JONATHAN CHAIT JANUARY 10, 2010
I appreciated two things about Sunday's New York Times piece about Roger Ailes. First, the article attempted to evaluate Ailes' influence as a Republican operative without getting hung up on Ailes' preposterous insistence that he's in the business of objective news reporting. Most reporting about Fox either takes a studiously neutral approach toward the question of Fox's slant ("critics call the network conservative-leaning, but...") or, occasionally, devote their energy to proving Fox's partisan role. But this tends to mire every discussion of Fox's role in the first stage. If every article about Mitt Romney's attempts to position himself to win the GOP nomination had to take seriously his formal denial that he's running, they wouldn't get very far. So it's nice to see an examination of Fox that basically ignores its claim of nonpartisanship.
Second, Ailes comes through in the article as paranoid (quite possibly in the clinical sense) regarding his own personal vulnerability to terrorism:
National security had long been a preoccupation of Fox News, and it was clear in the interview that the 9/11 attacks had a profound effect on Mr. Ailes. They convinced him that he and his network could be terrorist targets.
On the day of the attacks, Mr. Ailes asked his chief engineer the minimum number of workers needed to keep the channel on the air. The answer: 42. “I am one of them,” he said. “I’ve got a bad leg, I’m a little overweight, so I can’t run fast, but I will fight.
“We had 3,000 dead people a couple miles from here. I knew that any communications company could be a target.”
His movements now are shadowed by a phalanx of corporate-provided security. He travels to and from work in a miniature convoy of two sport utility vehicles. A camera on his desk displays the comings and goings outside his office, where he usually keeps the blinds drawn.
Somewhere in the Fox media empire, I am willing to bet, there is a made-for-television movie script about a terrorist attack designed to take out the sole non-leftwing television in the United States, only to be thwarted in a climactic shootout by a brave but portly news executive.