Sneering CBS: Ailes’s Success at Fox Due to ‘Fostering and Exploiting Divisions’

The sneering reaction to the death of Roger Ailes continued on CBS, Friday. NPR’s David Folkenflik attacked the Fox News founder for “fostering and exploiting divisions.” He also insisted that FNC encouraged the “emphasis on opinion rather than reporting.” As though liberal journalists on ABC, CBS and NBC haven’t been doing that for decades?

Guest CBS This Morning co-host Alex Wagner offered this leading question “Beyond President Trump, how responsible is Roger Ailes to the political landscape in America?” Folkenflik scolded, “I think he helped fuel and foster what you saw after ‘96, the explosion of voices on cable, what we saw of the emergence of the World Wide Web. He fostered and exploited divisions.” 

He added, “For cable to be successful, you need the largest niche audience. You don't do that by trying to be as broadly appealing as possible. You do it by getting a narrow niche.” As if liberal journalists at the networks pursue conservatives by offering fair and balanced reporting?

On Thursday, MSNBC used Ailes’s death to spike the ratings football and boast about the liberal cable channel moving ahead of FNC. 

On NBC’s Today, Thursday, journalist Gabe Sherman called Ailes a “terrorizing figure” whose “quest for power consumed him.” 

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CBS This Morning 
5/19/17
7:34 to 7:37:59 

CHARLIE ROSE: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here. David, good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Good morning, guys.      

ROSE: So how do we measure the impact that this man had on politics and media? 

FOLKENFLIK: I don't think there's anybody in the last two decades, possibly in the past half century who's had more influence over that intersection of politics. 

ROSE: Fifty years? 

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. Just about. You think how of a guy who helped lead Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush to the White House. You think of a guy who redefined what cable news was, how to think about the definition of news, how to re-calibrate the emphasis on opinion rather than reporting. The notion of how you define story lines, identifying an audience for cultural and political conservatives who felt they didn't have a home or and advocate in the mainstream media. This guy did all of those things. 

ROSE: So, the coming together of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes was a perfect — 

FOLKENFLIK: It was a match. He found the right patron in a sense in Rupert Murdoch, a guy he could say, “I got the vision. Let’s go.” 

GAYLE KING: You even say Donald Trump wouldn't be in the office without Roger Ailes. 

FOLKENFLIK: I think if you think about what’s happened in the last decade Fox News, NBC to some extent too pushing The Apprentice, but Roger Ailes and Fox News offer Donald Trump repeatedly as a credible source to turn to for insights on issues on the public scene in ways that his business record and his insights wouldn't necessarily warrant. In addition, they gave a platform for him to talk about the offensive and completely ungrounded claims that he made about President Obama’s birth saying that he was not a legitimate president. Utterly untrue, unfounded but it allowed Trump in the time of Obama to build a base for people who felt alienated from the President. 

KING: Do you know if they were still in touch, David? 

FOLKENFLIK: I think that tapered off. He was replaced by people like Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and others in terms of giving advice. 

ALEX WAGNER: David, beyond President Trump, how responsible is Roger Ailes to the political landscape in America? 

FOLKENFLIK: I think he helped fuel and foster what you saw after ‘96, the explosion of voices on cable, what we saw of the emergence of the World Wide Web. He fostered and exploited divisions. For cable to be successful, you need the largest niche audience. You don’t do that by trying to be as broadly appealing as possible. You do it by getting a narrow niche. 

ROSE: What's interesting to see what he said about integrity and all those kinds of things and then to see what brought him down. In 2001. 

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, it's incredible to hear him give a sermon on integrity and what we know now. 

WAGNER: What's the status of those lawsuits? 

FOLKENFLIK: I think those lawsuits look to be continuing. Let’s not forget there's a criminal investigation going on. Southern district of New York. The federal investigators are continuing on. But, you know, I think this is an incredibly important part of his legacy. You can't evaluate Roger Ailes and what he did without knowing there were decades of women who worked for him who he harassed. Credible, multiple accusations, each mirroring the last women who have not spoken to each other, talking about the way he used power at Fox News to do this. 

ROSE: What was it that he knew about television though? What did he understand that enabled him to do what he did and be asked to work with George Bush 41, Richard Nixon and others. 

FOLKENFLIK: It’s a question about messaging. It’s a question about identifying storylines, both as a campaigner and as a guy on the air. He said, “We know who the heroes are going to be and the villains are going to be, who the victim are going to be and who the saviors are going to be. We're going to give a story every day that people can hold onto and latch onto.” As a news man, might not be the most important journalistic story to follow, might in fact actually prove shaky or be based on a conspiracy theory. But if it’s something our listeners our viewers, excuse me, can latch onto, that’s going to be something that helps people stay with us and know they can turn to us for the news they want. 

KING: He definitely changed the game. But you think, in the end, will it be a stain on his legacy? 

FOLKENFLIK: You can’t think about Roger Ailes without thinking about this. This is a stain that helps to understand all of the man, complicated and successful as he was. 

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the associate editor for the Media Research Center's NewsBusters.org site.