Picking the most bonkers part of New York magazine's excerpt from Gabriel Sherman's The Loudest Voice in the Room, a book about Fox News chief Roger Ailes, is like picking between slices of pizza. There are too many great options.
New York's excerpt is the first long look we've received of Sherman's expertly reported new book about Ailes, despite initial details leaking Tuesday night and an extensive counter-offensive from Fox's friends already under way. The story documents for the first time what exactly happened when Ailes moved to Philipstown, a small town in Putnam County, New York, and purchased the local newspaper, the Putnam County News & Recorder, and instilled his particular brand of balanced journalism on the small town.
It did not go well, of course, but the story gives us an amazing glimpse into just how paranoid Ailes is. Like, perhaps, how he thinks liberals are constantly out to get him. He is the president of Fox News, the hated conservative news channel. So far as we know, his life hasn't been in jeopardy because of his job. But reading Sherman's excerpt, you get the idea Ailes expects a pack of commandos led by Chris Matthews to raid his home at any moment. For instance, Ailes' had security cameras installed all across their property in Philipstown so they could watch what's happening on the grounds at all times. When Ailes and family were out of town, his wife, Beth, phoned a team of landscapers and told them to move a tree they had just finished planting. She was not satisfied with its current location, which she could see because of the cameras:
“[Ailes] was said to have ordered the removal of all trees around his house so that he … had a 360-degree view of any leftist assault teams preparing to rush the house,” Leonora Burton recalled. Roger and Beth also bought up as many surrounding houses as they could. Security cameras were installed throughout the property. “A team of landscapers was, in the absence of the Ailes family, working on the grounds of the compound,” Burton later recounted. “They were planting a tree when the boss’s cell phone rang. It was the absent Beth. ‘No, no,’ she said. ‘That’s not where I want the tree. I insist that you move it.’ She directed them to the correct site. The landscapers were puzzled until they realized that the many security cameras on the grounds had captured them at work. Beth had been watching them from wherever she was and called to correct the tree planting.”
That doesn't even cover the bunker Ailes had installed underneath his house stocked with six-months' worth of supplies in case of a terrorist attack. But for immediate threats, Ailes has a security team, led by his dog, to protect his family:
“He worried about his kid and his wife and said he wouldn’t want anything to happen to them because of what he was,” Foley recalled. Roger told him his German shepherd, Champ, helped protect them. “He said, ‘I let the dog out of the car when we come here. The dog gets out first. He’s trained to patrol the whole grounds and report back before we get out.’ ”
But Ailes had smaller problems within his small town to deal with. Problems that, despite his status, Ailes decided were not beneath him.
Richard Shea was elected Philipstown supervisor, the town's highest position, on a platform dedicated to rezoning the town. Ailes had openly campaigned against Shea's election, objecting to the reform Shea promised. Ailes thought he would need city approval if he wanted to, say, change the color of his house. He brought this point up multiple times in town hall meetings despite it being completely false. After Ailes tried to strong-arm Shea at a city council meeting, Shea spoke to The New York Times about the issue. Ailes was furious:
On Sunday morning, January 10, he received a string of frantic phone calls from friends in town. Ailes had been calling around ranting about a front-page New York Times profile of him that appeared in that morning’s paper. “My takeaway was that this guy is pretty much threatening me,” Shea was quoted saying about the town forum.
Later that day, his phone rang. “You have no fucking idea what you’ve done!” Shea immediately recognized the voice. “You have no idea what you’re up against. If you want a war, you’ll have a battle, but it won’t be a long battle.”
“It was an accurate portrayal of the exchange,” Shea said calmly. “If you’re offended, I’m sorry about that, but it was accurate.”
“Listen,” Ailes seethed, “don’t be naive about these things. I will destroy your life.”
Turns out Ailes' property had been mistakenly labeled on one city report. Shea promised to correct the error immediately.
Of course, you don't become the chief of Fox News by letting the Chinese move in next door, something the residents of Philipstown soon discovered:
As the conversation wound down, Ailes told the men that he would spend millions if necessary to keep dangerous elements out of the town. To that end, he was thinking about buying Mystery Point, a 129-acre plot of land with a nineteenth-century brick mansion that overlooks the Hudson, to turn into a corporate retreat for Fox. “That’s up for sale,” Ailes said. “I could buy it in a heartbeat. You know why I’m interested?”
The men stared back at him. “I hear a group of Chinese investors are looking. I’m not going to have some Chinese investors set up a missile silo right across from West Point.”
Liberalism is the America's Greatest Threat, according to Ailes. Liberalism is why Ailes would not permit his son, Zachary, attend the local public school:
“There’s no Christ child on the lawn at Christmastime!” Ailes said. “They have all this fucking Kwanzaa stuff, they have this Hanukkah shit, and you can’t even get Jesus! They think it’s illegal. You can’t show any flags. So I’m not sending our kid there.”
Of course, we haven't even addressed the tactics Ailes used against reporters who quit working for his newspaper after he had turned against them. The reporters had started working for a new news organization opened in town to combat Ailes' takeover. Laptops were monitored remotely. Ailes dispatched security detail in large black SUVs to follow the reporters around town. These are the kinds of tactics Ailes uses in a small town news war. Imagine, for a second, what he must do for Fox News.
Earlier Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter released an interview with Ailes that allowed him a chance to discredit the book in advance. "Attacking me and Fox News is nothing new – it’s a cottage industry," Ailes told THR. "What’s new is that Random House refused to fact check the content with me or Fox News — that tells you everything you need to know about this book and its agenda." Ailes refused to cooperate with Sherman's book.
Ailes also defended Megyn Kelly, one of the most popular anchors on Fox News, but also one of the most criticized by those on the other side of the aisle. Probably because they're jealous. Ailes said the uproar over her white Santa controversy is "pathetic."
Just before Christmas, Kelly created a huge controversy on her primetime program by responding to this Slate piece and arguing that Santa Claus "just is white," of course. Her claims became everyone's favorite holiday controversy and prompted hilarious responses from Jon Stewart and also from professional wrestling, because the holidays are about unity and equality. Ailes spoke with THR's Michael O'Connell about Kelly's Claus controversy, Alec Baldwin, and winning the cable news wars.
Ailes honestly thinks the Santa Claus issue was completely overblown. "I don't like," the controversy, Ailes tells O'Connell. Kelly was "joking," according to Ailes, because she was talking about something silly like Santa Claus, a fictional person who delivers presents to kids on Christmas, and the response came from people with an axe to grind. "But the people who are jealous of her, who want to bring down or hurt Fox News, see an opportunity. If they have to beat up somebody as talented as Megyn Kelly on Santa Claus, they're pathetic." Maybe Ailes forgets the article that inspired Kelly's statements was about more nuanced issues like race and social acceptance, and not some global war on Santa Claus, but who are we to digress.
Ailes also told THR that MSNBC "dodged a bullet" when Alec Baldwin "gave them a reason" to fire him over his homophobic remarks. But Baldwin would also be welcome to come on Fox News any time he wants. "If somebody wants to book Alec Baldwin on one of our shows, and he wants to come on and talk to our people and say what he wants, I don't care," Ailes says. Baldwin is the kind of talking head Ailes enjoys. "He's sort of a ready-fire-aim kind of guy as opposed to ready-aim-fire," he says.
But Baldwin isn't the only MSNBC personality Ailes has eyes on. You'll be surprised to learn he's actually rather fond of Rachel Maddow:
I think Rachel Maddow has been a surprise to a lot of people. She wouldn't really work at this network because she wouldn't even come in the door, but on a personal level, I like her. I don't want to hurt her career, so I won't say we get along, but I've had dialogue with her, and she's very smart. She has adapted well to the television medium.
Of course Ailes still hates MSNBC because the network only does one show: "Republicans are no good." But he reserves a special blend of contempt for CNN, Jeff Zucker's attitude-filled pet project, which recently announced it's moving away from newscasts. "That means Fox has won the cable news wars," Ailes told THR, before making cracks about CNN's recent smash success, Blackfish:
[Zucker] had a big hit with a whale one night [the documentary Blackfish]. I guess he's going to do whales a lot. If I were Discovery, I'd be worried.