Over the summer Roger Ailes was sitting on his terrace at his home along the Hudson River, reading a book on the Civil War, when he decided his fight wasn’t finished. Last month Ailes, 72, who created Fox News 16 years ago, signed on for another four years as CEO. In a wide-ranging interview in his office Thursday he told us why.
“Too much pressure on me to leave. Too many people who’d been happy if I left, finally pissed me off,” says Ailes. “If everbody’d shut up I probably would have quietly gone off.”
Ailes says beyond his critics, his passion for journalism — not politics — helped his decision.
“They actually are what they accuse me of being,” says Ailes of his detractors. “They think I’m a political animal. I understand my politics and I understand their politics better than they do.”
Ailes was also sparked by what he experienced at a Washington journalists’ dinner. “When I saw the President say, ‘I know you all voted for me,’ and a thousand people stood up and cheered and applauded and then when the applause died down, he said, ‘Oh probably except you guys at the Fox table.’ I thought, ‘Am I the only guy in this room doing his job?’ They set up Freedom of the Press. The press is supposed to watch the powerful. And not throw in with them. And when I watched a thousand people stand and cheer and applaud I thought, ‘Uh oh. Somebody better do this job.'”
People write that I hate journalists or I hate the media or that I’m always in a fight with them, or whatever. It’s entirely wrong. I expect more of them. I expect them to rise to the occasion. Why in the hell did the Founding Fathers only protect one business. They didn’t protect hairdressers, they didn’t protect car salesmen, they protected the press. They said you can’t screw around with the press. My God, if you knew that your job was protected by Thomas Jefferson, wouldn’t you have a little more honor about how you did it?
As he was deciding whether to stay on with Fox, Jim Walton announced he’d be leaving the top job at CNN. We asked Ailes:
TVNewser: When you were thinking about whether you were going to stay on with another contract, the CNN Worldwide job came open. Did that ever cross your mind, did anyone from Time Warner reach out to you?
Roger Ailes: It did. Somebody who knows that company very well and works in that company called me. He said you’re exactly what CNN needs, but the board over here is hopelessly, generally left wing and they would never buy “Fair and Balanced” and I said does that mean they wouldn’t buy conservative? Because I don’t care about conservative, I actually do care about “Fair and Balanced.” He said ‘No they’ll just hire a liberal, because they’re liberal and that’s what they’ll do.” I said, ‘Well, I’m sure of that and I’m not unhappy here because of the management of Rupert [Murdoch], because they’re offering me plenty of money. It’s purely a personal decision. Do I wanna work this hard? I like the reporting structure I have with Rupert and Chase [Carey] and so if it all works out it’ll all work out fine. But I never had any serious approach about it and I didn’t make any serious approach on it.
So Roger Ailes will continue his fight at Fox News. But we wanted to know what CNN, the original cable news network which has been mired in third place in the ratings, needs to do get back in the game.
“They’re doing what they need to do,” Ailes chuckles, “Trying to find a Roger Ailes. That’s what I’m told. I had three guys call me and tell me that.”
“How many Roger Ailes’ are there?,” we asked.
“Well two of them are dead. Poor old Roone [Arledge] and Don Hewitt. There are guys out there that could do it. But it’s hard work. You gotta understand and like talent and talent makes themselves hard to like sometimes.”