It’s important to hate the right person, and not the left person. If the fate of the United States depends on hating an unscrupulous media manipulator and sexual predator, then it’s only right — or rather, only left — to hate Roger Ailes, creator of Fox News, over Harvey Weinstein, bundler of money for the Clintons. Like people still say, at least the socialists had good intentions when they killed all those people.
Contemplate both Ailes and Weinstein simultaneously, and you feel your brain splitting into partisan halves. They seem to exist in separate worlds. It feels like only a Dante could have imagined them in the same space. Perhaps there is a third circle of the green room in Hell, where both Ailes and Weinstein will be obliged to whack off into potted plants for eternity while no one at all watches. But of course, Roger and Harvey were both New York media bosses. The split is in our perceptions, not reality. Instead of heaven or hell, we see left and right.
Divide and Conquer, Alexis Bloom’s documentary about Roger Ailes, is a modern theodicy. Instead of explaining the existence of God in a world of evil, it explains the existence of Donald Trump in a world that should be good. If Michael Moore in TrumpLand flattered your prejudices, then Divide and Conquer will make you feel like a really deep thinker. You will also feel saintly, because you will have someone to blame, and because that someone also happened to be physically unattractive, a scheming bully, and a sexual predator.
‘I take full and complete responsibility because nobody else wants it, frankly,’ Ailes said. As usual in documentaries, the most interesting parts are the beginning and the end. Ailes was the son of a factory foreman from Ohio. In the Seventies, the model community of his childhood was destroyed when the factory closed. By then, he had worked his way up to the producer’s chair — and casting couch — on the Mike Douglas Show, which was then the only daytime talk show.
In 1968, Ailes sold himself to Richard Nixon as what he called a ‘media adviser’ for the presidential elections. He coached Nixon so that he looked less like a sweaty crocodile, and staged the first mock town hall, in which pre-selected members of the audience asked pre-selected questions to a candidate who delivered pre-selected answers. Ailes is said to have lifted camera angles from Leni Riefenstahl. Some clips of Hitler are thrown in here, just to confirm that Ailes is a fascist, as opposed to Jodie Foster, who has been trying to years to make a biopic about poor, misunderstood Leni. The possibility that Ailes was taking his cues from the selling of JFK is not entertained. We are here to shoot the messenger.
‘Everyone has an agenda,’ Ailes said, confirming that he was the Devil’s personal emissary to America, rather than a businessman repeating the commonplace of the Humanities lecturer. Next came Ailes Communications, which ran ads for would-be congressmen and senators. Divide and Conquer implies that Mitch McConnell still walks funny because he spent so long with Ailes as his puppeteer. Ailes produced the Willie Horton attack ads for George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign too. The stuff about Horton was true. From this we learn that Ailes, who is culpable for our current fake news problems, was also wrong when he told the truth.
In 1994 came America’s Talking, the first all-talk cable channel. Bill Gates bought America’s Talking and turned it into that epigone of objective reportage, MSNBC. So Ailes started Fox News with Rupert Murdoch, who is characterized here as just to the right of Hermann Goering. The Lewinsky affair sent Fox’s numbers through the roof. We learn that Ailes, and not Bill Clinton, was single-handedly responsible for lowering the tone of American politics. That’s the problem with this sort of passive-aggressive, pop-psychologizing hit-job. The more doomy the music and more outraged the snarky coastal media types get, the more you end up admiring the hittee. Ailes comes off as a genius and a victim.
We also learn that Ailes thought that the ‘New York and Hollywood elites’ think it’s ‘their job to drag the redneck morons into the light’. You can’t argue with that. Nor can you argue with Ailes’s conviction that most Americans have a ‘desperate need to return to the basics, the commonsense things’. We’re told how wicked Ailes was by John Cook. Cook is billed as a ‘journalist’. He used to be executive editor of Gawker. If Cook was a shoe salesman, he’d sell you two left shoes. It’s bad faith of Alexis Bloom to pass Cook off as just another lover of the reasonable, objective, down-the-middle truth. It confirms everything that Ailes said about the coastal liberals being willing to lie their faces off.
‘Which way I fly is Hell,’ says Milton’s Satan, expelled from the heavenly business lounge and condemned to fly coach. ‘I myself am Hell.’ Ailes was not a nice person, and was quite proud of it. Again, we reel in shock at the discovery that show business is short of angels. The more powerful he became, the more Ailes followed the dictum of his book, Getting What You Want By Being Who You Are. He made a little hell for himself, kept a gun in his office, and was convinced the Libyans and al-Qaeda were going to assassinate him. After a Fox employee of Middle Eastern mien wandered onto his floor, he turned the space in front of his office’s reinforced steel door into a hi-tech holding pen. We must not confuse this with Matt Lauer’s security arrangements.
‘Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav’n,’ says Satan as he works on the programming schedule. Ailes made hell for other people too. He enjoyed using the toasting fork on his enemies, who were legion. Though he seems to have been an equal opportunities bully, all the testimonies here are from women. ‘If you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys,’ he said. It is implied that sexual exploitation and Republican sympathies go together, just like Monica Lewinsky says.
Ailes objectified Fox newsreaders as sexual objects, which is something that CNN would never do. Here, he is accused of using blondes to incite the drooling peasants who vote straight Republican every time into a state of racist fury against left-wingers, Muslims, and the Clintons. We should not confuse this strategy with Wolf Blitzer and his ludicrous Situation Room, or CNN and MSNBC’s insistence that America is now a police state and that everyone in the White House is speaking Russian, even though half of them struggle to tell a lie in English.
If you do suffer from these confusions, you need to pay attention to the news. You should pick a side and call for the other team’s blood. If you don’t, you can go to Hell. And if you do, you can make your own, and watch propaganda like Divide and Conquer for eternity.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.