Roger Ailes is the pallid, smirking, ultra-rich white guy who sits atop the unrepentant lie factory that is Fox News. A new book about Ailes, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, is due out this month, and Vanity Fair has an excerpt. Off Camera was written by Zev Chafets—the man behind a cheerleading 2010 Rush Limbaugh biography—and has been viewed as a would-be preemptive strike against another Ailes biography coming out this year, from New York contributing editor Gabe Sherman, The Loudest Voice in the Room: Fox News and the Making of America.
The theory goes that Ailes played nice with Chafets—allowing him close access and patience—in order to try and discredit Sherman's presumably less rosy work, which is already being systematically battered by Fox News anchors, who have called Sherman a "phony" and "a stalker" on air. A less narcissistic and thin-skinned man than Ailes might have given that project the opportunity to go the way of most other intensively reported biographies of media executives. But Ailes can't conceive of himself as being an unimportant or uninteresting subject, so we get the thunderstorm and a whole bonus book.
Whatever ulterior motives are behind it, Off Camera, the excerpt at least, is an interesting read. Not because it contains any left-field twists or turns, or because it illuminates anything you might not expect about Ailes (yes, he is nice to his kid, but so are a lot of people because that is what you're supposed to do). It is largely interesting because it confirms a lot of the suspicions you probably already have about Ailes: that he is a mean bully operating under an aloof detachment from reality. It's surprising because it's not surprising, like when you turn on the hot water, touch the hot water, and then yank back your hand. Yep, that's hot water, all right.
Roger Ailes is that parent who "barks instructions" at all the kids during school sports match-ups:
Zac [Ailes' son] was easily the tallest kid on the team, and when the action commenced, his father encouraged him to take advantage of it. "Don't get boxed out," he shouted. "Use your height. Hands up on defense!" Zac hit the first shot of the game, and Ailes clapped loudly and shouted his approval. But Zac's team, wearing red, was no match for the other school's. As they fell behind, Ailes grew tense, barking instructions at his son and the rest of the team, but the advice wasn't helping. During a time-out he extracted his BlackBerry for a quick peek at the standings. "Let's see if Fox News is still on the air," he said.
Back on the court, Zac caught a stray elbow to the eye. "Shake it off," Ailes yelled. "Rub it out! Back on defense! Get all over them! Come on, fellas, show some heart!" But sometimes heart isn't enough. At the final buzzer the score was 29–10.
Roger Ailes is the guy who mocks ethnic names:
He is plainspoken, wryly profane, caustic, and above all competitive, whether he is relating how he told NBC not to name its cable channel MSNBC ("M.S. is a damn disease") or, in an appearance before a student audience, trying to recall the name of a CNN anchor "named after a prison." (Soledad O'Brien.)
He is a blue-collar guy from a factory town in Ohio who has stayed close to his roots. 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.
Roger Ailes responds to criticism with bristling insults:
One moment of tension occurred in 2010, when Matthew Freud, the husband of Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth and a powerful British public-relations executive, told The New York Times that "I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes's horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder, and every other global media business aspires to." ... Ailes mocked Freud in an interview in the Los Angeles Times, saying he couldn't pick the British flack out of a lineup and suggesting that he (a descendant of Sigmund Freud's) "needed to see a psychiatrist."
Roger Ailes likes intimidating people with his "tough guy" image, which sometimes finds him destroying things in a rage:
Ailes revels in his image as a tough-guy. He is fond of recalling rougher times, like the night he punched a hole in the wall of an NBC control room where he was producing The Tomorrow Show. "It was just a drywall, and luckily I didn't hit any beams. But somebody put a frame around the hole and wrote, don't mess with roger ailes. If you have a reputation as a badass, you don't need to fight."
Roger Ailes occasionally gets upset with people who dare to express anger when he smashes out the window of their pussy hybrid cars:
Ailes admits that he sometimes flies off the handle. This can happen pretty much anywhere. Not long ago, on a ball field near his place in Garrison, NY, his nephew accidentally hit a baseball through the window of a 2012 Prius parked in a church lot. The owners were Koreans who didn't speak much English, and they were extremely agitated. "It's just a damn window," Ailes told them. "I'll pay for the damn thing."
The owner was indignant. "We pray, you curse," he said.
"Fine," said Ailes. "Then let's pray over the fucking window. Maybe that'll fix it."
"It was a 10-minute incident that I turned into an hour," Ailes said when he told me the story. "Hell, it's lucky they didn't recognize me. It could have turned into a goddamn international scandal. But I told them I was sorry " He laughed. "Damn it, though, I was kind of glad that it was a Prius."
Even a broken jackass is right twice a day, of course, and Ailes appears to get something correct every now and again: "One day during the 2012 primary season, Newt Gingrich complained that Fox News's support for Mitt Romney was responsible for Gingrich's poor showing. ... Ailes was silent for a moment and then added, 'Newt's a prick.'"
[Image via AP]