The most powerful man in television news is gazing through time at a black-and-white photo taken half a century ago of a buff, lunch-pail-toting 19-year-old wearing a white T-shirt and disheveled trousers.
“That’s me,” Roger Ailes tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview. “It’s the way I view myself. I worked three summers putting in sewer pipe and guardrail on the road in Ohio. So when people look at me today and say, ‘Well, he is some rich guy who lives in Manhattan,’” Ailes points to the photo, eyes glinting, and says, “That’s who I am.”
For the last 15 years, Roger Eugene Ailes has ruled as Rupert Murdoch’s suzerain over the Fox News Channel — building from scratch a TV network that has mushroomed into a cultural and commercial juggernaut, said to be worth today almost $12 billion.
Throughout this remarkable run, Ailes, 71, never lost his self-image as a renegade challenging the media elites’ comprehension of blue-collar Americans. His intellect has altered the parabola of television news, pioneering a new type of programming that caters to conservatives and independents.
For years, executives at rival networks nursed their bruised egos by assuring themselves they still were more respected than Fox despite Fox’s market dominance.
Now even that fig leaf has been torn away. A recent survey by Poll Position, a nonpartisan online polling firm launched by former CNN News chief Eason Jordan, asked Americans which news network does the best job. The hands-down winner: Fox News, with 36.1 percent, followed not so closely by CNN with 27.8. MSNBC was on life support with just 16.6 percent.
Sean Hannity’s View
“He’s a television genius. Rupert Murdoch saw the genius in Roger, and was willing to invest in this, and I think they both saw that media was very one-sided in this country and that there was a real need for fair and balanced coverage of issues of the day.”
— Fox News host
“Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes are brilliant strategists and programmers,” Jordan told Newsmax. “They carved out a niche, exploited it, and expanded it. Fox News pops. Like it or not, Fox News is compelling, provocative, and addictive to many.”
Asked what it was like to compete against Ailes, Jordan, who joined CNN in 1982 and rose to become its chief news executive and president of newsgathering and international networks before departing in 2005, replies, “Fun and ferocious.”
“Roger is a tenacious and wily competitor, he fights with brass knuckles, and he rarely loses — a winning and tough-as-nails reputation he earned long before he joined the TV news fray.”
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press backs up the Poll Position research. It found Fox News is cited most often as the public’s No. 1 news source at 19 percent, with CNN second at 15 percent. Those two placed far ahead of the broadcast networks, as well as print outlets such as The New York Times and The Associated Press.
The bottom line: The public no longer sees CNN as the major-domo of cable news. And media insiders universally credit — or blame — one man for that landmark shift: Roger Ailes.
Ailes has positioned Fox News to dominate the news business in both ratings and influence, and its success has mirrored the increasing anger, hate, and envy that the establishment media, and America’s left, direct at Ailes and Fox.
Even President Barack Obama has joined the struggle. In October 2009, in one of the nastiest confrontations ever between the White House and a news network, Obama objected that Fox was “operating basically as a talk-radio format” rather than as a “news outlet.”
Obama himself told The New York Times in October 2008 that Ailes and Fox were costing him 2 to 3 points in the polls.
By all accounts, the 2012 election is expected to be close. In the view of some pundits, there is little doubt the Obama “war room” once again will ratchet up the heat on Fox. A fresh spate of stories and profiles on Ailes from the mainstream media have already begun to stoke this fire.
Reading those mainstream media accounts, it is hard to imagine Ailes as the son of a factory-maintenance foreman in the northeastern Ohio town of Warren, who began his professional life digging ditches, then produced Shakespearean plays on and off-Broadway, and went on to become a close adviser to three U.S. presidents.
The less strident media profiles portray Ailes as a “pit bull,” and “a man with only two speeds: Attack and destroy.”
Other adjectives emanating from establishment wisdom are more brutal, labeling him “Crazy . . . evil . . . paranoid.”
The firestorm of controversy that surrounds Ailes was recently re-ignited by a Rolling Stone article titled, “How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory.”
The piece described Ailes in the most bilious terms possible, calling him “the classic figure of a cinematic villain: bald and obese, with dainty hands, Hitchcockian jowls and a lumbering gait.”
Despite the invective Ailes faces daily, he says he never will stop defending American values in order to gain elite approbation. “We’re losing our freedom of speech, we are losing freedom of religion, we are losing freedom of the press,” Ailes warns.
Behind the Curtain
At Fox News, Ailes single-handedly has changed the way Americans get their news and, in the process, upended the political landscape by aggregating an audience that felt politically alienated by what they perceived to be the liberal bias of the big three networks.
Geraldo Rivera’s View
“Roger dared to be different. He dared to take a different track. His success is maddening to a lot of his enemies, let's face it.”
— Fox News host
It’s the biggest success story in modern media and, in the process, Ailes has become the most influential man not just in news and television, but also in politics. Tina Brown, editor in chief of Newsweek and the Daily Beast website, recently called him the most powerful person in the Republican Party. No one media figure holds similar sway over the Democratic Party.
Today, the Fox News Channel reaches over 100 million American homes and is watched in 40 countries. For 116 consecutive months, dating back to 2002, it has dominated rivals CNN and MSNBC in total daytime and primetime audiences.
Even its late-night Red Eye show airing at 3 a.m. Eastern attracts more viewers in the coveted 25-to-54 age demographic than the prime-time audiences of CNN and MSNBC. Fox is the 800-pound gorilla of cable news. According to Nielsen Media Research, the top 13 programs in cable news air on Fox. Its audience accounts for 48 percent of the prime-time cable-news market, compared to 17 percent each for CNN and MSNBC.
Fox has found not only audience, influence, and power, but also great profits. It is now the crown jewel of Murdoch’s News Corporation empire, which, as of September, had a market valuation of some $43.9 billion on Nasdaq.
In fiscal 2012, Fox News alone is projected to make a profit of $929 million. Fox News is believed to make more than CNN, MSNBC, and the evening newscasts of NBC, ABC, and CBS combined, according to The New York Times.
In 2010, the top media-financial analyst firm SNL Kagan ranked Fox News as the most valuable of all cable news channels, and the fourth-most valuable channel in the entire cable universe (behind only ESPN, Nickelodeon, and TNT). SNL Kagan estimated the network’s worth at $11.4 billion.
An analyst at Wall Street’s Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, Michael Nathanson, described Fox News as “probably the single most important asset at News Corporation.”
n the early 1990s, Ailes began tinkering with new ideas for the cable news format, while supervising 31.5 hours of live programming daily as president of both CNBC and America’s Talking (MSNBC’s precursor).
At the time, Ailes worked for NBC. He was considered a “good guy,” got mostly positive press, and no one complained that he was trying to manipulate the news. After taking the helm at CNBC in 1993, Ailes hired Geraldo Rivera, then a popular daytime host, and gave him a prominent prime-time perch to bash Bill Clinton’s critics. In 2001, Ailes recruited Rivera to join him at Fox. Rivera may not be on the same political page as Ailes, but Rivera tells Newsmax there’s no getting around the fact that Ailes is “one of the seminal figures in the history of broadcast media” based on his success not only at Fox News, but also at CNBC.
Chris Matthews’ View
“He gave me my own show on CNBC called Politics, which became Hardball in 1997. Roger and I have stayed friends ever since. I like him a lot and owe him a lot. He alone is responsible for me getting into television full-time.”
— MSNBC host
“Roger dared to be different,” says Rivera, who has known Ailes since the 1970s. “He dared to take a different tack. His success is maddening to a lot of his enemies, let’s face it.”
Ailes both values and engenders loyalty. So given their long association it is no surprise that Rivera comes to his defense. “It troubles me the sharpness of the criticism of Roger,” Rivera says. “Not that he can’t take it, but some of the tone of it is so crazy, rhetorical, embellished, exaggerated, and extremely hurtful. Maybe it rolls off of his back, but I get extremely annoyed at it. And I just wish they would judge him fairly.”
Not long after Ailes took over CNBC, he tripled its ratings and boosted profits from $9 million to more than $100 million. With that accomplishment behind him, Ailes moved in 1996 to his current home at News Corporation, and launched Fox News after mogul Murdoch detected a huge unfulfilled market. CNN had moved far left, and it was ripe for a center-right competitor.
After joining Team Murdoch, the once-respected television newsman and political media consultant became a purveyor of what Obama called “talk-radio” for television, and Rolling Stone acerbically described as “fake news.”
Other critics contended that because Ailes had worked for Republican presidents as a media adviser, he was somehow tainted. This overlooked the cross-pollination at other networks, including Rick Kaplan, who had advised Bill Clinton and went on to serve as president of CNN and MSNBC, or dozens of other former Democratic operatives who were accepted at the highest levels of TV news, without complaint.
Similarly, the argument that Ailes exerts an unprecedented influence on presidential politics via an on-air “bullpen” of GOP presidential aspirants — e.g., former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton — ignores the historical impact of media barons on politics.
“I think he’s a television genius,” Fox News host Sean Hannity tells Newsmax. “Rupert Murdoch saw the genius in Roger, and was willing to invest in this; and I think they both saw that media was very one-sided in this country and that there was a real need for fair and balanced coverage of issues of the day. Only that type of combination actually could create something as successful as it is.”
n a recent Thursday afternoon, Newsmax found Ailes intently hunched over a stack of colorful architectural drawings arrayed upon the coffee table in his corner office in the News Corporation tower, overlooking Sixth Avenue near Rockefeller Center. A heavy, silver statue of a fox peered down from high atop a cabinet, as Ailes met with operations and engineering honcho Warren Vandeveer to examine proposed renovations to the Fox newsroom and studios.
“So this will be all glass?” Ailes asks, pointing to one design element.
“Yes,” Vandeveer nods.
“What will that do to our audio?” asks Ailes, before adding in quick succession, “What’s the ceiling height in there? What’s the distance here, between the cameras?”
Ailes wants to know where people will enter the green room, whether a mechanical closet will create distractions, and how high Fox News’ cameras will focus above onlookers’ heads outside the studio’s ground-floor windows. All this from a man whose long, distinguished television career began in the days when many TVs were still black and white, there were only four channels, and changing them required getting off the couch and walking over to turn the knob.
Ailes and Vandeveer walk down the hall to inspect the emergency kits Fox is distributing to its workforce. The kits arrive just as New Yorkers worry about a new terrorist attack following the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Ailes greets staffers who have lined up to receive one of the 2,300 kits. “Mine is filled with chocolate chip cookies,” Ailes smiles. Vandeveer lists the kit’s contents: “Each one has water, a light stick, rechargeable batteries . . .” “Is there a cyanide tablet in case they capture us?” Ailes deadpans. Everyone chuckles.
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Ailes: Fair & Honest
Media sketches frequently portray Ailes as a paranoid, bombastic bully. But it is difficult to match those caricatures with the man in person, who comes across as congenial and humble, in part due to a self-effacing humor consistent with his working-class roots. Try though liberals might, Roger Ailes is a hard guy to hate.
Another of his marquee hires at CNBC was Chris Matthews, the former aide to Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill who has since risen to Hardball fame, or infamy, depending on your perspective.
Matthews met Ailes through their mutual friend Joe McGinniss, the liberal columnist and author of The Rogue, the controversial, new tell-all biography of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Matthews admits that before their introduction, he thought to himself, “You’ve got to be kidding; he’s the enemy.”
“Turns out, Roger and I hit it off from the start,” says Matthews. They stayed in touch, and when Ailes became president of CNBC, he offered Matthews a job. “Roger and I have stayed friends ever since. I like him a lot and owe him a lot. He alone is responsible for me getting into television full-time.” Ailes says he tries to follow his father’s maxim: “Help people when they need help. That’s when you help them — not when they don’t need it.” Another picture from his past shows a 29-year-old Ailes in the White House explaining to Richard Milhous Nixon how they were going to execute a split-screen shot from the Apollo moon landing. “I was in the Oval Office when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon because I was called in to coordinate the coverage,” Ailes recalls. “I got to thinking, We have a feed from the moon. We’ve got a feed from the Earth. I can set up the first interplanetary shot in history.”
So how did Ailes go from ditch digger to White House media consultant in a mere decade? Ailes credits, in part, his middle-American upbringing in Warren, a town of 43,000. His neighborhood was a place where people didn’t secure their homes: “We didn’t have locks in the early 1940s because nobody got into anybody’s house, and nobody did anything wrong,” he recalls.
Ailes was born on May 15, 1940. “Fortunately for me, that happened to be the exact day that McDonald’s opened,” he laughs.
Dana Perino’s View
“I have always greatly admired Fox because they have the highest quality talent. I don’t put a lot of stock into people who criticize Fox . . . if Bret Baier calls, you can bet that you’ll be treated fairly. But you’re going to have to answer the question. And then let the facts go where they may.”
— Former White House
press secretary and current
Fox News host
It also was the day that Holland surrendered to the invading Nazis, and Ailes still has memories of life during wartime.
“Where I grew up was sort of the Ruhr Valley of the United States,” Ailes recalls as Gen. George S. Patton stares down at him from a picture hanging on a nearby wall. “All of the industrial might was around Akron, Cleveland, and Warren, Ohio; and we had the steel mills, such as Youngstown Steel.”
Local air-raid wardens inspected homes nightly to ensure residents had blacked out their windows and extinguished the lights.
Ailes says: “I remember sitting on my mother’s lap in the basement with my brother and sister for two or three hours, hearing planes go over. Now, they weren’t enemy planes. But they were there in case bombing started. They knew the Germans would take out the steel mills, which is where we all lived. That thought has been a part of my life for 70 years.”
Ailes remembers his father telling him, “Don’t get over-impressed with how important people are. We all put our pants on one leg at a time, son.” This lesson kept Ailes from feeling intimidated among prominent people as he advanced from a childhood marked by illness through high school, on to early sportscasts on the Ohio University’s campus radio station, and eventually on to his work as a TV production assistant in the early 1960s.
A mentor named Chet Collier gave Ailes an early break on The Mike Douglas Show, at that time a highly rated, Cleveland-based chat program. Ailes started in 1962 as a 22-year-old prop boy. By age 25, he was executive producer of the show, which soon began airing on 180 stations nationwide. In 1968, Ailes met one of Douglas’ guests, Richard Nixon, and that encounter would change his life.
A former vice president, failed GOP presidential nominee, and unsuccessful candidate for California’s governorship, Nixon was impressed with the young TV executive.
“The biggest media challenge in the ’60s was presenting Richard Nixon on television, because the mainstream media pronounced him dead after he lost the governor’s race in California, and there was no reviving him,” Ailes says. “So, for six months, I produced television for him. He was a kind of quirky guy; he had a flashy temper, he could get angry, but he was smart and tough.”
Finding Fox News
In his 1989 book, You Are the Message, co-authored with Jon Kraushar, Ailes reveals his one-word secret to successful image-making on television: likability. He argues that viewers instantly figure out whether someone is likable, based on the authenticity and honesty of the televised personality. Viewers see right through the camera, Ailes says, and rarely are fooled.
By the time Fox News launched in October 1996, Ailes already had spent decades advising presidents, political candidates, and heads of state on TV communications. But it was at Fox that he would defy philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s view that the “medium is the message” and prove that he could take cable news to a whole new level.
From the outset, Ailes fashioned Fox News to represent his concept of what made for good television. The key was on-air talent to whom viewers would respond. Fox focused on powerful, sometimes outsized personalities (think Bill O’Reilly) and relative unknowns (think Sean Hannity) who personified Ailes’ ratings formula: likability, authenticity, honesty.
Fox was only a month out of the starting gate, when Ted Turner, who had founded CNN in 1980, cut loose. Speaking at the United Nations at a global media forum in November 1996, Turner said: “There is a news group coming, led by that no-good SOB Rupert Murdoch. They want to control the world. They want to control the television world. We have got to do everything we can to stop them.”
Turner’s animus notwithstanding, Fox quietly celebrated its 15th anniversary this past October, marking a long tenure during which Ailes has faced down his adversaries with a steely determination and an unwillingness to be intimidated — a quality drummed into him by his late father.
Another measure of Ailes’ accomplishment is his cornucopia of talent. To date, the prime-time lineup with Bret Baier, Shepard Smith, O’Reilly, Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren has proven invincible. The political spectrum of the Fox crew is broad, with Van Susteren and Smith on the left, Hannity on the right, and the others falling somewhere in between. Yet all adhere to Ailes’ rule: They’re all likable, authentic, and honest.
While the station is home for influential GOP insiders including Karl Rove, Palin, Huckabee, and former contributor and now Ohio Gov. John Kasich, it also showcases Democratic analysts such as Doug Schoen, Bob Beckel, and Alan Colmes.
Rich Noyes, who is research director for the Media Research Center, says, “Liberals should be a lot happier with how they are treated on Fox than, say, conservatives would be on CNN or MSNBC, where there is much less respect given for the conservative position.”
A snapshot of Fox News contributors’ daytime appearances on Aug. 25 showed nine (43 percent) on the left and 12 (57 percent) on the right. This was not a 50/50 split, but neither did it fit the “right-wing news” mantra chanted by Fox’s detractors.
“If you look at the other networks,” Noyes asserts, “either you see these debates that are 3-to-1, 4-to-1 roundtables, where there’s one conservative who’s always outgunned, or someone who is called conservative — like David Gergen or David Brooks — but who is really much more of a centrist.”
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Swatting at Myths
The ever-savvy Murdoch has piled more responsibilities onto Ailes’ successful shoulders. In addition to serving as chairman and CEO of Fox News, Ailes heads up Fox Business Network, launched in 2007, and the 27 local affiliate stations owned by Fox Broadcasting, home to such hits as American Idol, The X-Factor, and The Simpsons.
Ailes also oversees 20th Television, which syndicates shows like Glee and Boston Legal, and MyNetworkTV, a national programming provider for local independent stations that replaced the defunct UPN. Then there’s the fast-growing Fox News Radio network with its full roster of political talk shows as well as news updates at the top and bottom of every hour on thousands of radio stations nationwide, including radio giant Clear Channel’s top 100 talk stations. And there’s Fox News Digital, home to the leading website Foxnews.com, which, according to Nielsen Netview, drew 24.7 million unique visitors in August 2011.
t Fox, Ailes has made it a point to promote a non-discriminatory workplace. He speaks of encountering two of the key figures of the civil rights era.
“I did television shows with Martin Luther King,” Ailes recalls. “Martin Luther King sat in my office on three different occasions, where we were sitting there for a half hour just talking. I do remember talking to him about the civil rights crisis. He was sort of a nice guy, that’s what I remember. He did not have any edge. He didn’t act full of himself because he was a big star or any of that stuff. He asked me about my family and where I came from. He was very curious about my background.”
Ailes recalls shows with Malcolm X: “The first couple of times I met him, he wouldn’t shake hands with me.” The former Nation of Islam leader warmed up after visiting Mecca, where a spiritual epiphany reversed his anti-white bigotry.
At that point, Ailes asked a more amiable Malcolm X for a photo. “He smiled, put his hand up, and we shook hands as we took a picture,” Ailes explains. Weeks later, on Feb. 21, 1965, Nation of Islam militants, in no mood for conciliation, assassinated him at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom.
At times, Ailes seems to revel in the political tempest involving Fox News. But when it becomes personal, he gets annoyed. He knows his record. For example, he supports the eponymous Ailes Apprentice Program, which since 2003 has given a boost to minorities who are interested in television.
“I’m not a big affirmative action guy as it’s practiced today,” Ailes says, “but I am a big affirmative action guy as it was originally intended, to reach out to people who did not have a chance.”
Ailes started this effort in which about a half-dozen young minority members, many of whom worked as summer interns, sign up for a year at Fox. Each serves as an apprentice to a mentor in the company and earns a salary above that of an entry-level production assistant.
“If they get through the year in whatever area they choose — they’ve been in production, finance, engineering, whatever — I hold a luncheon for them. We give each of them a certificate, a $500 bonus check, and a job, because we guarantee them a job, if they get through the program.” Thirty graduates of the program have advanced to permanent, and in some cases prominent, positions at Fox and elsewhere.
Bill O’Reilly’s View
“The architect of the whole thing was Roger and he retains quality control over the operation. He is like the general manager of a football team that goes to Super Bowl. He is basically saying these are the talent I want to feature, these are stories that I think are important, that kind of a thing. The other networks don't have anything like him in the creative seat — not even close.”
— Fox News host
Moroccan native Fouzia Bouanane was a Fox News cleaning lady. She also made coffee for Ailes. One day, she told him she dreamed of becoming a makeup artist.
“So,” Ailes explains, “we sent her to the best makeup school in New York, and we put her in the makeup room as an apprentice. And now she is a top makeup person. She was making $12 an hour and no benefits. Today, she makes between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, and benefits, and is really one of our top people . . . in fact, when President Bush came to town, they looked for a makeup woman to go over to the hotel to make him up. And we sent her.”
Bouanane, who also has served as a makeup artist for Metropolitan Opera performers Placido Domingo and Beverly Sills, harbors another dream: She wants to do makeup for television programs, Broadway productions, and movies. “I want to do it all,” Bouanane told the New York Daily News. “But without Fox News, I would be nothing.”
Another protégé, Tisha Lewis, who is now a reporter and substitute anchor at Fox’s WFLD Chicago, is eternally grateful that Ailes took an interest in her career. Lewis says she was especially struck by one thing he told her: “All of this means nothing, if you don’t help someone.”
Ailes strives to practice that sentiment without bias. Despite Rolling Stone’s attempt to brand him as a raging homophobe, Fox News supports the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. “They come and meet with me every year,” Ailes says, “and Fox contributes to their dinner. We have our gay employees. I don’t have any problem. It’s not my business.”
Another common claim that Ailes tries to swat away is that his network echoes Republican talking points. The real focus of Fox News, he says, transcends politics in favor of traditional American values. “I program for working people who work hard, who want information to lead their lives, who believe in America, who believe in tradition, and are basically optimistic about this country,” he says.
Ailes practically pleads, hoping perhaps that someone, at last, will listen: “I know this drives everybody crazy, but they can’t disprove it because it’s true — we are fair and balanced. We let everybody come on this network, anybody who wants to come on with any point of view, and I think that’s what America needs.”
He adds this pivotal point: “Bias is not only what you put into a news story; bias is often what you leave out. And the other networks simply leave that position out. So we put it in.” Despite 15 years of continuous press scrutiny, no one has yet proven there is a vast right-wing conspiracy at Fox News to manipulate the news. “People think that Roger programs us and tells us what to say and what to do,” Greta Van Susteren tells Newsmax, also confirming Ailes’ generally hands-off management approach toward his talent. “In 9 1/2 years, I heard from him only once. In 2004, a Democratic presidential candidate’s underage son had a run-in with the police. Roger said, ‘Do not report that the son was arrested for stealing beer. That would spoil the kid’s life.’”
Polling data demonstrates that Fox News, while drawing many Republicans, also attracts a major swathe of Democrats and independents. A June 2010 Pew Research Center for People and the Press survey showed that 1 in 5 Fox viewers is an independent voter, and another 15 percent identify themselves as Democrats.
“I think I am somewhat more of a traditionalist,” Ailes says. “I just think there are certain things about America that I grew up believing in that I see disappearing. I think they need to be represented in the media, and I don’t see any other channel doing it.” He adds: “When I grew up, the word responsibility meant something. Today, the word entitlement totally has replaced the word responsibility. You don’t hear the word responsibility very often in homes, and you almost never hear it in school. We don’t teach ethics in school. We don’t teach integrity.”
For his part, Ailes has made it a point to develop roots in a small community far from Manhattan. In 2002, Ailes and his wife Elizabeth, a former executive at CNBC, bought a weekend home in upstate New York and developed an interest in the area’s local affairs. In 2008 they purchased the local newspaper, The Putnam County News and Recorder. Elizabeth is the newspaper’s publisher. In April 2009, they purchased the Putnam County Courier as well.
Ailes says much work needs to be done on government welfare programs. “There is a hell of a difference between the people who need the government’s help and the people who would like the government’s help. And we now have merged those two lines.” His mantra is that if you see yourself as a victim, you will become one. But if you see yourself as an achiever, someday you will become one if you just keep trying.
As a boy, his maternal grandfather took him to services and prayer meetings at the Evangelical United Brethren Church in Warren. “They didn’t believe in movies or dancing and a lot of stuff,” Ailes remembers. “They were pretty strict.”
In 1949, after his grandfather passed away, Ailes’ mother moved the family to a more relaxed Presbyterian church. Ailes continued worshipping in that church until it started giving money to the Angela Davis Defense Fund. Davis was a political activist associated with the Black Panther Party. She was tried and found not guilty of murder and kidnapping for procuring weapons used in a California courtroom hostage standoff. Six people including a judge were killed. “I wanted to take care of the poor,” Ailes says, shaking his head. “They wanted to take care of a woman who was involved in blowing a judge’s head off.”
A friend of Ailes tells Newsmax that Ailes is especially focused on charities and believes in giving 10 percent of his income to charity.
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Ailes is quiet about his works, but a little digging finds he backs a range of causes: a new student broadcast newsroom that he had built at Ohio University, the Navy SEALs Warrior Fund, the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, religious charities (Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish), and an array of disease-related organizations.
The media maven never has been one to wear religion on his shirtsleeve, but his faith is real. Throughout his career, he says, “Whatever town I was in, I would go to whatever church was there.”
These days, Ailes attends weekly Catholic mass with his wife, who is Catholic, and their 11-year-old son. Nonetheless, Ailes has not converted. “My upbringing says you can just talk to God anytime you want,” Ailes remarks. “You don’t have to go through anybody to get it done . . . I feel that in today’s world, people ought to be able to get to God pretty quick.” In Ailes’ mind, the clear-and-present danger confronting America is secularism. Efforts to drive religion from the public square he compares to a wall threatening to cut America off from its Judeo-Christian roots. Ailes’ fingerprints are on Fox stories exposing efforts to remove any mention of Christ during the Christmas season.
“Every time I see three people shutting down some religious graduation that 3,000 people go to,” he says, “I think: 30 years ago they were talking to us about tolerance. Why don’t we go see those three people and suggest that they show a little tolerance, and then everybody will have a good time?” Earlier this year, Ailes won the prestigious Horatio Alger Award, given to “exceptional citizens of the world community whose actions demonstrate outstanding character and a commitment to helping others.”
In his acceptance speech, Ailes related how he started working a newspaper route at age 10. Despite a blood disorder that left him checking in and out of hospitals throughout his childhood, after a long day at school he would help his father paint houses. But even with the extra work, his family didn’t have much money. So when he turned 18, his father sat him down for a heart-to-heart.
“Where are you going?” his father asked. “You can’t live at home. You’re 18.”
“I thought that was a little tough,” Ailes recalls stoically. “But I went along.” He enrolled at Ohio University, and his father promised to try to match his son’s wages. But when Ailes left home, his parents got divorced. He returned from college for Christmas break to learn his parents had moved and sold the house.
From that day forward, he knew he would have to fend for himself. “I believe all of my experiences made me stronger, and hopefully a better person,” Ailes told the attendees that night. “My father always said, ‘It’s not a matter of live and let live. It’s a matter of live and help live.’ I try to follow that as best as I can.”
The image the Horatio Alger Association chose for the cover of its award program, naturally, was that iconic image of a 19-year-old Ailes standing in front of a basketball hoop mounted on a garage. He’s holding that lunch pail and looking for all the world like a Norman Rockwell subject: Americana from a simpler, bygone era, a time when young people dug ditches to build a great nation.
For Ailes, that labor never ceased. And, after years of showing others how to be the message — likable, authentic, honest — Ailes finally may be taking center stage.
“I’m fighting against all of those walls that are closing in on America,” he says. “That’s how I see myself. And even if I fail, or even if I lose, I will fight all those things to the bitter end.”
David A. Patten contributed to this report.
As originally published in Newsmax magazine. Back to Newsmax.com
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