Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes
Roger Ailes directing the ‘Man in the Arena’ during the Nixon campaign, 1968 in DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo credit: The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
If it looks like the news and sounds like the news, is it the news? (Quack.) Fox News, the brainchild of Roger Ailes is where the majority of Americans get their news but here’s the rub, it is a propaganda machine not unlike Nazi wartime films (Ailes started emulating Nazi propaganda techniques as early as the Nixon election). Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes tells the story of Roger Ailes through his words in the form of his memoir, his actions from clips culled from thousands of hours of archival footage, from his efforts to get the less than telegenic Richard Nixon elected President to his shaping of Donald Trump’s run to the White House and from interviews with people who called him a friend, former employees or foes including extensive interviews of Glen Beck. Joe Muto, a former associate producer on The O’Reilly Factor said, “Trump was such a “Foxy” character that if he hadn’t been real, Roger would have created him in a lab.” Filmmaker, Alexis Bloom pieces together an almost “Once upon a time” story to show how Roger Ailes was complicated, his paranoia and power were inseparable. Ailes spent his entire life terrified of getting hurt. A hemophiliac, a genetic disease passed from the mother, meant his blood lacking factor 8, couldn’t clot. The former Fox News executive died last year from bumping his head after falling, simply bleeding to death.
Bloom uses Ailes’ memoir to his son, Zack, to structure the story of the film. Ailes wanted to write a memoir because he knew that when he died people weren’t going to say kind things and he wanted his son to know that he wasn’t all bad. Ailes left Fox News after at minimum 20 women, including network celebrities Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, accused him of sexual misconduct. His media expertise, showmanship, and penchant for plugging hoopla slicked the road for Trump and the ongoing state of the Republican Party.
Roger Ailes talking with President Reagan and Nancy Reagan for an upcoming Address to the Nation on Drug Abuse, 1986 in DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo credit: The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
It’s easy to get sucked into Ailes words, “My dad was a tough guy, he used to beat us with a belt. Did your father hit you with a belt? I was terrified, but I loved my Dad.” His childhood friend, Austin Penleton, said that Roger lived his entire life in fear, a fear of bleeding to death and like lots of people with fears he operated fearlessly but most pointedly, he suggests that Roger’s fear of constant annihilation allowed him to understand the fears of others and operate an effective propaganda machine. “We all wanted to be like Roger, he was witty and intelligent, mercilessly funny. Also, Roger was the handsomest (sic) young man you can imagine.” (I’m trying.)
Roger Ailes and Zsa Zsa Gabor on set of the Mike Douglas Show, 1967 in DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo credit: Michael Leshnov. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Fear and intimidation proved to be as an effective management style for Ailes, he made it clear to women that if they didn’t comply with his sexual overtures, they wouldn’t advance in their careers. He allegedly said to Kellie Boyle, “If you want to play with the big boys, you gotta lay with the big boys.” Shocked, Boyle asked sarcastically if she would have to be “anyone else’s special friend.” Roger said that she may have to give a blow job or two but that everyone would know she was with him. I don’t think it spoils anything to say that he destroyed her career. Roger gobbled power, women, careers including his own by forgetting that he was appointed not anointed to head Fox News.
Watching Bloom’s film kind of feels deliciously voyeuristic. I take no pleasure in the pain of other people, in careers destroyed, reputations ruined yet I can’t help myself. Quack.