And on the personal front, I was greatly interested in the cameo former NBC news president Dick Wald makes in the profile—Wald was a professor of mine at Columbia’s J-School and never gave me an assessment as adulatory or as blunt as this:
He likes Roger Ailes. And if you ask him the secret of Mr. Ailes’s success, he’ll say it’s pretty simple: “Roger, in many ways, is just more competent. He just does it better. The anchors are better. The crispness of the reporting is better. The anchors don’t interrupt, the shows move along, and the point of view is clear. It’s just a good product. Roger found an area in which he could reach each audience member individually. That’s the big difference between Fox and CNN.”
Then he adds this, about the difficulty of taking on Roger Ailes: “You can’t beat Roger fighting on territory he’s left behind.”
Speaking of the J-School, it pops up again when Ailes discusses how he spots, and then transforms, his on-air talent (Junod’s description of Megyn Kelly as “the meanest of the mean girls, the heaving sumptuous blond with the wide-set eyes, the briskly triangular chin, and the porno sneer she directs at ill-fated liberal guests” is brilliantly grotesque). Take the case of anchor Jenna Lee:
“Well, she didn’t look anything like she looks now when she came here. She’d just completed Columbia journalism school, and she wanted to be a writer. But I met with her and sent her down to hair and makeup to clean her up a little. When she came back, I took a look at her and said, ‘What would you think of going on air?’ I had to work with her a little to bring her pitch down, and now she’s going to be a big star. And she wanted to be a writer.”
Ugh, a writer. Can you imagine?
The piece should be read in full; these excerpts are too lucid and straightforward to do justice to the complex telling and structure which characterize the overall. But if you’re confused at what Junod’s going for, as I admittedly was at times, I suggest skipping to the end, where his intentions are made wholly clear.
Of all the remarkable aspects of Esquire’s exclusive and unbiased exploration of Roger Ailes, this is the most remarkable, and the most surprising. He asked us that certain things not be written about him, because he has a son. Most of these things are unremarkable, and can be found in his Wikipedia entry. Nevertheless, he doesn’t want his son to read them. He doesn’t want his son to read them here. It is a deeply human request, and deeply manipulative. But that’s what makes Roger Ailes who he is. He makes sure that you cannot deal with him without having to contend with him. Not simply at the level of his machinations but at the level of his stuff — at the level of his bruised and bloodied human core. But the human moment is the most dangerous. He asks for quarter when he has given none, asks for sympathy when he has offered none, asks for fairness when he has been “fair and balanced,” asks for consideration while admitting that the only consideration he has ever shown is consideration for his mission, whatever that may be. And so, here, at the end of Esquire’s brave, bold, exclusive, and utterly unbiased report on Roger Ailes, we’d like to ask him one last question.
You know, Mr. Ailes, there are television executives who are so convinced you get television news that they admit asking themselves before they make any decision, What would Roger do?
So that’s the question we’d like to ask you now. You have asked Esquire to be sympathetic to your situation. You have asked for fairness. And yet you must have heard these same kinds of requests many times in your life; you must have heard these same pleas, so you, in your heart of hearts, must already know the answer to the question that only Esquire dares to ask:
What would Roger do?
*Note: Originally, this sentence read “could care less…”