Image

Mark Steyn

Ave atque vale

The Impresario

I can't honestly say I knew Roger Ailes well - not the way Rush or George Bush Sr knew him. The last time I saw him, not long before he was forced out, was by the elevator bank at Fox as I was exiting the building and he was coming in. "Hi, Mark," he said affably - which impressed the people I was with. I don't think that was a reflection of anything other than that, for twenty years, he had singlehandedly made every decision that mattered at Fox, and most of the ones that, to your average network chairman or CEO, didn't. In that sense, whatever the titles they may hold, no one has "replaced" him at Fox News, because no one could: It's not often that a man builds a 24/7 television channel in his own image, and keeps it that way for two decades.

I first met him in the early Nineties when he was at CNBC and he was a guest on my BBC show. I was impressed that he went all the way back to The Mike Douglas Show in the late Sixties. "Now that was television," I enthused. "Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore..."

"Yeah, well, that's why you're on the BBC," said Ailes. He didn't really mean it - I mean, he did about me and the Beeb, but not about Mike and Dinah. He learned a lot from those shows and then brought it to politics, treating his candidates as personalities whose events required creative production. The example he gave that day was from the Nixon campaign: The candidate was risk-averse and preferred the stump speech to go as planned. But Ailes knew his client better than he did himself. At the last minute, he'd go outside to the knot of protesters and tell them there were a few places still left for the event, and would anyone like a seat? Then he'd pick the three smelliest hippiest-looking hippies and usher them in to the seats that (unknown to not-half-so-Tricky Dick) he'd held for them. When they started barracking Nixon, the presidential candidate would round on them and slap them down brilliantly and devastatingly, the very embodiment of a no longer silent "silent majority". It made for great TV, and it also perked Nixon up no end. As a buoyant re-charged candidate walked off-stage, he'd put his arm around Ailes and growl: "Thought that went well tonight. Really stuck it to the hippies."

He brought that showman's savvy to Fox. As Charles Krauthammer likes to say, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes discovered an under-served niche market: 50 per cent of the American people. At the time Ailes was on my BBC show, Murdoch's new network was already in the works and the man he'd picked to run it was Andrew Neil, his editor at The Sunday Times in Britain (now at the Beeb and chairman of the Speccie). That fit a Murdoch pattern with his American ventures, of parachuting in someone he trusted from London or Oz (as at The Wall Street Journal and New York Post). This time, though, he had second thoughts: before the project got off the ground, Neil returned to the UK, and Murdoch let Ailes have a completely free hand in reinventing cable news. Within five years, the upstart had overtaken CNN, and never looked back.

It wasn't just the "under-served niche market". Ailes was political, but he wasn't an ideologue, and he knew TV better than anyone. He liked to watch Fox with the volume off - so he could judge how it looked. These days, every so often, I get a yen to see how the other channels are covering something and I twiddle the dial. It never ceases to amaze me how visually dull CNN is - and how no one does anything about it. I caught Anderson Cooper the other night - something to do with sex scandals at Fox, as it happens - but all I remember is how flat and boring the look of the show was. Roger Ailes was a TV genius, with interesting theories: with a boisterous mien and not overly kempt, manicured and accoutred, he told me in some detail about what he considered off-puttingly dandified anchormen.

He certainly had a remarkable eye for talent. He took two unpolished radio guys who barely knew what camera they were on and made "Hannity & Colmes" a decade-long hit. In Bill O'Reilly, he had a host with a rare presence and size (for this genre), but who'd been around a long time and hadn't yet found a format that worked for him: thanks to Ailes, he did. And so it went for a hundred lesser lights. I was told not so long ago of a chap who unsuccessfully pitched a show to Roger for the evening on Fox Business. Ailes turned to his lieutenant Bill Shine: "What shit are we running then anyhow?"

Which is a cute line. But I bet he knew. He knew everything, sometimes in obsessive detail. Over the years I guest-hosted for Sean Hannity, I always appreciated the way, if I chanced to be at a media event in New York, Roger would give a smooth professional shout-out from the podium and say, "Mark does just a fabulous job sitting in for Sean." And sometimes he'd almost sound as if he meant it.

In the murk of a malodorous litigation environment where "claims" are best understood as opening bids, the allegations against him remain just that - allegations. But they destroyed him and cost him his network, and yesterday they made Fox's on-air tributes to its founder sound awkward and constrained. He was "not a perfect man", as the first President Bush Tweeted in memoriam, but he found what for him was the perfect job. Roger Ailes was a masterful impresario - a word which has fallen out of use because so few people have the portfolio of qualities to justify it. He had no ambitions on-camera, but off-camera, unlike Rupert Murdoch, he tended to do most of the talking, which could get a little exhausting over lunch. Up on stage he was a funny speaker, with the kind of retro pro polish one assumes he picked up somewhere along the way from Mike or Merv or Dinah. If Murdoch was in the room, there was a line he liked to use. I heard him do it on three or four occasions, as one does, and enjoyed it more each time. Ailes would say:

"People always ask me: 'What's Rupert really like?'

"And I always tell them: He really likes money."

And, two seats along the dais or over at the top table, Rupert would always laugh.

As Ailes may occasionally have reflected in recent months, it was rather more complicated than that.

~Later this morning Steyn will be on one of his favorite Fox shows, "Varney & Co" on Fox Business, live across America just after 11.30am Eastern/8.30am Pacific.

from Ave atque vale, May 19, 2017

 

"That's Not How We Do Things in Australia"

Bill Leak, the great cartoonist of The Australian, died of a heart attack in the early hours of Friday morning. He was 61. Like Andrew Bolt, I feel not only terrible sadness at his premature death, but also anger and resentment. Bill Leak was not gunned down at his office, like the writers and artists of Charlie Hebdo, nor did a murderous Somali axman break into his home, as happened to Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish Mohammed cartoonists, nor did he have his last public appearance shot up ...

Continue Reading

A Glorious Rain

Mark remembers the late Debbie Reynolds, on-screen and off-

Continue Reading

Going Solo

Mark remembers George Michael's rhymes and reason

Continue Reading

The Full English

Mark remembers the writer AA Gill.

Continue Reading

A Monster and his Suck-Ups

Fidel Castro's presidential term lasted, gosh, an awfully long time, as The New York Times reminded us:

Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II.

That's one way of putting it...

Continue Reading

Times to be Happy, Times to Get Through

Mark and Tim Rice on the late Bobby Vee

Continue Reading

Happy Easter from the Religion of Peace

The price of being a moderate Muslim

Continue Reading

A Principled Man in a Corrupted Field

I was very saddened to hear of the death of Professor Robert M Carter, one of my co-authors on Climate Change: The Facts. Bob had a heart attack at his home in Queensland and never recovered consciousness. He was an indispensable voice in the battle for climate sanity...

Continue Reading

Bumpers and Grinders

Ol' Dale pulls it out for Slick Willie

Continue Reading

The Riches in Rags

E L Doctorow at the dawn of the American century

Continue Reading

Flower Power

Remembering Theodore Bikel, who introduced the last song Rodgers & Hammerstein ever wrote

Continue Reading

Man of Letter

Mark remembers Wayne Carson, who gave us "Always On My Mind" and "The Letter"

Continue Reading

Brollies and Dollies

Hard to imagine at the start of yet another dreary summer of superheroes at the multiplex, but once upon a time "The Avengers" didn't mean lurid musclebound rubber-nippled ├ťbermenschen battling malevolent Norse gods across a hole in the time-space continuum over the streets of Manhattan, but an urbane middle-aged toff and a catsuited Carnaby Street dolly bird bantering their way across Swingin' London. That other "Avengers" was a big hit in the US. It was, indeed, the last British telly show to ...

Continue Reading

He Stayethed.

Mark remembers Stan Cornyn, master of the lost art of liner notes

Continue Reading

Rush's Right-Hand Man

Mark remembers the great Kit "HR" Carson

Continue Reading

A QC in the Windy City

Eddie Greenspan, QC died in his sleep last week at his winter pad in Arizona. He was only 70, although he seemed older to me. Canada's most celebrated criminal lawyer, he had made his name very young, and kept it until the end. I didn't know him well, and, indeed, on the last occasion I saw him (or, to be more precise, he saw me), in the lobby of the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, he cut me dead. (I was talking with someone, and didn't actually notice, but so it was reported to me afterwards.) ...

Continue Reading

Chicken Supremo

The longest-serving mayor in Boston's history was no friend of free speech

Continue Reading

Palace Intrigue

One of the odder episodes recounted in my new book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn is my dinner at Buckingham Palace on the eve of the referendum on the Australian monarchy. A man whose political fortunes helped shape the republican movement died today at the age of 98. Gough Whitlam was a controversial Aussie Prime Minister who was even more controversially transformed into an ex-Prime Minister...

Continue Reading

Beam Him Up!

The improbably coiffed James Traficant, former congressman and jailbird, died at the weekend. He rated a mention from me in the course of my disquisition on "Beam me up, Scotty!" in Mark Steyn's Passing Parade...

Continue Reading

Chemistry Lessons

James Garner was one of those actors who was watchable in almost anything, even commercials. He had great sexual chemistry, which is why his leading ladies loved working with him...

Continue Reading

When the Bongos Fall Silent...

Mark remembers Broadway's archetypal tough old broad, and a characteristic encounter...

Continue Reading

Brill Cream

Mark remembers Gerry Goffin and the pop hits of New York's Brill Building

Continue Reading

Barn Stormer

Mickey Rooney died last Sunday at the age of 93, and I didn't want the SteynOnline week to end without a word about him. Aside from anything else, and as ridiculous as it sounds, we share a musical director...

Continue Reading

For Valour

Australia honours its 100th Victoria Cross recipient

Continue Reading

A Coconut War Without Shells

Cockatoo-plumed colonial memories from the South Pacific

Continue Reading

Slipper of the Yard

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs - and his nemesis...

Continue Reading

Peter O'Toole, RIP

Birther of Arabia?

Continue Reading

Canada's Chief Censor

Mark remembers Jennifer Lynch, Chief Commissar during his battles with the Dominion's thought police

Continue Reading

Don Wade, RIP

Remembering a legendary Chicago morning man

Continue Reading

The Anti-Declinist

Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013

Continue Reading

Doug Christie, 1946-2013

Ezra Levant remembers an all too rare Canadian free-speech lawyer

Related: Bernie and the Bully Bloggers

Continue Reading

You see this guy?

Mark presents Part Two of his salute to Hal David, lyricist of "This Guy's In Love With You", "I'll Never Fall In Love Again", "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" and many more, who died on Saturday at the age of 91

You can read Part One here

Continue Reading

Pajama Nights on Broadway

A SteynOnline audio special to mark the 60th birthday of The Pajama Game

Continue Reading

Hilton and Lana

Remembering a great critic, editor, and the man who gave Mark his first regular job in American media

Continue Reading

Hitchens Observed

From our friend John O'Sullivan: Sometime in the early 1970s, Frank Johnson, later editor of the British Spectator but then a young parliamentary correspondent, came into my room at the Daily Telegraph and began waxing enthusiastic about a newcomer to Fleet Street, one Christopher Hitchens, with whom he had dined the previous night...

Continue Reading

Tony Blankley RIP

Tony's death is a particular shock to those of us who enjoyed his company on the NR cruise just a few weeks ago. He was his usual convivial self, and fully engaged in the 2012 campaign season.

Continue Reading

THE DONG IS ENDED, BUT THE MALADY LINGERS ON

Kim Jong-Il, 1942-2011

Continue Reading

MONKEYING AROUND

Bert Schneider, 1933-2011: 'Nam, coke, and the Golden Age of Oscars

Continue Reading

END OF THE RHODE

Roger Williams, 1924-2011

Continue Reading

Image

The Mark Steyn Club

Member Login

Email:

Password:

Not yet a member of the Mark Steyn Club? Join now!

Follow Mark

Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  Join Mailing List

Search SteynOnline.com

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

© 2017 Mark Steyn Enterprises (US) Inc. All rights reserved.
No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of Mark Steyn Enterprises.