Until he was forced to resign last month in the wake of sexual harassment allegations (which Ailes denied but Fox just settled for 20 million big ones), Roger Ailes was the head–some would say dictator–at Fox News. Ailes had the insight 20 years ago to build a news empire based on fanning the fears of his conservative (and older) audience. He created an outlet for every loony right-wing trope and a home for every spittle-flecked commentator.
But every account, Ailes was Fox News: his ideas and prejudices became the network’s content.
The result wasn’t just the highest-rated news channel. Fox News contributes 20 percent of total profits to its corporate parents and generates twice the profit of politically centrist competitor CNN. It’s also a venue for the most reliably homophobic arguments and talking heads, giving both a degree of visibility that they would never have otherwise had. It made the fringe mainstream.
That’s bad enough. But the real problem is the control Fox News has over the Republican party. What started out as a propaganda arm for the GOP changed over the years. Now it sets the agenda for the party. By feeding its viewers a constant diet of outrage and pushing the debate ever further to the right, the Republican party is now hostage to what Ailes created.
Which means even if the GOP wanted to change it’s views on gay rights, it couldn’t. Because one man–Roger Ailes–was hostile to change, and he was using a highly successful news outlet to tell the party base what it should think. And when it came to gay issues, the message was vicious because Ailes is personally deeply homophobic.
Multiple stories attest to how much Ailes despised us. He tossed gay slurs around with abandon. He called David Brock, a former right-wing hit man turned liberal, a “faggot.” (Brock happens to be gay.) But no one was spared Ailes’ disdain, not even the billionaire boss’s son. Watching James Murdoch on a security camera outside Fox headquarters, Ailes remarked to a colleague, “Tell me that mouth hasn’t sucked a cock.” He even advised George H. W. Bush not to wear short-sleeved shirts while campaigning for president in 1988 because “you’ll look like a fucking faggot.”
And it wasn’t just hatred. It was paranoia. Ailes wanted “bombproof glass” (which doesn’t exist) installed in his executive suite because “homosexual activists are going to be down there every day protesting. … And who knows what the hell they’d do.”
Is it any wonder that Fox News became the kind of place where a reporter “investigates” gay pride parades, hosts trash a trans teen, and an “expert” links being gay to “serious psychological impediments”?
For a while it looked like there were glimmers of glasnost in the gulag, with the elevation of Megyn Kelly. But that hope was short lived. One clear sign was the story that Fox News anchor Shepard Smith wanted to come out as gay, only to have Ailes squash the request and demote Smith.
And that’s just within the organization. For the Republican party, the situation is much, much worse. The party is in complete disarray, saddled with an unqualified presidential nominee and stuck with stances that it knows have to change. (It’s no surprise that Trump started spreading his conspiracy theories about President Obama during appearances on Fox last year.) The party’s post-mortem after the 2012 election acknowledged its stand on gay issues (among many others) had to go.
But after being told for years about how nefarious the gay agenda is, Fox News viewers aren’t about to let the party change. If anything, they are turning on Fox for not being sufficiently homophobic. When Shepard Smith criticized Kim Davis with the line “haters are going to hate,” the right-wing went ballistic. Never mind that erstwhile Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee was virtually glued to the Kentucky clerk throughout her self-imposed ordeal.
Long-time critics of Fox News are probably feeling pretty good about the disarray that the channel is currently in. But any pleasure from Ailes’ fall should be short-lived. For one thing, the network he created is still out there, churning out ridiculous and false stories, such as the one’s questioning Hillary Clinton’s health.
More to the point, Ailes is now advising Donald Trump on his campaign. Ailes has plenty of campaign experience, of course. He started his political career by advising Richard Nixon on his 1968 campaign, to which we can date the ugly turn in American politics. We all know how that ultimately turned out.
And that should give all of us plenty of cause to worry.