Roger Ailes: The Man Who Destroyed Objectivity

Neal Gabler in

Roger-Ailes-1024x720Fox News creator and former chief Roger Ailes, who died at 77 last week from complications after a fall in his Florida home, may have been the most significant political figure of the last 35 years — which isn’t necessarily a compliment to those of us who believe media mavens shouldn’t also be political operatives. Ailes clearly thought differently. He simultaneously changed the contours both of American politics and American media by melding them, and in doing so changed the contours of fact and objectivity as they once were understood before the era of post-fact.

It seems a lot to put on one man, but Roger Ailes destroyed the idea of media objectivity in the name of media objectivity, the way a phony evangelist might destroy virtue in the name of virtue. Things have never been the same since. Ailes was a political acolyte of Richard Nixon, and Nixon was a media acolyte of Ailes. It was a perfect and powerful alliance — two outcasts seeking retribution. Nixon’s great contribution to American politics was to take his personal umbrage, a lifetime of slights, and nationalize it. Like so many among the aggrieved, he aspired to be an insider and was tormented by not being admitted to their ranks. In anger, he took them on, especially those he regarded as haughty elites — accused spy Alger Hiss, who was the personification of the Ivy-educated aristocrat and on whose takedown Nixon built his career; John Kennedy, who was everything Nixon wanted to be and wasn’t; and the entire liberal establishment, which would denigrate and denounce him as he rose through the political ranks. He became the avatar for every person who had suffered the same disdain and abuse, and he turned Republicanism into a therapeutic movement of social vengeance.

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