Rethinking America

Fox News’ Roger Ailes: The Man Who Single-Handedly Rogered America

The American people have been royally abused by the former Fox News leader.

Credit: Clemens v. Vogelsang www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Ailes made a practice of flashing sensationalist provocations to dumb down serious political discourse.
  • It is high time to recognize that we have all been “rogered” for over 30 years by Ailes and his acolytes.
  • Listening to Trump is like getting caught in a traffic back-up that has slowed down to gawk at an accident.

Now that Roger Ailes has been driven out of his post at the top of the Fox News network, trailing charges of sexual harassment as he went, it is time to look back over his long and calamitous career.

He has personally driven a great deal of the steady deterioration of TV news, and with it the political discourse in the United States of America.

A tribute, of sorts

Ailes should be memorialized (which is certainly not to say honored) by adding a new verb to American English – one which captures his greatest and most damaging innovation. The verb, fittingly, is the same as his first name.

Being “rogered” has long been a British vulgarity, but on this side of the Atlantic it should now be the label for the way Ailes made a practice and a technique of flashing distracting, irrelevant, sensationalist provocations to drown out and dumb down serious political discourse.

It is high time to recognize that as a nation and as a people, we have all been regularly rogered for over 30 years by Ailes and his acolytes.

The master of devious distraction

Around 1985, Ailes had the insight that defined his career and undermined intelligent discussion of politics. He has boasted for decades of his “ah-ha moment” and even labeled it his “orchestra pit theory.”

In his own words: “If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?” With Ailes in control, it was always the guy who fell in the pit.

Ailes is like a fan dancer, the Fanne Fox of Fox News, who flashes a distracting glimpse of skin, then twirls away to leave you asking “Did he really do that?”

To monetize his insight, Ailes – with the support of the never gun-shy Rupert Murdoch — created an entire TV network to pump out absurd distractions. Then, Ailes had the brilliant insight of staffing it with attractive female newsreaders.

That way he was able to draw a viewership among the Viagra demographic (the median age for Fox News prime time viewers is 68) and to collect lots of advertising dollars.

Ailes still lives in TV afterlife

Ailes may be gone from the scene, but his trademark technique lives on. One example of “rogering”: a few days ago in Cleveland, President Obama gave his valedictory address.

It was a memorable recounting of all he has aspired to and accomplished since he rose to prominence at the same event three election cycles ago. It was also a dramatic passing of the baton to Hillary Clinton, a powerful lift for her campaign and a sober warning against “a homegrown demagogue.”

On the same evening, Vice President Biden exposed Trump as a heartless charlatan who “doesn’t have a clue.” Then, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg surgically eviscerated Trump, calling him a conman who clearly is not sane. Whatever your politics, there was a lot to report on.

Distract, distract

But what were the newspapers and commentators obsessed with the next morning? Arguments over whether the slaves who built the White House were well housed and fed.

We were “rogered.” With events of undeniable historical significance under way, we were fed a remark whose provocative stupidity was too obvious to let pass.

Who fed us the line? None other than Bill O’Reilly, a longtime subordinate and accomplice of Ailes and a Fox News fixture.

And what did we do as a nation? We were suitably distracted — like the dogs in the movie “Up” whenever they see a squirrel.

The sorcerer’s apprentices

Over the decades, Ailes employed and trained plenty of apprentice “rogerers” like Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich.

Sarah Palin, who never was much interested in being governor, found her true métier on the Ailes team of provocateurs. So did Mike Huckabee.

And what is Donald Trump but one more of the same? He has no real programs or plans, except to promote his brand through doling out provocations. Michael Bloomberg said he knows a con when he sees one.

Rogering is how Trump’s con works

Trump’s ridiculous pronouncements get him free media coverage. His obvious provocations draw attention to himself and away from damaging truths.

His regular prevarications draw us back in again and again so that we give our time and attention to seriously discrediting his absurdities when we should be shutting him out and moving on.

Getting bogged down listening to Trump and the other Ailes acolytes is like getting caught in a traffic back-up that has slowed down to gawk at an accident. Everyone needs to just move along.

Ailes developed the technique, and he also told us how to counter it. He gave some good advice to Reagan in the debates when Walter Mondale went after him over taxes. He told Reagan to smile, shake his head and say “There you go again…,” then change the subject.

When they try their rogering, better just to nod and say to Ailes and all his followers, “There you go again…”

Let’s adopt the term “rogering,” not as a way to honor a manipulative man who is best forgotten, but to label and reject a devious but effective technique that has permeated the entire American body politic like a metastasizing cancer.

We have all been rogered long enough.

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About Stephen D. Wrage

Stephen D. Wrage is a Professor of Political Science at the United States Naval Academy.

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