Magazine article USA TODAY

The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News-And Divided a Country

Magazine article USA TODAY

The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News-And Divided a Country

Article excerpt

THE LOUDEST VOICE IN THE ROOM: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News--and Divided a Country



2014, 395 pages, $28.00


Contributing editor for New York magazine, Gabriel Sherman has written for several publications; served as a commentator on NPR, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC's "Morning Joe," NBC's 'Today Show," and ABC's 'World News"; and, beginning in 2012, been honored as a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation.

As a pugnacious TV advisor to three presidents--Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush--and later, as the progenitor of Fox News, Roger Ailes "remade American politics and media." Almost single-handedly, he transformed politics into "mass entertainment--monetizing politics while making entertainment a potent organizing force." As chairman and CEO of Fox News, Ailes is one of the "most powerful opposition figures in the country." He used Fox News to "polarize the American electorate and drew sharp with-us-or-against-us lines; he demonized foes and railed against compromise."

As a young man growing up in Warren, Ohio, in the early 1950s, Ailes acted in plays with his neighborhood friends, among whom Austin Pendleton became a well-known stage and film actor. Pendleton's mother gave Ailes acting lessons, and the boys presented plays on a stage in the Pendleton's basement. In high school, he appeared in several plays and had the lead in "A Man Called Peter." Ailes attended Ohio University, one of the first universities to have a student-operated radio and TV station. As a freshman, Ailes worked at WDUB, where he proved to be "a natural broadcaster"; he read news headlines on "Radio Digest" and hosted the "Yawn Patrol," a morning variety show. Eventually promoted to station manager, Ailes made the "station his home."

Following graduation in 1962, Ailes went to work with Westinghouse's Cleveland TV station KYW, where he served as executive producer of "The Mike Douglas Show." This "immersed Ailes in the world of professional entertainment," where he learned "TV had more to do with drama--conflict, surprise, and spontaneity--than with expensive sets." Most importantly, he learned to keep shows fresh, keep people off-balance not knowing what would happen, and end each segment with a 'payoff.'"

In 1965, the show ranked No. 1 among daytime shows in America. On "The Mike Douglas Show," Ailes "developed the unassailable, blustering confidence that became his hallmark." Here, too, Ailes formulated his concept of politics as entertainment. "Politicians were part of the show." Ailes and Douglas became close friends, and Ailes later hired several people with whom he had worked on the show.

After Nixon appeared on "The Mike Douglas Show" on Jan. 9, 1968, he confided to Ailes that he neither liked nor trusted TV. However, Ailes convinced him TV would be important in the next presidential election; Nixon subsequently hired Ailes as a part-time consultant. The meeting with Nixon "altered the trajectory of Ailes' career." In working for the Nixon campaign, Ailes produced a series of one-hour "town hall meetings" across the country. He termed Nixon's election the first "electric election" and proclaimed "TV has the power now."

Ailes foresaw "a vast new market to tap." In 1969, Ailes formed REA Productions, from which he launched a new talk show, "The Dennis Wholey Show" for Taft Broadcasting. On the show, Ailes met Joe McGinnis, who was collecting information for The Selling of the President during the presidential campaign. The two became good friends; in fact, McGinnis' book "supercharged Ailes reputation as a TV impresario." Ailes moved to Hollywood in March 1970 to produce "The Real Tom Kennedy Show" on KTLA. In working with this show, Ailes discovered "how TV could harness the liberal culture even as it was critiquing it," a technique he eventually carried to Fox News. …

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