In an in-depth story published Wednesday, the Daily Beast's Clive Irving recounts late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes' journey from a Richard Nixon aide who devised the Southern strategy of appealing to "Negrophobe whites," to his stint at NBC in the early 1990s where he began to push "tabloid journalism" and "vulgar populism" over traditional news — eventually launching "America's Talking," the forebearer to MSNBC.
After Ailes resigned amid an investigation into whether he called an NBC executive "a little f*cking Jew prick," he joined forces with Fox's Rupert Murdoch. "Thus began the most consequential pairing of minds in cable television, building a business that is now worth around $20 billion," Irving reports.
Ailes recruited primetime host Bill O'Reilly, who was essentially a TV version of right-wing radio's Rush Limbaugh — "a permanently aggrieved blowhard who could turn the news into an agenda of pet targets," Irving writes. In the wake of 9/11, Ailes — who had a direct line to the White House — began to pressure president George Bush to pursue the "war on terror" with "the harshest measures possible," and Fox News reinforced the message.
"Every day he (Ailes) fed his prime-time anchors with talking points. O'Reilly established himself as the leader of a nightly chorus that played up the war fever. In this atmosphere, the conflation of the religion with terrorism was often implied," Irving writes, adding that it paid off with astonishing speed, as Fox News quickly overtook CNN atop the cable news ratings. "Paying a few prime-time bloviators millions of dollars was a lot more cost-effective in building ratings than funding news bureaux across the globe."
Ten years later, Fox News' viewership was more than CNN and MSNBC combined, as the network continued to draw more and more older, white, blue collar Republicans.
"Two more events drew more of them to Fox: The invasion of Iraq turned them into hawkish patriots and the election of Obama convinced them that white America needed to circle the wagons," Irving writes, adding that Ailes ordered hosts to use Obama's middle name, Hussein, frequently, fanning the believe that he was a closet Muslim. "(Ailes) made white identity politics the permanent underlying theme of his mouthpieces."
Reflecting on Ailes' legacy, Clive writes that "evil genius" would be "a lazy way to describe him."
"Was it really genius to deeply corrupt and disfigure the core values of broadcast journalism? Or was it, simply, an absolute lack of scruple?" he writes, comparing Ailes to "Lucifer" and saying he was "an egomaniac, a misogynist, a racist, an antisemite, a predator, a bully, verbally abusive, and paranoid."
"Of the many fortunes made on the back of 9/11 (including by defense contractors and the ballooning national security industry) the phenomenon of Fox News is probably the most unexpected and the only one that could be so specifically attributed to one man's rare understanding of what was directly happening to America as a result of that atrocity," Irving writes.