November 24, 2018 – This is a very revealing look at Roger Ailes, one of the most influential Republican power brokers in American history. This documentary film tries to explain what made him tick and what made him so successful in promoting the political careers of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Mitch McConnell, Rudy Giuliani and, ultimately, Donald Trump.
I knew about Roger Ailes, of course, as the head of Republican cable news channel Fox News, but I had no idea how incredibly powerful he was, long before Fox News was launched in 1996. The film follows him from childhood to his death in 2017, and his career, from the popular 1967 talk-variety show, The Mike Douglas Show, to his role as co-founder and president of Fox News.
According to the documentary, directed by Alexis Bloom, Ailes had an uncanny knack for promoting fear as a way to grab the attention of an audience and hold it. He also used fear to influence public opinion in political campaigns. In an incredibly gutsy move, he talked his way into the 1968 Nixon presidential campaign, creating the job of media consultant in the process. Fear became an essential part of the “southern strategy” of race-baiting, used in Nixon's successful presidential campaign.
Ailes became one of the most successful media consultants in politics. He was also a very successful in TV network management. As president of CNBC, he created his own talk show network, “America's Talking.” He was very angry when billionaire Bill Gates bought the America's Talking network and turned it into MSNBC. Ailes vowed to get even, and he did when he became president of Fox News.
Ailes found a niche right wing political news market, which happened to coincide with his own conservative political views, in Fox News. Thanks to the Clinton-Lewinski scandal, Fox News quickly became the most popular news network on cable. Fox News has captured the older (average age 68) white viewership. According to the documentary, Ailes had laid out the framework for Fox News in a memo titled memo entitled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News,” submitted to the Nixon Administration in 1970.
The plan in 1970 was to deliver "pro-administration" news stories to television viewers in the heartland of America. Fox News now delivers pro-administration news every hour of every day to the entire world when a Republican sits in the White House, and anti-administration news when there is a Democratic president.
Ailes, as the head of Fox News, was riding high, as was the star of Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, who had a profound impact on American politics. Both were brought low by high-profile sex abuse scandals. The documentary details hundreds of millions of dollars paid out for sexual abuse claims at Fox News prior to Ailes being fired.
The documentary also includes an interesting account of Ailes involvement in the politics of the town of Garrison, New York. Local people talk about how Ailes brought his combative style of politics to town. Ailes, who bought the local newspaper in an attempt to influence local politics, was no doubt surprised when the candidate he backed did not win. He quickly disappeared from Garrison after being fired from Fox News.
The movie argues that Ailes, being a hemophiliac, led a life based on fear. He understood fear and knew how to use it. Conversely, he was able to overcome his own fear and act fearlessly when he needed to. The movie also argued that part of the reason for his own success was to overcome his own feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps that also contributed to his longtime exploitation of women.
The movie reveals some awful treatment of women by Ailes: His use of power to compel their compliance, and his use of power to destroy the careers of some of those women who refused his sexual advances. These stories are simply disgusting. Yet, the movie also tries to explain away Ailes' behavior to an extent. This is a fascinating portrait of a powerful, destructive, divisive political figure. This film rates a B.
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