Roger Ailes, Warts and All

Two new books shed light on the Fox News founder.

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In this September 2011 photo, Fox News Chairman-CEO Roger Ailes speaks at a 15-year anniversary party held for employees at Chelsea Piers in New York.
In this September 2011 photo, Fox News Chairman-CEO Roger Ailes speaks at a 15-year anniversary party held for employees at Chelsea Piers in New York.

Now it's Roger Ailes's turn in the barrel of public scrutiny.

The founder and man in charge of Fox News is the subject of two upcoming biographies that are about to be published, one by New York Magazine's Gabriel Sherman and the other by author Zev Chafets.

And in a moment of one-upmanship worthy of the media-savvy Ailes himself, Vanity Fair published online excerpts from the Chafets book, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, Wednesday morning.

The Chafets book was written with Ailes's cooperation. The Sherman book, tentatively titled The Loudest Voice in the Room: Fox News and the Making of America, was unauthorized.

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In this September 2011 photo, Fox News Chairman-CEO Roger Ailes speaks at a 15-year anniversary party held for employees at Chelsea Piers in New York.
In this September 2011 photo, Fox News Chairman-CEO Roger Ailes speaks at a 15-year anniversary party held for employees at Chelsea Piers in New York.

"He is a blue-collar guy from a factory town in Ohio who has stayed close to his roots," Chafets writes of Ailes, a legendary figure in both politics and the media.

"After I had known him for a while I asked what he would do if he were president of the United States. He said that he would sign no legislation, create no new regulations, and allow the country to return to its natural, best self, which he locates, with modest social amendments, somewhere in midwestern America circa 1955."

Some of the incidents described by Chafets provide insights into the conservative world that Fox represents as the TV network of the right.

"One day during the 2012 primary season," Chafets writes, "Newt Gingrich complained that Fox News' support for Mitt Romney was responsible for Gingrich's poor showing. Rick Santorum had made a similar claim when he dropped out of the race. Gingrich and Santorum had been Fox commentators before getting into the race, and Ailes found their complaints self-serving and disloyal.

"Brian Lewis, his spokesman, asked Ailes for guidance on how to respond to Newt. 'Brush him back,' Ailes said. 'He's a sore loser and if he had won he would have been a sore winner.' Lewis nodded. Ailes was silent for a moment and then added: "Newt's a prick.'"

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Other interesting moments described in the book:

• Ailes is dismissive of Vice President Joe Biden. "I have a soft spot for Joe Biden," he says. "I like him. But he's dumb as an ashtray."

• The Fox News chief admits he often loses his temper, and once punched a hole in a wall at NBC, where we was a producer. "If you have a reputation as a badass, you don't need to fight," he says.

• He has given this advice to his son Zac: "Avoid war if at all possible but never give up your freedom—or your honor. Always stand for what is right. If absolutely forced to fight, then fight with courage and win. Don't try to win...win!"

• He has a strong sense of his own mortality. "My doctor told me that I'm old, fat and ugly, but none of those things is going to kill me immediately," says Ailes, 72. "The actuaries say I have six to eight years. The best tables give me 10. Three thousand days, more or less."

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.