NY Times: At Fox, Roger Ailes Was J. Edgar Hoover, Prodding Voters' 'Lizard Brains'

July 23rd, 2016 1:41 PM

It’s not a compliment when New York Times TV writer James Poniewozik summarizes Ailesgate with the tweet “On Roger Ailes, the J. Edgar Hoover of TV news.” When every other broadcast and cable TV network leans to the Left, somehow it’s Fox News that represents unaccountable and overweening political power?

This metaphor landed on the front page of Friday's Business Day section in his "Critic's Notebook" article. Apparently, having almost every other news outlet tilt toward the liberals means they’re somehow more democratic and accountable as they all echo each other like an enormous blob of public relations. No, it’s Fox that manipulates the "lizard brains" of a dangerously stupid group of conservative white people. That’s the echo of this thesis:

American democracy is meant to be king-proof. Presidents win two terms, maximum. Supreme Court justices are one voice among nine (or, currently, eight), senators one in a hundred.

To amass the kind of long-term power that allows you to shape politics and culture geologically, like a river carving out a canyon, you have to go elsewhere. Roger Ailes found that place.

At Fox News - the outlet Mr. Ailes created, ran and drove like a bullet train for two decades - he was a unitary force. And he was not term-limited, until Thursday, when he stepped down over charges, which began with a lawsuit by the former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson, that he sexually harassed a series of women over the years.

With Fox News, Mr. Ailes introduced a brash, point-of-view-based style that influences much of today's media. But the closest comparison for him might be less CNN's Ted Turner than someone like J. Edgar Hoover: a power behind the power, unelected but mighty, outliving administrations and the ebbs and flows of elections, ruling by force and fear.

If these claims of sexual harassment are true, Ailes seems more like Bob Packwood than J. Edgar Hoover. But for Poniewozik and the Times, Ailes and Fox News were operating a Lizard Brain channel based on emotion, not intellect:

Mr. Ailes became a media guru for Republicans, prodding voters' lizard-brain centers of emotion and insecurity. For George H. W. Bush in 1988, he produced the sleazy and effective "Revolving Door" ad that tarred Michael Dukakis by association with murderers and rapists.

Earth to James: “tarred by association”? Young Times readers may not understand: the “association” was that Gov. Dukakis gave murderers and rapists weekend furloughs, and on one of those free passes, Willie Horton murdered a gas station attendant and raped a woman. So, in other words, if Team Dukakis had left Horton in jail, there would have been one less murder and one less rape.

What followed are a series of smart-aleck lines.

Fox News Channel, not Bob Dole or the Clinton impeachment case, would be conservatism's next great weapon....

On Fox, the news was something to get pumped about, the mood always agitated — less Walter Cronkite, more Michael Bay....

“Anchor babies.” The “Ground Zero mosque.” Birtherism. All these themes were test-marketed on Fox, and embraced in the subculture of the Republican base, before Mr. Trump adopted them. Note by note, the channel built the instrument that Mr. Trump plays like a concert pianist.

Fox certainly helped make Trump -- but so did NBC Universal, with season after season of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice. Jeff Zucker at NBC helped make Trump as well as Ailes did. Then came the obligatory shot at how journalists were like "scientists" and "egghead fact-checkers," dismissed by the thuggish Fox audience:

Beyond that, Fox bolstered the powerful idea, key to his campaign, that traditional gatekeepers and claims to expertise were illegitimate. “Fair and balanced,” after all, implied that no one else was balanced, and thus any other information could be dismissed. Newspapers, scientists, egghead fact-checkers — forget them. There was only Fox.