” he asked the writer. Andersen’s reply: “I wonder how Jack Welch would feel if he knew that GE resources were being used to stalk small children?” “Are you threatening me?” Ailes asked, and then backed down.

-During a nasty argument with rival NBC executive David Zaslav, Ailes allegedly called him “a little fucking Jew prick.” Zaslav—denied the incident to Sherman and last week repeated his denial to the New York Times—formally complained to NBC’s Human Resources department as part of a full-dress investigation. Zaslav wrote in a memo that he feared for his and his family’s safety. Labor lawyer Howard Ganz, a partner in the law firm Proskauer Rose, was retained to conduct an independent probe, and concluded that Ailes made the remark, which could be grounds for “cause termination.” Ailes vehemently denied doing so and kept his job after hand-delivering a letter to Wright saying, “The charges are false and despicable. I have not received a fair hearing. This is un-American. All the lawyering will provoke an untoward outcome.”

-Catherine Crier left Fox News after being ordered to soften her coverage of China, where Rupert Murdoch was seeking to expand News Corp.’s business interests in the summer of 1997. “They offered me a lovely contract to stay. I felt uncomfortable,” she said.

-In the summer of 2007, enraged by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann’s constant attacks on Fox News, Ailes reached NBC chief Jeff Zucker on his cell phone. If Olbermann didn’t stop, he warned, Ailes would tell the New York Post “to go after Zucker.”

-Ailes assigned Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton—a former colleague on George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, where he ran opposition research—to write an anonymous blog trashing Fox’s cable TV rivals.

-Ailes thought Sarah Palin was “an idiot,” but paid her a million dollars a year and built a home studio for her in Wasilla, Alaska. Before her appearances, she regularly carped at husband Todd, who handled the camera. Fox News producers nicknamed the Palins “The Bitch” and “The Eskimo.”

-Ailes, his third wife Beth, and their young son Zachary moved to a huge estate in Garrison, N.Y., where they bought the local newspaper, turned it into a right-wing attack vehicle, and regularly tried to browbeat fellow residents and local politicians over zoning regulations. They installed security cameras all over the property, built a bunker under their mansion, designed to weather a terrorist attack, and stocked it with a six-month food supply. “I’m not allowed to talk about it,” Roger’s older brother Robert told the author. “I think the proper term is a ‘panic room.’ ”