Speed Read: 25 Extraordinary Roger Ailes Revelations From ‘The Loudest Voice in the Room’
In The Loudest Voice in the Room, which goes on sale today, New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman excavates the life and times of Republican strategist-turned-cable television mogul Roger Ailes, the “brilliant, bombastic,” and—according to Sherman—deeply paranoid paterfamilias of Fox News. Below, some of the spicier nuggets from the unauthorized biography, for which Ailes didn't grant an interview:
*Ailes, 73, was diagnosed as a toddler in the working class industrial town of Warren, Ohio, with life-threatening hemophilia, which “caused blood to pool in his knees, hips, and ankles.” Sometimes, in great pain, he sits stoically though business meetings, “his shoes filling up with blood from a cut.”
*Ailes was so alarmed by the prospect of President Obama’s reelection—which he feared would result in his being prosecuted and jailed as a political prisoner—he once confided to Bill Clinton that he was looking into acquiring an Irish passport so he could emigrate to Ireland.
*Ailes’s father, Robert, a low-paid factory supervisor at the General Motors Packard plant, was an angry, occasionally violent man who resented his lot in life and occasionally whipped Roger and his older brother Robert Jr. with his belt. Once, as a cruel lesson, he urged little Roger to jump into his arms from the top bunk of his bunk bed, but stepped back and let his son fall to the floor. “Don’t ever trust anybody,” Robert Sr. declared. Decades later, an Ailes colleague called the incident “his Rosebud story.”
*Ailes acted in plays at Warren G. Harding High School with his well-to-do classmate Austin Pendleton, the son of a tool company executive, who went on to a successful stage and film career.
*In his 20s, Ailes displayed a killer instinct for corporate politics, maneuvering to oust his boss and leapfrog over his betters to become executive producer of The Mike Douglas Show, the popular daytime program on which he told guest Richard Nixon, before the taping, that if still thought television was a gimmick, he’d lose the 1968 presidential election. Nixon hired him as his campaign media advisor a few weeks later. At the time Ailes was slim and “looked like Bobby Darin.”
*As a young man, he struck journalist Joe McGinniss—who lionized Ailes in his campaign classic, The Selling of The President 1968—as a political moderate, “and on some issues, like civil rights, a progressive.”
*Ailes was “a big fan” of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s notorious favorite filmmaker—not for her Nazi ideology but for her cinematic talent as a propagandist. “Ailes was especially taken by Riefenstahl’s use of camera angles.”
*In the fall of 1969, after The Selling of The President was published, brimming with Ailes’s irreverent quotes about candidate Nixon’s quirks and failings, he sent a chagrined letter to White House chief of staff H.R. Bob Haldeman, claiming he was misquoted. Haldeman replied icily, “there’s really nothing much we can do about it at this point except hope that something like this doesn’t happen again.”
*Although he was distrusted by the president and his inner circle, Ailes persisted in offering advice to the Nixon White House, writing in a memo to Haldeman that Nixon should position himself for his 1972 reelection campaign by submitting to a series of sympathetic, “humanizing” TV interviews packaged by Ailes. His choice of interviewer: David Frost.
*At the beginning of his career as a media consultant, Ailes considered working for Democrats, once dispensing grooming tips to New York State Assembly candidate Andrew Stein. Ailes arranged for a barber to meet the 26-year-old Democrat for a trim at Ailes’s office. “I have a hairpiece. You can’t do this,” Stein protested to Ailes, who reassured the candidate, “We’ll just do a little bit around the sides.”
*As a theatrical producer, Ailes backed an environmental musical, Mother Earth, and cast his girlfriend, Kelly Garrett, in the lead even though she couldn’t dance. The show closed shortly after it opened. Ailes had better success staging Lanford Wilson’s Hot l Baltimore, a play about destitute social outcasts. Yet he confided to McGinniss, by then a close friend: “I’m walking around, and I feel just all this anger. I can’t figure out where it’s coming from.” He resisted McGinniss’s suggestion that he get therapy.
*Ailes traveled to Rome to produce a TV special on famed director Federico Fellini.
*In the mid-1980s, at the height of Ailes’s career as a media consultant, director Sidney Lumet made the film Power, about an Ailes-like political guru, and had his star, Richard Gere, prepare for the role by shadowing Ailes for several months. “Richard practically lived with him,” a friend of Gere’s recalled.
*As executive producer of NBC’s Tomorrow late-night show starring Tom Snyder, Ailes hired a twenty-something female segment producer named Randi Harrison who told Ailes that his $400-a-week salary offer was too low. “If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want I will add an extra hundred dollars a week,” Ailes allegedly responded. “I was in tears by the time I hit the street,” she later recalled. Last week, a Fox News spokesperson called Harrison's allegation "false." During a job interview with Shelley Ross, the future executive producer of Good Morning America, Ailes “posed romantically suggestive questions and made flirtatious comments about her appearance. ‘This is making me uncomfortable,’ Ross recalled telling Ailes.”
*During a 1989 fundraiser for his friend, Republican mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani, at a Manhattan hotel, Ailes is alleged to have violently attacked a group of AIDS activists, helping drag protester Kathy Ottersten down a flight of stairs.
*Running CNBC in the early 1990s, Ailes hired PR man Brian Lewis after testing his skills as a spin doctor. The New York Observer was working on an unflattering story about Ailes, he told Lewis. “Kill the story,” he ordered, pointing to the telephone. “Here?” Lewis asked. Ailes watched as Lewis bullied the journalist into deep-sixing the item. “Nice job,” he told his new employee, who became one of Ailes’ closest confidants. For 16 years, Lewis headed the notoriously combative PR department at Fox News, occasionally planting negative stories about Fox News employees considered disloyal. “I shoved a Scud up his ass!” he regularly crowed after a successful hit. Increasingly he and Ailes argued. “You demand loyalty from people, but you never show it,” he complained to the boss, prompting Ailes to hurl a water bottle at him. In 2008, he told Ailes he was voting for Barack Obama, on the theory that an Obama presidency would be better for business than a John McCain White House. He was summarily fired last summer—for what Fox News publicly claimed were “financial irregularities”; Lewis later reportedly received a multi-million-dollar settlement for agreeing not to spill Ailes’s secrets.
*Ailes tried to intimidate Time magazine writer Kurt Andersen, who was working on a potentially negative cover story involving Ailes’s friend Rush Limbaugh. “How would you like it if a CNBC camera crew followed your children home from school?” he asked the writer. Andersen’s reply: “I wonder how Jack Welch would feel if he knew that GE resources were being used to stalk small children?” “Are you threatening me?” Ailes asked, and then backed down.
*At CNBC Ailes verbally abused and threatened underlings. Senior executive Andy Friendly, son of CBS News icon Fred Friendly, wrote a detailed memo to NBC chief executive Robert Wright, claiming that “Ailes harangued him at meetings, encouraged him to lie to the press, and left Friendly with the distinct fear that Ailes might become physically violent.” In his memo Friendly described “in my face spitting and screaming to verbal threats of ‘blowing [my] brains out’, to psycological [sic] mind games questioning my family relationships, my marriage and other highly personal, totally inappropriate topics.” Ailes suffered no consequences and Friendly ultimately quit.
*During a nasty argument with rival NBC executive David Zaslav, Ailes allegedly called him “a little fucking Jew prick.” Zaslav—denied the incident to Sherman and last week repeated his denial to the New York Times—formally complained to NBC’s Human Resources department as part of a full-dress investigation. Zaslav wrote in a memo that he feared for his and his family’s safety. Labor lawyer Howard Ganz, a partner in the law firm Proskauer Rose, was retained to conduct an independent probe, and concluded that Ailes made the remark, which could be grounds for “cause termination.” Ailes vehemently denied doing so and kept his job after hand-delivering a letter to Wright saying, “The charges are false and despicable. I have not received a fair hearing. This is un-American. All the lawyering will provoke an untoward outcome.”
*When Ailes left CNBC to launch Fox News, many CNBC employees followed him there. “You’ve been poaching my people,” Wright complained to Ailes. “It isn’t poaching; it’s a jailbreak!” Ailes retorted.
*Catherine Crier left Fox News after being ordered to soften her coverage of China, where Rupert Murdoch was seeking to expand News Corp.’s business interests in the summer of 1997. “They offered me a lovely contract to stay. I felt uncomfortable,” she said.
*In the summer of 2007, enraged by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann’s constant attacks on Fox News, Ailes reached NBC chief Jeff Zucker on his cell phone. If Olbermann didn’t stop, he warned, Ailes would tell the New York Post “to go after Zucker.”
*Ailes assigned Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton—a former colleague on George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, where he ran opposition research—to write an anonymous blog trashing Fox’s cable TV rivals.
*Ailes thought Sarah Palin was “an idiot,” but paid her a million dollars a year and built a home studio for her in Wasilla, Alaska. Before her appearances, she regularly carped at husband Todd, who handled the camera. Fox News producers nicknamed the Palins “The Bitch” and “The Eskimo.”
*Ailes, his third wife Beth, and their young son Zachary moved to a huge estate in Garrison, N.Y., where they bought the local newspaper, turned it into a right-wing attack vehicle, and regularly tried to browbeat fellow residents and local politicians over zoning regulations. They installed security cameras all over the property, built a bunker under their mansion, designed to weather a terrorist attack, and stocked it with a six-month food supply. “I’m not allowed to talk about it,” Roger’s older brother Robert told the author. “I think the proper term is a ‘panic room.’ ”