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“What Fox News Has Wrought”: Roger Ailes And The Politics Of Resentment

When New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman set out to write a biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, he knew that Fox’s PR machine would do everything it could to discredit him. Sherman’s answer, it seems (the book hasn’t yet been released) was to be as thorough as he could (he conducted over 600 interviews) and hire fact-checkers to pore over the manuscript. Nevertheless, what’s now beginning is essentially a political battle over the book, with Sherman on one side and Fox on the other. I would imagine that media outlets that report on it will do so in pretty much the same way they do any other political conflict. I’ll surely have more to say once I get my hands on it, but for now I want to address one thing about Ailes and Fox

This morning, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple takes Sherman to task for a portion of an interview he did with CBS This Morning in which Sherman failed to provide particularly good support for his contention that Ailes “divides the country.” In fairness, it came right at the end, and Sherman doubtless had plenty more to say. I’m not sure what Sherman’s answer is, but I’ll tell you my answer. Before that, here’s the portion of the interview:

O’Donnell: You say he’s divided the country.

Sherman: Yes, he has.

O’Donnell: How?

Sherman: Because his ability to drive a message: He has an unrivaled ability to know what resonates with a certain audience. You know, he comes from a blue-collar factory town in Ohio, he speaks to…

Rose: So what’s the message that divides the country?

Sherman: He speaks to that part of America that feels left behind by the culture. You know, it’s the old Nixon silent majority, which is what was his formative experience.

Wemple asks, reasonably enough, “What’s divisive, after all, about understanding what ‘resonates with a certain audience’? What’s the problem with speaking to Americans who feel ‘left behind by the culture’?” What’s divisive is the way Fox does it.

And the way they do it is through resentment. You have to remember that the typical Fox News viewer is a 70-year-old white guy who wants America to get the hell off his lawn. Fox feeds him resentment like it was the water of life. When he tunes in to O’Reilly or Hannity or any of the other Fox shows, he can bathe in resentment, of anyone who doesn’t look like him or think like him. All of his troubles and our nation’s troubles are their fault, he’s told again and again and again. They aren’t just wrong, they’re trying to destroy everything he holds dear. What we need in office are people who will crush them like bugs, and what we need on our TV screens are people who will stand up to them and shake a fist in their despicable faces.

But wait, you say, don’t liberals do the same thing with their rich-hating class warfare? Don’t they peddle resentment too? The difference is that when liberals talk about things like inequality, there’s a policy agenda behind it. They want to do things that would lift the fortunes of the non-rich, like raise the minimum wage or empower workers or enhance educational opportunities.

The resentment that Fox peddles, on the other hand, is agenda-free. There isn’t some set of policies they propose to limit the influence of pointy-headed college professors and uppity black people and the lazy moochers stealing your taxes. It’s resentment for resentment’s sake. Which, if you’re a television network, is more than enough, because all you want is for those angry viewers to keep coming back. In fact, it’s much better if they never get what they want, because then they’ll stay angry, and they’ll keep watching.

It isn’t just Fox, of course. Other conservative media peddle the same thing, and some politicians have even built entire careers on resentment. But Fox is the epicenter, and given how successful they’ve been at mining, crafting, and encouraging resentment, there’s little reason for them ever to stop.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 13, 2014

January 14, 2014 Posted by | Fox News, Roger Ailes | , , , , | 1 Comment

“TV Channel Or Cult?”: Fox News’ Conspiratorial Paranoia On The Screen Reflects That In The Offices

Fox News fired its head of PR recently, an act that would’ve been a dry bit of news of interest only to cable news junkies and media reporters were it not for Fox News’s scorched-earth style of PR. Thanks to Fox’s own efforts, the story of the firing of a guy you’ve never heard of became proper news, discussed and analyzed by people who’d never notice if CNN fired some random suit. At Fox News, the conspiratorial paranoia on the screen often seems like a reflection of the conspiratorial paranoia in the offices.

Brian Lewis had been with Fox News for 17 years, with his final title being executive vice president of corporate communications. On July 25, he was “terminated for cause,” according to Fox News corporate communications, and escorted from the building. Fox cited “financial issues” and did not elaborate. New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, whose forthcoming biography of Roger Ailes has caused the already nutty Ailes to act nuttier than usual, said the firing would further isolate Ailes from dissenting viewpoints. Sherman referred to Lewis as a “moderating influence” on Ailes, and one of his most trusted advisers since Fox News was first launched.

Sherman’s short piece led to the sort of coordinated “push-back” effort that Lewis pioneered in his years at Fox, with multiple Fox personalities insisting that Lewis had never been important to anyone, least of all Ailes. “Lewis and Gabriel Sherman are the only two who believe that Lewis was actually the right-hand man to Roger Ailes,” someone told Mediaite. (In fact, “right-hand man” was how the Hollywood Reporter referred to Lewis, before Sherman’s piece even was published. Similar language was used by the L.A. Times, the New York Times, and… a bunch of other places. Good zing, though, Fox PR!) Ailes even asked Donald Trump to trash Sherman’s piece on Twitter, and Trump complied.

The story of Lewis’ firing seems to have something to do with Sherman’s forthcoming book, and Ailes’ suspicion that Lewis was one of Sherman’s sources. “Brian was operating outside the culture of the company, and thus violated his contract, so Roger let him go,” an executive told Mike Allen, who has published Fox News executive rebuttals (and prebuttals) to other journalists’ reporting on Fox in the past. “The culture of the company,” at Fox News, is basically paranoia, omerta, and vicious retribution.

The person now solely in charge of public relations for Fox News is Irena Briganti, a person whose relationship with journalists has been described as “vindictive” and “ruthless.” Most reporters who’ve had to deal with her have horror stories of threats, accusations, and blacklisting. Briganti and the Fox PR shop have been known to perform campaign-style “opposition research” on journalists they perceive as unfriendly.

We all know that Fox is deeply worried about the demographics of its viewers — they’re really old — and that Roger Ailes is “shaking up” the network in order to appeal to a newer, more diverse generation of Americans. (His moves so far: Putting Megyn “The New Black Panther Party are coming to get you” Kelly in prime time and putting Elisabeth “Great AmerMcCain Hero” Hasselbeck on in the mornings.)

The problem isn’t Sean Hannity, though. Or Bill O’Reilly. The problem is Ailes. As long as he’s running the network — and he’ll be running the network as long as Rupert Murdoch is alive — the network will fail to appeal to most people under 40. As Jordan Chariton wrote at Salon earlier this month, Fox’s demographics problem is simple: Ailes is committed to creating conservative content, and young people are getting more and more liberal. But it’s not just that the content is conservative, it’s that it reflects the mindset of the post-sixties white backlash, something people born after the 1960s can’t relate to at all.

Part of Ailes’ great success is simply great timing. He got in the game, alongside Richard Nixon, at the start of the great conservative backlash. He is a master at appealing to and manipulating the pissed-off American white man. He began his career selling Nixon to worried white people and now he’s selling older, even more worried white people reverse mortgages and #BENGHAZI. But that generational tantrum is currently in its rampaging hysterical death throes. The next generation is not quite as panicky about the endangered state of white supremacy.

So the Fox problem isn’t just partisanship. It’s in the culture of the company. Fox will continue to have trouble appealing to a wider variety of people as long as its leader, the person who embodies everything Fox News, is a paranoid, angry old man who handles staff issues like a Stalinist, erasing disfavored former deputies from history and ordering all who seek to remain in his good graces to denounce their former comrade as a traitor.

My question, and this question is basically directed at the people above Ailes in the News Corp corporate hierarchy, is this: Does Fox actually need a culture of secrecy, or a political campaign-style PR apparatus that regularly plants smears against its critics? Is this a cable television news channel or Scientology? What is even the point of going to great lengths to discredit a forthcoming biography of Ailes by planting stories in the conservative blogosphere? How many Breitbart.com readers were going to read Sherman’s biography? How many of them would’ve turned against Ailes were it not for the constant, ridiculous anti-Sherman smears Ailes is planting?

It’s not just that Fox’s war on enemy journalists is unethical and unprofessional, it’s that it’s frequently embarrassing for Fox. Every time they go to war against someone who wrote something they don’t like, they simply create more stores about unhinged Ailes and his strange and petty retributions. If Roger Ailes wants people to stop claiming he’s paranoid and crazy, he needs to stop acting paranoid and crazy. If Fox wants journalists to stop treating their channel like a cult run by a madman, well, maybe someone should consider convincing the madman to retire.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, August 26, 2013

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Fox News | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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