The Sordid History Of News Corp.'s Roger Ailes

In light of the ongoing News Corp. scandal, Media Matters offers a look at Fox News president Roger Ailes' record on race and long history of right-wing extremism.

Ailes' Troubling Record On Race

Ailes Reportedly Looked For A “Wallaceite Cab-Driver” To Bring Up Race At Town Hall. Fox News' frequent racially charged attempts to foment opposition to President Obama echo Ailes' decades-long record of stoking racial fears and biases while serving as a media consultant for Republican political campaigns. While working for Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign, Ailes reportedly suggested Nixon participate in a televised town hall and take a question from a “good, mean, Wallaceite cab-driver ... Some guy to sit there and say, 'Awright, Mac, what about these niggers?” The strategy, according to Nixonland author Rick Pearlstein, was to have Nixon “abhor the uncivility of the words, while endorsing a 'moderate' version of the opinion.” [Nixonland, p. 331]

Ailes Helped Craft Strategy Of Linking Dukakis To Horton. Ailes also worked on George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign and helped craft the “soft on crime” strategy of linking Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis to convicted felon Willie Horton. The chief architect of that strategy, Lee Atwater, later apologized to Dukakis for saying he would “make Willie Horton his running mate,” explaining that the comment “makes me sound racist, which I am not.” As the campaign drew to a close, the New York Times quoted Ailes saying of the strategy: “The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it.” [New York Times, 10/3/88]

Ailes' Helped Issue Attack That “Prey[ed] Upon The Fears Of The Jewish Community.” In 1989, Ailes worked as a consultant to Rudy Giuliani's New York mayoral campaign and placed an ad in a prominent Yiddish newspaper that featured an image of Guiliani's opponent David Dinkins -- who would become New York City's first African-American mayor -- alongside Jesse Jackson. The ad also displayed a photo of Giuliani with then-President George H.W. Bush. The headline read: ''Let the people of New York choose their own destiny." The Washington Post reported at the time that the vice president of the American Jewish Committee called the ad a “legitimate campaign tactic,” but also “troubling” because it “prey[ed] upon the fears of the Jewish community.” [Media Matters, 10/27/09]

Ailes On Terror: “It's Not The Norwegians That Are Doing This. We Know Who It Is.” Appearing as a panelist on ABC's This Week, Ailes said that the “safety and sovereignty of the United States” was the paramount issue facing the country" and appeared to endorse racial and religious profiling as a way to get “tough” on terrorism: “It's not the Norwegians that are doing this. We know who it is; we can't seem to say it.” [ABC, This Week, 1/31/10]

Ailes' Right-Wing Politics

New York Magazine: Ailes A Key Player In GOP Politics. In a May profile of Ailes, New York magazine quoted an anonymous Republican aide saying “you can't run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger,” and noted that Ailes actively encouraged Republican Governor Chris Christie (NJ) to run for president. New York also quoted a “Republican close to Ailes” saying: “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of Obama is a disaster.” [New York, 5/22/11]

Attacks On The Obama Administration. In keeping with his network's self-proclaimed status as “voice of opposition” to the Obama presidency, Ailes himself has launched several attacks on the Democratic administration:

  • Ailes: “I See This As The Alamo.” A March 6, 2009, Los Angeles Times article quoted Glenn Beck -- then just a few months into his short-lived Fox News career -- describing a meeting he had with Ailes in which the Fox News president, according to Beck, said the network was going to challenge the Obama administration. “I see this as the Alamo,” Ailes said, according to Beck. [Los Angeles Times, 3/6/09]
  • Ailes Attacks Obama's “Socialism.” In an interview with Howard Kurtz, Ailes said that “the president has not been very successful,” adding: “He had to be told by the French and the Germans that his socialism was too far left for them to deal with.” Ailes continued: “He just has a different belief system than most Americans.” [Daily Beast, 11/17/10]
  • Ailes: The Obama Administration Is “Sort Of Tromping Around On The Constitution.” Appearing on ABC in early 2010, Ailes claimed the White House “tried to ban” Fox News and in doing so was “sort of tromping around on the Constitution.” [ABC, This Week, 1/31/10]
  • Ailes: Obama Wants “Radical Change.” Echoing the attacks of conservative pundits and Republican officials, Ailes repeatedly claimed that Obama wants “radical change” that the country will not accept: “He is enormously likable, and I think despite what everybody says, people would like him to succeed. But he came in with a belief that the radical change he wanted -- or what some people say is the radical change that he wanted -- would be widely accepted. [ABC, This Week, 1/31/10]

Ailes' “Secret Nixon-Era Blueprint For Fox News.” On June 30, reported on an undated memo obtained from the Richard Nixon presidential library detailing “A Plan For Putting the GOP on TV News.” The memo contains several handwritten notes from Ailes, then a media consultant to the Nixon White House, enthusiastically endorsing the idea and offering to run the project himself. As Gawker put it: “Aimed at sidelining the 'censorship' of the liberal mainstream media and delivering prepackaged pro-Nixon news to local television stations, [the memo] reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype.” [Gawker, 6/30/11]

Ailes' Extremism

Ailes: NPR Executives “Are, Of Course, Nazis.” Following Juan Williams' dismissal from NPR, Roger Ailes spoke to Howard Kurtz and blasted NPR's executives as “Nazis.” According to Ailes: “They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism.” [Daily Beast, 11/17/10]

Ailes Amends NPR “Nazi” Attack To “Nasty Inflexible Bigot[s].” In response to the uproar caused by his attack on NPR's executives as “Nazis,” Ailes issued an apology letter to the Anti-Defamation League (not NPR) in which he wrote: “I'm writing this just to let you know some background but also to apologize for using 'Nazi' when in my now considered opinion 'nasty, inflexible bigot' would have worked better.” [Media Matters, 11/18/10]

Ailes Shares Beck's “Civilian National Security Force” Conspiracy Theory. New York magazine reported in May 2011 that Ailes had told former Obama senior advisor David Axelrod “that he was concerned that Obama wanted to create a national police force.” Ailes' “concern” mimicked Glenn Beck's fearmongering that Obama wanted to create his “own army” of “community organizers” to police a “thugocracy.” Beck's (and Ailes') conspiratorial belief is based on a distortion of a 2008 campaign speech in which Obama called for an expansion of AmeriCorps and the Foreign Service. [Media Matters, 5/24/11]

Ailes Defends Beck's Constant Holocaust References As “Freedom Of Speech.” After Glenn Beck drew condemnations from Jewish groups for smearing billionaire financier George Soros as a Nazi collaborator who helped “send the Jews” to “death camps,” Ailes dismissed the furor and defended Beck's constant references to the Holocaust as “freedom of speech”:

Then, in short order last fall, Beck devoted three programs to attacking Jewish financier George Soros, in part by implicating him as an agent of the Holocaust. Did Ailes take the resulting uproar seriously? “I think [News Corp. CEO] Rupert [Murdoch] got a few letters,” he told Esquire. “He sent them down to me. I answer them -- I just say, Well have you ever heard of freedom of speech? It's in the Constitution, we do it, and I'm sorry you didn't like, but if Mr. Soros would like to come on our channel and present an alternative view, we would be happy to have him.” [Esquire, 1/21/11]