“Talent is hitting a target that no one else can hit. Genius is hitting a target that no one else can see.” — Goethe
Perhaps no other persons have had a bigger impact on American society and politics in our lifetime than Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes. Murdoch is the swashbuckling Australian turned American billionaire who is the owner of News Corp and Roger Ailes is the president of its crown jewel, The Fox News Channel.
Presidents have come and gone. Economic and foreign policies have risen and fallen but the names of those presidents and the shape of those policies have been forever colored by the Fox News Channel paint brush.
The Roger Ailes formula at FNC is much more esoteric and complicated than at first appears. While the other networks relied on their monopoly, Ailes understood that the paradigm was changing with a vengeance, more and more, people had choices.
First, there was the FNC famous tilt to the right in the American battle between liberals and conservatives. In hindsight, the economics of such a strategy were obvious. National polls of the American people showed the ratios at about 41 percent conservative, 21 percent liberal.
Give Fox News a monopoly on the 41 percent and divide the remaining 21 percent among the others and there would be a financial windfall in the making.
But the idea of bringing some political balance to the media and monetizing the process had been around for a long time. In 1977, conservative Republican billionaire Rich DeVos bought the Mutual Broadcasting System.
Roger Ailes succeeded where others had failed by finding the talent. He was a television Branch Rickey, prowling the local television and radio beat to find his players. When someone had the personality but not the on-air experience he would use them sparingly, letting them develop, like sending Roy Campanella back to Montreal for a season to get confidence.
Perhaps his greatest impact was not overtly political but sociocultural. After 9/11, CNN ran a documentary, “God’s Warriors,” which implied that there was little difference between Islamic terrorists in the Middle East and Christian and Jewish fundamentalists in the United States. It was the attitude of all the networks.
Once again, the numbers were a no brainer for Roger Ailes: 76 percent of the nation considered themselves to be Christian; 0.5 percent were Islamic. Give a media outlet an uncontested monopoly on the 76 percent and divide the remaining 0.5 percent among the others and it will be a winning formula every time.
Meanwhile, the other networks had no trouble stereotyping the whole Catholic Church when the pedophile scandals erupted. Ka-ching — another 25 percent of the nation for Fox. “You don’t want the Catholics?” Ailes will take them, thank you.
Then there were the born-again Christians, representing 48 percent of the American population. The antipathy from the networks was palatable. Roger Ailes would laugh. “You want to stake me with a 48 percent advantage? OK. You don’t want half of America? I’ll take the born againers too.”
The battle over Christmas was like a scene out of "Miracle on 34th Street." While other networks, out of respect for the 2.2 percent of the country who are Jewish, used the words “Happy Holidays,” Ailes fearlessly honored them both, making a special point to declare “Merry Christmas” to the 76 percent and afterward, a respectful “Happy Hanukah” to the 2.2 percent.
Finally, Roger Ailes owned the wars. While other networks pretended to be transcendent in the war on terror, noncombatants, loyal to the higher god of journalism, Roger Ailes was shamelessly patriotic and American.
Libertarian? Don’t like the war? While the other networks spurned them, Ailes would say, 14 percent of the country? Really? Well, OK, if I must. Ka-ching. Ailes put them in his Fox Business News Ghetto, where they would have to do a lot of heavy lifting. But at least it was a home.
From the beginning Ailes artfully used humor and provocative headlines to win viewers. You don’t need a remote control when you watch Fox News. Roger Ailes does that for you. It’s addictive. It’s fun.
One can just sit and relax and watch him play out the long stream of promos, staying in your seat, watching the shifting kaleidoscope of four minute segments, on a political race in Ohio, on that Hollywood scandal, on the alligator that got loose in a Georgia neighborhood, waiting for the promised story about the mother who got fired from her job in California for changing her baby’s diaper in public.
According to Neilson the top 13 programs in cable news all air on Fox. It has 48 percent of the primetime cable-news market, compared to 17 percent for CNN or MSNBC. Fox News is close to $1 billion in profit for the last fiscal year. It has crushed its rivals.
Abraham Lincoln once said that the Union had the men, the industry, and the supply. If he could find a general who could do the math, he could win the Civil War. Rupert Murdoch, the colorful, inventive owner of News Corporation found his general in Roger Ailes. And yes, he can do the math.
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