Sunday, December 26, 2004

Q & A, the first episode!! guest is Roger Ailes, CEO of FOX

This is the first episode of Q & A. I'm watching it online, if you want to see it click here and then click on the "watch program" link.

Wow, first of all, this theme song is really relaxing. Listening to it, I picture myself being woken up at sunrise by a beautiful maiden carrying a tray of hot pancakes.

And Brian Lamb is hosting? That's a surprise. I guess the end of Booknotes just means that he doesn't have to interview authors anymore.

The guest is Roger Ailes, Chairman & CEO of Fox News, and he has a pair of jowls to die for. [NOTE: I have removed a sentence here about jowls, sports bras, jogging, and pastry chefs that offended my father, P. "Bam Bam" Bana.] Now I feel bad about making fun of Roger. If you're out there Roger, feel free to make fun of me because I get a rash between my thighs when I walk more than 7 miles on a treadmill. Not even spraying PAM on my legs helps.

"Hate is something that you have to get over in your life... I can't think of anybody I hate." That's a nice sentiment. I give Rog credit for saying something like that.

Rogelio just dodged one of Lamb's patented 'what is your evidence for what you just asserted' questions. Look at this exchange...

LAMB: What evidence did you have at that school that the teachers did not like America?

AILES: Everything is negative. Everything is about -- look, 95 percent of our people are working, the other 5 percent are basically pretty well taken care of by the government. Health care is not bad here. Bill Clinton did all right under it. Most people who want surgery don’t go to Canada, they try to come here. This is a country where everybody is trying to get in and nobody is trying get out.

So it just occurs to me that some of that ought to be taught in context. Not that we don’t have problems, not that we don’t have deep problems in our cities, poverty and some other things, but this is the society that has cured and will continue to cure many of those problems. And I think that the context of all that has to be taught. And I don’t see it being taught very often.

LAMB: Mr. Ailes, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Okay, so that last part is from Billy Madison, but all of Ailes answer to the question is taken from the transcript word for word.

First of all, his answer does not contain anything that even comes close to being "evidence." And secondly, just because America is doing pretty well compared to the rest of the world does not mean that we should all just pat ourselves on the back and not get too upset about our failings.

A country (and an individual) should not judge themselves based on how their neighbors are doing, they should judge themselves based on their potential. Michael Jordan never said, "Well, I only scored 28 points tonight, but that's still more than most players usually score."

The question isn't, "Is the employment rate in the United States higher than it is in other countries?" The question is, "Are hard working Americans at the bottom of the social ladder being treated as fairly as hard working Americans at the top of the ladder?" The question isn't, "Is America's health care system better than Canada's?" The question is, "Is America's health system as good as it can possibly be?"

Mr. Ailes knows this well enough. He loves to remind people that he started out as a ditch digger, and it is clear as day that he is not the type of person to ask himself, "Well, how am I doing compared to other people who started out as ditch diggers?"

And this spicy little exchange about Ken Auletta shows that Ailes isn't as devoid of hate as he seems to think he is:

LAMB: In a recent "New Yorker" piece, Ken Auletta wrote that you've never worked in news, and I wondered if he...

AILES: Coming from an old Democratic consultant, that was an interesting comment.

LAMB: Well, I...

AILES: That's what he did for a living, except he lost his races, I won mine, but...

Easy tiger! On side note, I wonder what races Ailes won. (Update: he was a consultant for Nixon, Reagan, and Bush the Elder.)

This next quote is Ailes at his best. I agree with him here, and I have a feeling that it's insights like these that have helped him succeed in the news industry:

It's what I used to call the "orchestra pit theory of politics." Two guys on a stage, one guy jumps up and says, I've got the solution to the problems in the Middle East. Other guy jumps up and falls in the orchestra pit. Who do you think's going to be on the front page of the paper? Who's going to lead the evening news? The guy laying on the bass drum.

Brian Lamb just asked Ailes how long he will stay in the news business and Ailes said, "As long as I'm having fun." And he seemed pretty sincere about it.

Hahah, this Ailes line is kind of funny:

I mean, focus groups, you go to a mall, you get 12 people who need $40 and somebody to talk to, and then you try to get them to explain how to do your job. That strikes me as pathetic.

I don't really agree with him there, but I am amazed that he has done as well as he has with that kind of attitude. Because really, what is a television audience but a huge focus group? You are eventually going to let 200 million people tell you how to do your job, why is it so unreasonable to see if 12 people can give you an insight into how those 200 million are going to react.

One thing that is striking about Ailes is that he seems to have a lot of faith in Americans. He says things like, "The public understands reality," and "The American people are very smart... and to underestimate them is a mistake." Even if he isn't entirely sincere, I give him credit for being savvy enough to look like he isn't paternalistic in his views of the common man.

Interestingly, this H.L. Mencken quote, which expresses the exact opposite opinion, ends with what many people would see as a perfect description of Fox News:

No one in this world, so far as I know... has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plainpeople.
The mistake that is made always runs the other way. Because the plain people are able to speak and understand and even, in many cases, to read and write, it is assumed that they have ideas in their heads, and an appetite for more. This assumption is folly. They dislike ideas, for ideas make them uncomfortable. The tabloids, seeking to force such things upon them, will inevitably alarm them and lose their trade. The journalism of the future--that is, the mob journalism--will move in the direction that I have indicated.

Also, Ailes says that when he left NBC to come to Fox, 82 people resigned and came to work for him at Fox. That is pretty impressive. I'm not convinced that most of those people didn't just feel like it was the best thing for their career, but I'll give Ailes the benefit of the doubt.

Wow, Ailes worked as a debate coach for Reagan. That's interesting.

And he was friends with Bob Squire, who was a big time liberal consultant, so that's interesting. He wrote the obituary for Squire in Time magazine.

Rogelio puts a big emphasis on how television personalities have to "get through the screen," as in, have a presence that makes the viewer feel engaged. That's a great concept.

The rest of the show has a lot of good stories that made me like Ailes more than I did at the halfway point of the show. I would recommend this show to anyone that just assumes that the CEO of Fox News must be some psycho conservative bastard. If anything, he comes off as an interesting iconoclast in the media industry with an uncanny sense of what works in television.

1 comment:

1moreslogger said...

Jowls - Sports Bra comment is in very poor taste- pastry chefs are also an unfair target of a funny kant - suggest u delete both - as I see it not up the remaining words and opinion of the Blog which are worthwhile imho.