Roger and me: You’ve come a long way, (rightie) baby

By Daniel Meltzer

“ROGER AILES SAYS HE WILL NOT RUN IN 2012 RACE” – Headline on Politico Click, online news service, Oct. 23, ’09

I have two responses to this less-than-earth-shattering pronouncement:

Who asked him?

And if Roger isn’t running, then neither am I. After all, we almost knew each other once.

Roger Ailes is a big man, a very big man, as anyone knows who pays attention to what’s been going on in the news business. If you have seen him, you appreciate his bigness even if you didn’t know he’s president of Fox News Channel and chairman of Fox Television Stations. He calls the shots and sets the course for Rupert Murdoch’s cable news operations. Orson Welles, were he still alive, would play him in the movie. Or Klaus Kinski with a fat suit and a shaved head. Werner Herzog should direct. John Goodman could do it, but in that case Andy Kaufman would have to direct.

Ailes is credited with Fox News’s disingenuous slogan, “Fair and Balanced,” a cynical if transparent attempt to legitimize its starboard-circling coverage and commentary. “Hard right, hard right!” Fox is home base, of course, for the more than fairly unbalanced opinions of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and John Stossel: a roster of righties in a bullpen sadly shy of southpaws.

I don’t know who, if anyone, prodded Ailes to consider running for president in the first place, but anyway, he’s not interested. Or is he? “Not interested,” “I do not choose to run,” “I don’t want the job.” These sound familiar? Did I hear someone mention Mike Bloomberg? 

But if two marginally talented movie stars can convincingly play governor of California; if a professional wrestler can hold a full nelson on the statehouse in Minnesota; if a professional comedian can play straight man in the U.S. Senate, then an ex-TV talk-show producer, a polluter, not of our air, but of our cable ether, can easily pitch camp in the Oval Office. Could he be worse than W? We survived him. Or did we? 

Ailes embraced politics in the ’60s via his fortuitous relationship with former V.P. and loser-to-J.F.K. Richard Nixon when, pushing 30, trim, handsome and wholesome looking (with a full head of well-groomed hair), he was producer of the syndicated “Mike Douglas Show.” Nixon, running for president (again), was a guest on the show, scaring the bejeezus out of the public with his five o’clock shadow, sweaty upper lip, quivering jowls and crooked smile. Roger taught poor Dick a thing or two about makeup, and how to befriend (as well as Nixon could) the camera. It was love at first sight and Ailes abandoned his TV career and signed on as Nixon’s media adviser. After the election, he went on to make a small fortune as a campaign strategist teaching other Republican candidates around the country how to look and sound both smart and reasonably charming at the same time.

And then along came mega-media mogul Murdoch, who hired him to create and run Fox News in 1996.

Many now hold Murdoch and Ailes largely responsible for the deterioration of virtually all radio and television news and talk into rabid anti-abortion, anti-immigration, down-with-all-Democrats rantathons, rife with ritualistic ripping into anyone to the left of Genghis Khan, and as prime promoters of, and then cheerleaders for, the dumb and disastrous Iraq war. Remember WMD? 

Back when Roger Ailes was producing Westinghouse Broadcasting Company’s “Mike Douglas Show,” I was production manager, under the same corporate roof, for its other, significantly hipper talk program, “The Merv Griffin Show.” Roger and Mike had Nixon, but we had Muhammad Ali, Robert Kennedy, Ray Charles, Judy Garland, Gore Vidal, Helen Gurley Brown, Zsa Zsa, Rodney Dangerfield, Gypsy Rose Lee, Brother Theodore, Norman Mailer and Charo. 

Roger and I started out working for the same company. If Roger can decide not to run for president in 2012, then I see no reason why I cannot announce here and now, that I have no intention of seeking the White House at that time either. As it happens, I am younger and slimmer than Ailes, I know a hawk from a handsaw, and I have more hair than he has. And I would have known better than to teach Richard Nixon and his ilk how to win elections, or to beat the drum for a stupid, pointless war launched on phony evidence, or to help Rupert Murdoch shred American journalism into confetti for a victory parade that never happened.