What Ailes America

“The true opposition in Britain is the people that are pushed to the ground and beaten on London streets and slain and yet no one hears their voice.” — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


This is the incredulous quote from the terrorist-supporting despot who oppresses his own people and is the inspiration behind Syria’s current deadly assault on its own people. The quote appears in a piece from the country’s state-owned news/propaganda agency FARS.

Outside the Voice of America, the United States government doesn’t really have an “official” state-run news agency to advance its POVs.  I don’t (yet) count the White House’s Twitterstream or web site as having the same level of unfettered influence.

In fact, the fragmented U.S. media landscape today can best be described as a plurality of voices with no single news organization wielding the same kind of public and political sway as let’s say FARS does in Iran, Xinhua in China or the TV airwaves in Russia*, and in particular Channel 1. 

Or maybe it does?


With its top communications guy (a Dem out of water) defecting to Time Warner last year, News Corp., employer of the phone-hackers at News of the World, has suddenly found itself thrust into a most harsh media spotlight. David Carr weighed in on Monday with a piece titled “News Corp’s Soft Power in the U.S.” that exposed the company’s less-than-ethical, and perhaps illegal anti-competitive behavior in the in-store POP advertising space.

However, most of the mainstream U.S. media limited their coverage to the decade-old dubious machinations of NOTW’s journalists. Off limits was News Corp’s much more profitable line of business Fox News, which has done much more damage to people’s lives than NOTW could ever imagine.

The griping about Fox News has mainly manifested via progressive bloggers like Salon’s Glenn Greenwald or TPM’s Josh Marshall, organizations like Media Matters for America and FAIR, the sometimes annoying Jon Stewart, and the occasional Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone expose. For whatever reason, the news holes of the primary mainstream news orgs avoided calling out Fox News and Fox Business News for what they are: the propaganda arms of the Bush Administration and today, the GOP and Tea Parties.

I was thus surprised when I saw that a most esteemed mainstream news organization had the kahunas to reprint — on its news pages — a substantive and meticulously researched piece that first appeared in Rolling Stone back in May. The (UK) Guardian had the temerity to publish Tim Dickinson’s piece:

“How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory: The onetime Nixon operative has created the most profitable propaganda machine in history. Inside America’s Unfair and Imbalanced Network.”

Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. Photograph: James Leynse/CORBIS SABA

The Guardian diverged from the original by giving it a new, more caustic headline and subhead, and a less-flattering picture of Mr Ailes:

“Roger Ailes and the rise of Fox News: Even Rupert Murdoch is afraid of Roger Ailes, the paranoid boss of Fox News. But ‘the Chairman’ is using his power to make Americans more rightwing [sic], more ignorant and ever more terrified.”

I set out today to pen a primer for Mr. Obama’s PR consiglieres who, in their infinite wisdom, had their boss at a dinner this week honoring Muslim Americans who died in 9/11 and at a campaign fundraiser in New York City tonight. This at a time when U.S. investors (i.e., you and me) lost $7.8 trillion in the value of their holdings, the jobless rate is unelectably high, and the largest # of U.S. soldiers were killed in a single incident in 10 years in Afghanistan — Navy Seals and Rangers, no less.

Could the White House communications team have a bigger tin ear?

Still, I sympathize with Mr. Obama. While other presidents have had to do battle with powerful newspapers in a bygone media era, he has to deal with a formidable faux news (and business) network that incessantly spews the GOP and Tea Party narratives into 100+ million homes of the mostly misinformed (for a reason). 

As Mr. Dickinson writes:

“The network, at its core, is a giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism.”

Sadly, it’s unlikely this eye-opening journalistic reveal will ever go viral on these shores. I do hope though you take the time to read it.

As for Mr. Obama’s communications team’s instincts — or lack thereof — that merits a separate post.

* Unlike China and Iran where the Internet is closely monitored, Russia appears to give its bloggers more latitude to express their views.