Thursday, July 21, 2016

Good and Dead: The Great Divider

The obituary page of The Massachusetts Spy

By Luke Reschuss
Obituary Editor

His demise had been predicted for years, and anticipated ever since Rupert Murdoch appointed two of his issue over his bulbous, sagging head, but the death of the career of Roger Ailes still came as a shock, as if a chronic and supposedly incurable febrile affliction of the body politic had suddenly broken.

Whether his half century of sexual harassment led to his demise or was simply the excuse seized on by Rupert's boys doesn't matter; either way his morbidly obese body was trundled down Sixth Avenue, albeit swathed in a $40 million shroud.

Ailes's legacy is all around us, whether in the spectacle of a tangerine-faced grifter and hatemonger accepting the nomination as the Presidential candidate of the party that Ailes ran for almost half a century or simply in the non-stop white man hate-mongering that he had the audacity to successfully rebrand as “news.”

The young Roger Ailes learned the power of
Republican ideas
Roger Ailes has been a finger in the eye of the American polity for almost half a century.  He first attained wide notoriety as the impresario who in 1968 turned a washed-up paranoid loser into a tanned, rested, and ready paranoid winner.  You recall the results.

Later, he persuaded Australian oligarch Rupert Murdoch to rev up a cable news channel that would pass off reactionary propaganda as journalism.  To the surprise of many, it succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations.  In large part, its success was due to the structure of cable television in that era.  Without about 100 to 150 basic channels, a channel could succeed with a fringe audience of around 3,000,000 regular viewers – a level of viewership that would have doomed any news program in the days of broadcast TV and seems not especially relevant compared to Facebook's billion-plus user base.

But 3 million angry old white people, although a sliver of the viewing population, was an attractive market for the peddlers of reverse mortgages, mail-order catheters, and a wide variety of investment scams.  They would listen to comforting drivel pouring out of the mouths of old white men and younger blonde women. For some years, some of the garbage washed up on the shores of real news outlets, until years of internet fact-checking finally sealed the leaks.

Ailes's genius, if indeed he had any, was to brand the ignorant ravings of random supposed experts, some now doing time for impersonating intelligence agents,  Grade-B talk show talent and washed-up  New York City mayors as news, and even more diabolically, as “fair and balanced.”

Of course it was nothing of the sort.  Ailes whipped out the slogan as often as little Roger, but for differing reasons.  The latter was used as a truncheon to demonstrate his power over hapless women in his employ.  The slogan was used to destroy journalism as we now it.

The point of the slogan was not to legitimate Fox News; it was to demonize all other media as no different from Ailes's smoke machine.  If Fox News wasn't fair and balanced, well, then, neither was CBS News or The New York Times.  Ailes tried to pull all media down to his level.  Judging by the responses of Republicans and other Fox News viewers when confronted by facts as reported by real news sources, he's succeeded.

It should go without saying (but thanks to Ailes, it can't) that there is a difference between a news outlet motivated by discovering and reporting the truth and one pushing a reactionary fairy tale, but it appears that we are losing the ability to make the distinction.

Ailes may be dead.  Who knows how long real journalism will survive his passing?

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