The Creator of the Trump Presidency.
Roger Ailes must be turning in his grave. Ailes convinced Donald Trump to run for President after Barack Obama’s two election wins infuriated the founder of Fox News. Ailes provided a weekly window for Trump to call in to morning show Fox & Friends beginning in 2011. Ailes (played by Russell Crowe) told candidate Trump on the Showtime mini-series “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” “Fox News can make you or break you Don.”
Since Ailes’s passing in 2017, Fox has still been Trump TV, but lately, the network hasn’t been Trump enough for the President, who recently tweeted “We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!”
Neil Cavuto defiantly replied to the President, “Mr. President, we don’t work for you. I don’t work for you,” Cavuto said in the closing monologue of “Your World with Neil Cavuto.” “My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you. Just report on you.”
At least one of my Trump fan friends, says these Twitter tifs are just theatre, like a professional wrestling match. Whether he’s dissing on Fed Chair Jerome Powell or the Danish Prime Minister, it’s all just for show. None of the blows actually land, the drop kicks won’t hurt anyone. The bluster is only meant to draw eyeballs. A good show needs white hats and black hats. Good versus evil. Trump, himself, a WWE Hall of Famer, knows conflict makes good television. And television can’t get enough.
“The Loudest Voice” was based on a book by the same title authored by Gabriel Sherman, with the limited series picking up Ailes’s story near the end of his life with a focus on his serial harrassing. Watching Crowe’s portrayal of Ailes is like watching the President himself. Sherman writes in a November 2016 note to his book’s new edition, “That a candidate as wholly unqualified, unpopular, and visibly unstable as Donald Trump could win the presidency is a testament to Ailes’s influence on American culture.”
Ailes honed his craft working on The Mike Douglas Show. He learned what the people wanted; that “great TV had more to do with drama--conflict, surprise, spontaneity--than expensive sets and cutting edge broadcasting technology,” Sherman writes.
The great man of letters, H.L. Mencken, was ahead of everyone. In 1922, he wrote, “I hold that this elevation of politics to the plane of undiluted comedy is peculiarly American, that nowhere else on this disreputable ball has the art of sham-battle been developed to such fineness.”
After advising Richard Nixon for the 1968 Presidential campaign, Ailes predicted television would replace the political parties. “Politics is power, and communications is power,” Ailes said. More importantly, Ailes “adopted a sense of political victimhood, and a paranoia about enemies that has marked his career ever since,” Sherman writes.
Raymond Price, a Nixon speechwriter and aide, is quoted by Sherman, “Politics is much more emotional than it is rational, and this is particularly true of presidential politics. Potential presidents are measured against an ideal that’s a combination of leading man, God, father, hero, pope, king, with maybe just a touch of the avenging Furies thrown in.”
Price and others in the Nixon orbit would have a profound effect on Ailes’s thinking, who was a fan of the Nazi propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl.
What Ailes understood, as a memo from the Nixon White House explained, “People are lazy. With television you just sit--watch--listen. The thinking is done for you.”
Television stokes the fear of the non-thinking public. And thus, according to Mencken,
The statesman become, in the last analysis, a mere witch-hunter, a glorified smeller and snooper, eternally chanting “Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum!” It has been so in the United States since the earliest days. The whole history of the country has been a history of melodramatic pursuits of horrendous monsters, most of them imaginary..
As Nixon did, Trump identifies the press as the enemy. And, of course, continues the American tradition of demonizing immigrants. In his book “Notes of Democracy” Mencken includes Catholics and Mormonism in his list of imaginary monsters. For Trump, it’s Mexicans and Muslims.
Libertarians fondly remember Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Freedom Watch show on Fox Business channel which came to an abrupt halt after the Judge ranted on air about U.S. drone strikes against U.S. citizens. “Roger the next day was really furious,” Sherman quotes a Fox executive. “He said, ‘If the Russians shot missiles at us, the Judge would want us to consult Congress to get their permission to respond.’”
The show was soon gone, despite complaints from Napolitano’s libertarian fans. “If all the people who emailed Fox on the Judge’s behalf had a Nielsen box, I would have kept him on the air.,” Ailes said.
Ailes was more concerned with aesthetics than principles. When a Fox Business anchor who knew nothing about business or markets was asked why she was hired, “She smiled and shook her breasts,” Sherman writes. Ailes considered stealing CNBC’s original money honey Maria Bartiromo, but, at the time, he passed, “He wished she hadn’t gained so much weight,” a Fox executive told Sherman. “He said she went from looking like Sophia Loren to Mamma Leone.” Bartiromo would eventually join Fox in 2013.
The Ailes story will get more cinematic treatment just in time for Christmas. Bombshell will feature John Lithgow as the Fox News founder, Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, and Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson. The star studded cast also includes Margot Robbie, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, and Connie Britton.
Near the end of “The Loudest Voice In the Room” Sherman writes of Ailes, “He bullied real and perceived enemies, but played the victim when criticized. He could be the most menacing or the funniest, most engaging conversationalist. He decried Manhattan elites, but was one.” Sherman could write the same about the current president, who now laughily complains the arm of the Republican party Ailes created is unfair and unbalanced.