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Ed Driscoll

Interview: Zev Chafets Discusses Roger Ailes: Off Camera

March 19th, 2013 - 12:01 am

MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJMedia.com, and we’re talking with Zev Chafets, veteran columnist, the author of 2010′s Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One and the author of the brand new book, Roger Ailes:  Off Camera.  It’s published by Sentinel Books and available from Amazon.com and your local bookseller.

And Zev, thank you for stopping by today.

MR. CHAFETS:  Well, thank you for having me.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Zev, how did you gain sufficient access to Roger Ailes to write his biography?

MR. CHAFETS:  So you want to know how I got access to Roger Ailes?

The answer is, I asked him.  I was looking for a project after I finished the Rush Limbaugh book, and it seemed to me that Roger Ailes would be a logical continuation, especially because Roger and Rush are close.  Roger was the producer of Rush’s TV show.

So I got in touch with — I didn’t really know him, but I got in touch through his office.  And he told me that he didn’t want to do a book; he was not interested.  And then I proposed that maybe he would be interested in an article for The New York Times Magazine, which is a place where I write from time to time.  And he got back to me and said he’s not interested in The New York Times Magazine, but he would be willing to revisit the idea of a book.  And I went to see him, and he said, go ahead and do it.  So that was the genesis of the project.

MR. DRISCOLL:  How much time did you get to spend with Ailes interviewing and observing him?

MR. CHAFETS:  Well, I spent really a lot of time with him over the course of a year.  We traveled together around the country when he had various speaking engagements.  I spent time with him in his home in Garrison New York — a little bit upstate, across from West Point, and many, many hours with him at Fox News, both one-on-one and also in  meetings — editorial meetings and private meetings that he held, which I was able to, sort of, be a fly on the wall at.  And then, on election night, at Fox headquarters with him, and Rupert Murdoch was there and some of the other Fox people I had met during the course of the year.  So I don’t know how — I haven’t totaled up the hours, but it certainly would be in the hundreds of hours.

MR. DRISCOLL:  After spending all of time with Ailes, what impressions did you take away about the man?

MR. CHAFETS:  Well, I came to Ailes with some impressions of him which I came to see are, in large part, cartoonish.  A lot of books have been written about Roger and a lot of — I think all of them have been clip   jobs — and there’s a lot of articles written about him and so on over the years.  And a lot of people don’t like him; some people admire him very much.  But one way or another, they didn’t really represent who the guy is, at least the guy that I saw and found and spent time with.

My first impression of Roger is that he is extremely connected to his roots.  He comes from a factory town in Ohio, and I come from a factory town in Michigan — Pontiac, Michigan; he’s from Warren, Ohio, which are very similar places.  And he’s a few years older than I am, but only a few.  And I recognized right away that this is a middle-Western guy, raised in the ’50s and ’60s.  I’d say that that is who he was when I met him at first, and that’s who he remained throughout the time that I was working on this book.

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"When Ailes created the slogans “Fair and Balanced” and “We Report, You Decide,”"...

Only he didn't create them. The terms were coined by Robert R. Pauley, Ailes' former boss at Television News Network (TVN), the precursor of CNN, in the mid 1970s. Pauley, former President of ABC Radio Network in the 1960s, had long dreamed of a non-biased international cable news feed service, and partnered with Joe Coors of Coors Beer, who became TVN's chief investor, and brought on Ailes. TVN used stringers to provide commentary-free news feeds to networks and independent stations. It was just getting off the ground when Coors had to pull his support because of competing obligations.
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