Roger Ailes, master manipulator of the Republican id. / Wikimedia Commons

Roger, Over and Out

Roger Ailes, master manipulator of the Republican id. / Wikimedia Commons
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It’s certainly not in character for the corporate chieftains at Fox News to keep mum during the marquee action at a Republican Nation Convention. It’s a bit like having ESPN’s Chris Berman contain himself during a home-run derby—or Bravo TV reality impresario Andy Cohen staying quiet about anything at all.

Nevertheless, the silence out of the C suites at Fox News was eloquent, for a reason that the entire mediasphere has known for weeks: Fox News co-founder Roger Ailes has been embroiled in an ugly, protracted battle to save his perch atop the cable-news world. On Tuesday, word came forth that the battle was lost; talks between Ailes and his corporate overseers are preparing the way for his exit by August 1, if not sooner.

All this past week, the prospect of an involuntary Ailes departure—long an unthinkable fate for this Promethean lord of political media—was coming ever more sharply into the foreground, to the dismay of a conservative establishment still reeling from Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP. Gabriel Sherman and other media scribes reported that Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes had prompted Fox’s governing Murdoch clan to give Ailes the bum’s rush. Follow-up questions were referred to the network’s parent firm, 21st Century Fox, which simply released an anodyne statement affirming that the investigation into Ailes’s conduct was ongoing—without anything close to a pro forma denial of Carlson’s explosive charges (let alone the many similar complaints that have surfaced in the wake of Carlson’s suit). The only question appeared to be whether to show Ailes the door promptly, as Murdoch fils James, CEO of 21st Century Fox, is said to urge, or to do it in the relative quiet of the post-Cleveland convention aftermath, per the alleged preference of James’s brother and News Corp Co-Chairman Lachlan—as well as of the Fox empire’s éminence grise, Big Daddy Rupert. Sherman’s latest report indicates that Megyn Kelly—now the network’s biggest primetime star—has testified that Ailes has harassed her, and that the 21st Century Fox brass has given Ailes until August 1 to resign or be fired for cause.

In one sense, of course, the timing of Ailes’s exit is purely academic. Fox News is much more than the brainchild of the hard-charging, gun-slinging former Nixon aide. Under Ailes’s watch, the conservative cable network has become something far greater than a cable message board for aggrieved news consumers. Fox News is an alternative political universe—one in which well coiffed barkers of GOP talking points are the self-appointed tribunes of “the folks”, where discredited Islamaphobic scaremongers like Frank Gaffney can claim a regular national platform, where even the putative grown-up journalists in the house are shameless touts of white supremacist garbage, where, indeed, any two-bit D.C. fraudster could play a bona fide terror expert on TV. Fox News is, in other words, a mainline entry point into what Baffler writer Rick Perlstein has dubbed the Republican id. And Roger Ailes is the Rod Serling-style docent of this forbidding netherworld, ushering alarmed-yet-belligerent Fox devotees into ever darker subregions, from Glenn Beck’s heyday down to the latest dayside delusions merchandised over at Carlson’s former perch at Fox & Friends. “He is Fox News,” former Fox commentator Jane Hall said of Ailes. “It’s his vision. It’s a reflection of him.”

The fear-driven Fox-brokered consensus is showing telltale signs of fraying.

Indeed it is—right down to the network’s famously uniform penchant for hiring blonde on-camera female talent. Ailes’s peculiar complex of obsessions and animosities are stamped all over the hectoring, paranoiac Fox News world view, as network talent readily concedes. “Roger Ailes is the general,” no less an eminence than Bill O’Reilly has proclaimed. “And the general sets the tone of the army. Our army is very George Patton-esque. We charge. We roll.” So complete is Ailes’s imprint on all things Fox News that it even alarms Rupert Murdoch himself, who’s reported to have told a Fox senior executive, “You know Roger is crazy. He really believes that stuff.”

To get some sense of how far “that stuff” has leached into the general body politic, all one had to do was to cast a fearful eye on the opening night of the Republican National Convention, devoted to the Foxian/Trumpian slogan “Make America Safe Again.” From the fearmongering podium, a wide array of speakers hammered away at a single paranoid meme: Obama’s America, with its timorous diplomatic giveaways to Iran, Cuba, and the like was making the world at large a treacherous tinder box, while the liberal weakness for politically correct speech was making it impossible for our leaders to utter the magic incantatory phrases that would inspire our soldiers once and for all to vanquish the specter of Islamic extremism. Conspicuously absent from all this high-rhetorical saber-rattling was anything resembling an intelligible policy position—unless, of course, putting Hillary Clinton behind bars for ill-defined email trespasses and inconsistencies in her Benghazi testimony counts as a policy. By the end of the opening-night proceedings, former National Intelligence Agency Director and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn—rumored to have been on Trump’s VP short list—was braying an incoherent grab bag of denunciations of the politically correct status quo, such as “war is not about bathrooms!” As the convention hall rapidly cleared out, Flynn was reduced to clapping along with the dwindling hard-core ranks of the Hillary-hating faithful, and leading them in a chant of “Lock her up!”

In this politico-media season of seismic change, however, the fear-driven Fox-brokered consensus is showing telltale signs of fraying. And coming out of this year’s GOP convention, the big story looks to be not so much the blonde female Democratic nominee escaping a theoretical arraignment, but rather the many blonde victims of Roger Ailes’s own unbound id, right in the heart of the conservative communications revolution, who have managed, against formidable odds, to send this Fox News general packing off to his Waterloo.

Chris Lehmann is editor in chief of The Baffler and author of Rich People Things. His latest book, The Money Cult, is out now from Melville House.

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