Roger Ailes recently died, and I couldn’t help but think about the comparison to another formerly heralded man, shamed just before dying, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno.
Ailes was recently forced out at Fox News after accusations of sexual harassment by several female staffers. Paterno was forced out of Penn State after a horrific charge of ignoring child sex abuse for decades by long time assistant Jerry Sandusky.
Whereas Paterno died of a broken heart a few months after his dismissal, Ailes apparently died of a head injury after suffering a fall at his home in Florida.
The obituaries and remembrances of Ailes poured in and to their credit, few tried to sugar coat his recent troubles. But in remembering the man’s career as a broadcaster, I felt some made a few misleading statements.
They heralded Roger Ailes as the brains behind building Fox News Channel to the cable news behemoth it is today. The New York Post (sister company to Fox News Channel) said:
“Roger Ailes single-handedly rewrote the rules of TV news, building a media juggernaut to cap a landmark career.”
All true, but then the article goes on to say:
“But it was in partnering with Rupert Murdoch (whose News Corp. also owns The Post) in 1996 that he unveiled the formula for success: Appealing to centrist and right-of-center viewers turned off by the relentless liberal skew of existing media.
And that’s where the NY Post and most media accounts get it wrong. You see in 1996, the cultural, political divide was nothing like it is today. Folks in the southern U.S. and “rural America”(where I’m originally from), didn’t consider themselves “liberal” or “conservative”, they were just people with common sense ideals.
There weren’t all these constitutional hobbyist or people “in awe of the founding fathers”, as if the founding fathers were sent to earth directly by God to create a constitution that could be memorized, quoted and frankly bastardized to conveniently support positions that defied common sense (I also admire the founding fathers, but they were humans and some supported slavery so it’s kind of hard to deify them).
Back then the media tried to at least put forth an image of objectivity and news was on the whole, center or maybe just a smidgen left of center. Most people didn’t discuss politics, or religion publicly. It just wasn’t polite and most folks were just focused on their families and everyday lives.
But if you believe the media critics and history revisionists, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch swept down from heaven and FINALLY spoke for the poor, forgotten common man, who’d been dying to have a news channel to FINALLY reflect their views.
Ailes and Murdoch wedged themselves into the smallest of cracks and exploited and pushed that crack into a huge gulf, I believe for one reason and one reason only – to make money and to gain political power.
Fast forward to today and Fox News is not only the #1 most watched Cable News channel, the country is bitterly divided, and most of the media now just picks a side where only the most extreme views on either side of the political divide or “culture wars” are represented.
Yes, Roger Ailes has a legacy beyond sexual harassment and people should also consider his professional legacy, because if you ask me, it’s been more far reaching and damaging than any charges of sexual misconduct.
So last week Roger Ailes died, just as Rupert Murdoch will and as will I.
The worms will eat all our corpses and only our souls will be left to consider either the good or damage we have done to our fellow human beings and the world at large.
I’m ok with that. I wonder if Ailes was?