Citizen Ailes

Orson Welles famously said that a movie studio was the best electric train set a boy could play with. I’d imagine a television network isn’t too shabby, either. Zev Chafets’ upcoming biography of Roger Ailes certainly looks like it will be fun, based on its extended excerpt in Vanity Fairwhich I imagine is driving VF’s core readers appropriately crazy. (Read: crazier):


During the presidential campaign of 2008, candidate Barack Obama was upset by Fox News, which by then was in its sixth year of cable dominance. A sit-down was arranged with Murdoch and Ailes, who recalls that the meeting took place in a private room at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan. (White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to relate the president’s version.) Obama arrived with his aide Robert Gibbs, who seated Ailes directly across from Obama, close enough for Ailes to feel the intention was to intimidate him. He didn’t mind; in fact, he rather appreciated the stagecraft, one political professional to another.

After some pleasantries, Obama got to the point. He was concerned about the way he was being portrayed on Fox, and his real issue wasn’t the news; it was Sean Hannity, who had been battering him every night at nine (and on his radio show, which Fox doesn’t own or control). Ailes didn’t deny that Hannity was anti-Obama. He simply told the candidate not to worry about it. “Nobody who watches Sean’s going to vote for you anyway,” he said.

Obama then asked Ailes what his personal concerns might be. It is a politician’s question that means: What can I do for you?

Ailes said he was mainly concerned about Obama’s strength on national-security issues. The candidate assured Ailes that he had nothing to worry about.

“Well, why are you going around talking about making cuts in weapons systems?” asked Ailes. “If you’re going to cut, why not at least negotiate them and get something in return?”

Obama said that Ailes had been misinformed; he was not advocating unilateral cuts.

“He said this looking me right in the eyes,” says Ailes. “He never dropped his gaze, which is the usual tell. It was as good a lie as anyone ever told me. I said, ‘Senator, I just watched someone say exactly that on my computer screen before coming over here. Maybe it wasn’t you, but it sure looked like you and sounded like you. I think it was you.’ ”

At that point, Gibbs stood and announced that the session was over. “I don’t think he liked the meeting very much,” says Ailes.


“Maybe it wasn’t you, but it sure looked like you and sounded like you. I think it was you.” I think it was too:

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Although this promise certainly has had quite an amusing expiration date — or at least extended postponement.


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