But Huffington came as close anyone has to warning Ailes before a large audience that he’s playing with fire: When you’ve run out of socialists and terrorists to blame, one of your operatives will always find a few real capitalists—perhaps Jewish ones, like Soros—to split off from the rest, who remain protected.
Chafets understands this danger, perhaps a little too well: After growing up as William Chafets in Pontiac, MI, and at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, he moved to Israel, served in its army, and was Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s press officer. Back in the US after 2000, he wrote New York Daily News columns with titles like “How the Israelis Are Helping US Fight Terror War” and “Arafat’s ‘Womb Bomb’ Just Another Delusion.”
Although he recently told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that he profiled Limbaugh and Ailes because he likes “people who change the culture or go against the grain, and people who are contrarians at least within their own profession,” surely the fact that Fox is “behind [Israel] all the way,” as Ailes puts it, with Limbaugh not far behind, also explains Chafets’s eagerness to justify each of them at book length. I think he’s also trying to take out some insurance against anti-Semitism as Ailes’s “vision” gets scarier. Chafets finesses the story by noting that Ailes has eased Beck out of Fox; he also notes that cnn founder Ted Turner and others liken Murdoch to Hitler—“which would make Roger Ailes a reincarnation of Goebbels,” Chafets adds cheekily. But does that reductio ad absurdum really end this story?
Chafets seems to think so, making much of Ailes’s “friendships” with elite liberals whom he also happens to employ, including sons of Robert Kennedy and Mario Cuomo and the daughter of Jesse Jackson. (Cuomo’s son, Chris, left Fox for CNN this year.) He seems to hire them not only for protective coloration but to have them complicit in turning news into a game of money, power, and public relations. Ailes is playing a longer, slower game than most demagogues do.
That leaves high and dry any “ivory tower” liberals who remain thoughtful enough to pose serious questions and find answers that could work if demagoguery didn’t eviscerate their legitimacy and funding. The more that that savaging sells, the more that journalists who don’t emulate it are left high and dry, too. As Cleon’s ancient interlocutor Diodotus lamented, even those with the public interest at heart must appeal to fear and rage to be heard.
Mephistopheles always comes on with a smile, a wink, and promises of shining victories. Ailes and his apologists, like Chafets, have employed and enjoyed these, but they’re in for unhappy surprises, and they’ve got more than a few of us with them on the same slippery slope.
Correction: The original version of this review erroneously stated that Ailes was responsible for George H.W. Bush’s infamous Willie-Horton ad in the 1988 presidential election.