Most of us who have been paying attention to the news over the past few months are aware that Roger Ailes, the long-time CEO of Fox News, was recently forced out due to sexual harassment complaints. What has emerged from his “take-down” goes way beyond sexual harassment (which is bad enough, of course). A September 5th article in New York Magazine by Gabriel Sherman is a significant investigation at this point in our national history, with the presidential election looming in just a few weeks.
What we citizens need to know about Ailes and Fox News is the long political reach they have had over the past 20 years. Sherman writes, “It is not a stretch to argue that Ailes is largely responsible for, among other things, the selling of the Iraq War, the Swift-boating of John Kerry, the rise of the tea party, the sticking power of a host of Clinton scandals, and the purported illegitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency.”
If this is true – and it probably is, given the details unearthed by Sherman – it has extremely disturbing and far-reaching implications for our nation.
- It means that much of our national discourse on extremely important issues is based on lies, not facts.
- It means that honorable and honest leaders and political figures have been made out to seem dishonorable and dishonest.
- It means that, in the supposed interest of “fair and balanced” reporting by other news outlets, reporters, anchors and executives have been duped into reporting outright lies, innuendos and falsehoods – over and over again, for years – that have influenced voters and citizens over several dozen election cycles.
- It means that a large swath of Americans have been led to believe wrongly for years that the first black President is an illegitimate leader (despite the recent admission of a major “birther,” Presidential candidate Donald Trump, that Barack Obama was really born in the United States).
Speaking of Trump, Sherman shows definitively that Ailes has helped create him. As Sherman points out, “According to Fox sources, [Rupert] Murdoch [21st Century Fox executive chairman] blamed Ailes for laying the groundwork for Trump’s candidacy. Ailes had given Trump, his longtime friend, a weekly call-in segment on Fox & Friends to sound off on political issues. (Trump used Fox News to mainstream the birther conspiracy theory.) Ailes also had lunch with Trump days before he launched his presidential campaign and continued to feed him political advice throughout the primaries, according to sources close to Trump and Ailes. (And in the days after [Fox News anchor Gretchen] Carlson filed her lawsuit, Trump advised Ailes on navigating the crisis, even recommending a lawyer.)”
[As an aside, Sherman documents with a number of appalling examples the complete hold Ailes had on his organization and employees. Point one: “behind the scenes, [Fox News] operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion–like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” Point two: Ailes exhibited throughout his career a “volcanic temper, paranoia, and ruthlessness.” Point three: previous colleagues of Ailes’ “have and continue to feel emotional and even physical fear dealing with this man every day.” Point four: “Ailes ruled Fox News like a surveillance state. According to executives, he instructed Fox’s head of engineering, Warren Vandeveer, to install a CCTV system that allowed Ailes to monitor Fox offices, studios, greenrooms, the back entrance, and his homes.” Point five: “When Ailes uncovered something he didn’t like, he had various means of retaliation and increased surveillance.” My take-away: if our nation had had anti-bullying laws for the workplace on the books all this time, as our peer nations do, it is highly likely that the employee victims of this man could and would have been able, long ago, to take legal action against him and relieve years of suffering.]
The power and influence of this man and the entity he has created, not only on the individuals he has allegedly injured in the news industry but also on our country as a whole, cannot be underestimated. It is incumbent on news outlets all over the country to not take news items at face value and just run with them if there is any hint that they might be fabrications or exaggerations. The media – the “fourth estate” in our democratic republic – is the intermediary between what happens in the world and us; we depend on journalists to be accurate and to do their jobs in the service of the common good. (This is an ideal, of course; we are all painfully aware that news outlets, except possibly public television and radio, are enormous corporations whose primary goal is to make money.) These professionals – and I would like to think that most journalists care deeply about their own integrity and professionalism – have an obligation to ensure that it is facts, as many as can be known about an important issue at any given time, that are reported to the public, not lies. It is a breach of ethical responsibility (and illegal) to knowingly perpetuate falsehoods, and it is a disgrace to journalists’ profession when they do not conduct “due diligence” in getting to the bottom of a story or declaration that might sound “fishy.”
We in turn, as citizens and the “consumers” of the news, also have obligations. It is all too understandable, given the lies and the propaganda that we are confronted with every day – not to mention our stagnating wages, poverty, despair, anxiety, fear and often sheer exhaustion from just struggling to get by – that we eschew the complexity and hopelessness of the political realm, throw up our hands and give up. As I have indicated in other posts, we in the US are mired in philosophies and systems that citizens of our peer Western nations simply do not face, which significantly impact our ability to participate in the political process; they on the other hand have figured out decades ago how to solve social and economic issues, meaning that, by and large, they do participate in politics to a much greater degree than we do.
If we – each and every one of us – do not become active, engaged citizens to the best of our ability, educating ourselves about truths, facts and evidence, and holding journalists (not to mention our elected officials) accountable for their part in the running of our nation, we could well live out our own lives in despair and bequeath to our descendants a weakened nation with an almost non-existent middle class. We together must find ways to hold the media to the highest possible standards.
Sherman’s article ends this way: “It’s hard to say that justice has been served [by Ailes’ recent ouster]. But the story isn’t over: Last week, the shareholder law firm Scott & Scott announced it was investigating 21st Century Fox to “determine whether Fox’s Officers and Directors have breached their fiduciary duties.” Meanwhile, Ailes is walking away from his biggest career train wreck yet, seeking relevance and renewed power through the one person in the country who doesn’t see him as political kryptonite, the candidate he created: Donald J. Trump. Ailes may be trying to sell us another president, but now we know the truth about the salesman.”