Rolling Stone looks at Fox. They demonstrate, as others have pointed out previously, that Roger Ailes, not Rupart Murdoch, is the larger problem. The story shows how he has used misinformation, often fueled by his own extremist world to shape the Republican message and dominate Republican politics. This included his fear of Muslims, which is reflected in coverage at Fox.
Fear, in fact, is precisely what Ailes is selling: His network has relentlessly hyped phantom menaces like the planned “terror mosque” near Ground Zero, inspiring Florida pastor Terry Jones to torch the Koran. Privately, Murdoch is as impressed by Ailes’ business savvy as he is dismissive of his extremist politics. “You know Roger is crazy,” Murdoch recently told a colleague, shaking his head in disbelief. “He really believes that stuff.”
To watch even a day of Fox News – the anger, the bombast, the virulent paranoid streak, the unending appeals to white resentment, the reporting that’s held to the same standard of evidence as a late-October attack ad – is to see a refraction of its founder, one of the most skilled and fearsome operatives in the history of the Republican Party. As a political consultant, Ailes repackaged Richard Nixon for television in 1968, papered over Ronald Reagan’s budding Alzheimer’s in 1984, shamelessly stoked racial fears to elect George H.W. Bush in 1988, and waged a secret campaign on behalf of Big Tobacco to derail health care reform in 1993. “He was the premier guy in the business,” says former Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins. “He was our Michelangelo.”
In the fable Ailes tells about his own life, he made a clean break with his dirty political past long before 1996, when he joined forces with Murdoch to launch Fox News. “I quit politics,” he has claimed, “because I hated it.” But an examination of his career reveals that Ailes has used Fox News to pioneer a new form of political campaign – one that enables the GOP to bypass skeptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion. The network, at its core, is a giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism.
The result is one of the most powerful political machines in American history. One that plays a leading role in defining Republican talking points and advancing the agenda of the far right. Fox News tilted the electoral balance to George W. Bush in 2000, prematurely declaring him president in a move that prompted every other network to follow suit. It helped create the Tea Party, transforming it from the butt of late-night jokes into a nationwide insurgency capable of electing U.S. senators. Fox News turbocharged the Republican takeover of the House last fall, and even helped elect former Fox News host John Kasich as the union-busting governor of Ohio – with the help of $1.26 million in campaign contributions from News Corp. And by incubating a host of potential GOP contenders on the Fox News payroll– including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – Ailes seems determined to add a fifth presidential notch to his belt in 2012. “Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he’s now doing 24/7 with his network,” says a former News Corp. executive. “It’s come full circle.”
The article reviewed Ailes’s career, including how he used deception to influence the news. When he took over at Fox, he made sure it only presented his viewpoints:
Ailes then embarked on a purge of existing staffers at Fox News. “There was a litmus test,” recalled Joe Peyronnin, whom Ailes displaced as head of the network. “He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” When Ailes suspected a journalist wasn’t far enough to the right for his tastes, he’d spring an accusation: “Why are you a liberal?” If staffers had worked at one of the major news networks, Ailes would force them to defend working at a place like CBS – which he spat out as “the Communist Broadcast System.” To replace the veterans he fired, Ailes brought in droves of inexperienced up-and-comers – enabling him to weave his own political biases into the network’s DNA. To oversee the young newsroom, he recruited John Moody, a conservative veteran of Time. As recounted by journalist Scott Collins in Crazy Like a Fox, the Chairman gave Moody explicit ideological marching orders. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” Ailes told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters understood that a right-wing bias was hard-wired into what they did from the start. “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom,” says a former anchor. “But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color – and that your color was red.” Red state, that is.
Ailes biggest accomplishment was to proclaim George Bush the winner of the 2000 election when subsequent reviews of the vote showed that Al Gore would have won with a state-wide recount:
But it was the election of George W. Bush in 2000 that revealed the true power of Fox News as a political machine. According to a study of voting patterns by the University of California, Fox News shifted roughly 200,000 ballots to Bush in areas where voters had access to the network. But Ailes, ever the political operative, didn’t leave the outcome to anything as dicey as the popular vote. The man he tapped to head the network’s “decision desk” on election night – the consultant responsible for calling states for either Gore or Bush – was none other than John Prescott Ellis, Bush’s first cousin. As a columnist at The Boston Globe, Ellis had recused himself from covering the campaign. “There is no way for you to know if I am telling you the truth about George W. Bush’s presidential campaign,” he told his readers, “because in his case, my loyalty goes to him and not to you.”
In any newsroom worthy of the name, such a conflict of interest would have immediately disqualified Ellis. But for Ailes, loyalty to Bush was an asset. “We at Fox News,” he would later tell a House hearing, “do not discriminate against people because of their family connections.” On Election Day, Ellis was in constant contact with Bush himself. After midnight, when a wave of late numbers showed Bush with a narrow lead, Ellis jumped on the data to declare Bush the winner – even though Florida was still rated too close to call by the vote-tracking consortium used by all the networks. Hume announced Fox’s call for Bush at 2:16 a.m. – a move that spurred every other network to follow suit, and led to bush wins headlines in the morning papers.
“We’ll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not,” says Dan Rather, who was anchoring the election coverage for CBS that night. “But when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical. Led by Fox, the narrative began to be that Bush had won the election.”
Dwell on this for a moment: A “news” network controlled by a GOP operative who had spent decades shaping just such political narratives – including those that helped elect the candidate’s father – declared George W. Bush the victor based on the analysis of a man who had proclaimed himself loyal to Bush over the facts. “Of everything that happened on election night, this was the most important in impact,” Rep. Henry Waxman said at the time. “It immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds that he was the man who won the election.”
After Bush took office, Ailes stayed in frequent touch with the new Republican president. “The senior-level editorial people believe that Roger was on the phone every day with Bush,” a source close to Fox News tells Rolling Stone. “He gave Bush the same kind of pointers he used to give George H.W. Bush – delivery, effectiveness, political coaching.” In the aftermath of 9/11, Ailes sent a back-channel memo to the president through Karl Rove, advising Bush to ramp up the War on Terror. As reported by Bob Woodward, Ailes advised Bush that “the American public would tolerate waiting and would be patient, but only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible.”
After the Bush years, Ailes has used his influence to terrorize and misinform his audience, spread scare stories about Barack Obama, and promote far right wing causes:
Ailes knows exactly who is watching Fox News each day, and he is adept at playing to their darkest fears in the age of Obama. The network’s viewers are old, with a median age of 65: Ads cater to the immobile, the infirm and the incontinent, with appeals to join class action hip-replacement lawsuits, spots for products like Colon Flow and testimonials for the services of Liberator Medical (“Liberator gave me back the freedom I haven’t had since I started using catheters”). The audience is also almost exclusively white – only 1.38 percent of viewers are African-American. “Roger understands audiences,” says Rollins, the former Reagan consultant. “He knew how to target, which is what Fox News is all about.” The typical viewer of Hannity, to take the most stark example, is a pro-business (86 percent), Christian conservative (78 percent), Tea Party-backer (75 percent) with no college degree (66 percent), who is over age 50 (65 percent), supports the NRA (73 percent), doesn’t back gay rights (78 percent) and thinks government “does too much” (84 percent). “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully,” says a former News Corp. colleague. “He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.”
From the time Obama began contemplating his candidacy, Fox News went all-out to convince its white viewers that he was a Marxist, a Muslim, a black nationalist and a 1960s radical. In early 2007, Ailes joked about the similarity of Obama’s name to a certain terrorist’s. “It is true that Barack Obama is on the move,” Ailes said in a speech to news executives. “I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called Musharraf and said, ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?’” References to Obama’s middle name were soon being bandied about on Fox & Friends, the morning happy-talk show that Ailes uses as one of his primary vehicles to inject his venom into the media bloodstream. According to insiders, the morning show’s anchors, who appear to be chatting ad-lib, are actually working from daily, structured talking points that come straight from the top. “Prior to broadcast, Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson – that gang – they meet with Roger,” says a former Fox deputy. “And Roger gives them the spin.”
Fox & Friends is where the smear about Obama having attended a madrassa was first broadcast, with Doocy – an Ailes lackey from his days at America’s Talking – stating unequivocally that Obama was “raised as a Muslim.” And during the campaign, the show’s anchors flogged Obama’s reference to his own grandmother as a “typical white person” so relentlessly that it even gave Fox News host Chris Wallace pause. When Wallace appeared on the show that morning, he launched a rebuke that seemed targeted at Ailes as much as Doocy. “I have been watching the show since six o’clock this morning,” Wallace bristled. “I feel like two hours of Obama-bashing may be enough.”
The Obama era has spurred sharp changes in the character and tone of Fox News. “Obama’s election has driven Fox to be more of a political campaign than it ever was before,” says Burns, the network’s former media critic.“Things shifted,” agrees Jane Hall, who fled the network after a decade as a liberal commentator. “There seemed suddenly to be less of a need to have a range of opinion. I began to feel uncomfortable.” Sean Hannity was no longer flanked by Alan Colmes, long the network’s fig-leaf liberal. Bill Sammon, author of At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election, was brought in to replace Moody as the top political enforcer. And Brit Hume was replaced on the anchor desk by Bret Baier, one of the young guns Ailes hired more than a decade ago to inject right-wing fervor into Fox News.
Most striking, Ailes hired Glenn Beck away from CNN and set him loose on the White House. During his contract negotiations, Beck recounted, Ailes confided that Fox News was dedicating itself to impeding the Obama administration. “I see this as the Alamo,” Ailes declared. Leading the charge were the ragtag members of the Tea Party uprising, which Fox News propelled into a nationwide movement. In the buildup to the initial protests on April 15th, 2009, the network went so far as to actually co-brand the rallies as “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.” Veteran journalists were taken aback. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a news network throw its weight behind a protest like we are seeing in the past few weeks,” said Howard Kurtz, the then-media critic for The Washington Post. The following August, when the Tea Party launched its town-hall protests against health care reform, Fox & Friends urged viewers to confront their congressmen face to face. “Are you gonna call?” Gretchen Carlson demanded on-air, “or are you gonna go to one of these receptions where they’re actually there?” The onscreen Chyron instructed viewers: HOLD CONGRESS ACCOUNTABLE! NOW IS THE TIME TO SPEAK YOUR MIND.
Fox News also hyped Sarah Palin’s lies about “death panels” and took the smear a step further, airing a report claiming that the Department of Veterans Affairs was using a “death book” to encourage soldiers to “hurry up and die.” (Missing from the report was any indication that the end-of-life counseling materials in question had been promoted by the Bush administration.) At the height of the health care debate, more than two-thirds of Fox News viewers were convinced Obamacare would lead to a “government takeover,” provide health care to illegal immigrants, pay for abortions and let the government decide when to pull the plug on grandma. As always, the Chairman’s enforcer made sure that producers down in the Fox News basement were toeing the party line. In October 2009, as Congress weighed adding a public option to the health care law, Sammon let everyone know how Ailes expected them to cover the story. “Let’s not slip back into calling it the ‘public option,’” he warned in an e-mail. “Please use the term ‘government-run health insurance’ … whenever possible.” Sammon neglected to mention that the phrase he was pushing had been carefully crafted by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s largest lobbying organization, which had determined that the wording was “the most negative language to use when describing a ‘public plan.’”
The result of this concerted campaign of disinformation is a viewership that knows almost nothing about what’s going on in the world. According to recent polls, Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers. They are 12 percentage points more likely to believe the stimulus package caused job losses, 17 points more likely to believe Muslims want to establish Shariah law in America, 30 points more likely to say that scientists dispute global warming, and 31 points more likely to doubt President Obama’s citizenship. In fact, a study by the University of Maryland reveals, ignorance of Fox viewers actually increases the longer they watch the network. That’s because Ailes isn’t interested in providing people with information, or even a balanced range of perspectives. Like his political mentor, Richard Nixon, Ailes traffics in the emotions of victimization.
Update: Conservatives cannot handle the truth. They have been brainwashed by right wing propaganda to the point they do not recognize facts as opposed to right wing fiction. In contrast, many people in the Soviet Union realized that Pravda was lying.