Roger Ailes, the son of a factory worker, was born in Warren, Ohio, on 15th May, 1940. After graduating from Ohio University in 1962 he joined KYW and eventually became executive producer of the Mike Douglas Show.
In 1967 Ailes met Richard M. Nixon and the following year he joined his presidential campaign team. After Nixon's victory he founded Ailes Communications in New York. He continued to work in television (WCBS-TV) and in 1972 produced the Broadway musical, Mother Earth. Other successes included Hot-L Baltimore (1973) and The Last Frontier (1974).
Ailes continued to be involved in right-wing politics and is credited with having "coached" Ronald Reagan to victory over Walter Mondale in 1984. His strategy included "television ads, designed by Madison Avenue executive Philip Dusenberry and featuring swelling violin music and emotional, issue-free imagery of weddings, flag-raising, home-buying and peaceful, scenic vistas."
Ailes also helped George H. W. Bush defeat Michael Dukakis in 1988. This time he used visual imagery to exploit racial feelings. As Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber pointed out in their book Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State: "One featured a threatening photograph of William Horton - a black inmate who had escaped from a prison-furlough program and raped a woman-to suggest that Dukakis was unusually soft on crime. (Actually, Massachusetts was one of 45 states with prison-furlough programs at the time of Horton's crime.)" A second prison-furlough ad depicted a "revolving door" through which a line of white men entered prison, while blacks and Hispanics exited. "That phrase 'revolving-door prison policy' implies, of course, that Massachusetts criminals could, thanks to Governor Dukakis, slip out of jail as easily as commuters streaming from a subway station," observes Mark Crispin Miller. "But the image makes an even more inflammatory statement.... The 'revolving door' effects an eerie racial metamorphosis, implying that the Dukakis prison system was not only porous, but a satanic source of negritude-a dark 'liberal' mill that took white men and made them colored."
Ailes wrote about his experiences in public relations in You Are the Message: Secrets of the Master Communicators (1988). Ailes was also employed by Californians Against Unfair Tax Increases (CAUTI), an organization funded by tobacco companies, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds. Ailes Communications earned just over $1,000,000 in commission on the campaign against the Coalition for a Healthy California, which proposed a 25 cents a pack increase in tobacco tax. His strategy was to claim that the tax increase was unfair and unnecessary government interference. Ailes claimed that his opponents were "anti-smoking zealots".
In 1991 Ailes joined up with right-wing radio talk-show host, Rush Limbaugh. He converted Limbaugh into a television performer and became executive producer of his late-night show. In 1993 Ailes became president of NBC's cable channel Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC) and the following year launched America Talking. Ailes also hosted his own nightly show, Straight Forward.
Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation recruited Ailes in February 1996 to establish Fox News Channel (FNC). The channel was launched on 7th October, 1996. Ailes recruited a series of right-wing broadcasters such as Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity, Oliver North, Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera.
In November, 2000, Fox News was accused of trying to ensure that George W. Bush was elected president. Later Ailes apologized for the actions of Fox News: "Let me begin by stating that Fox News, along with all the other television networks, made errors on election night which cannot be repeated, the biggest of which occurred in Florida. Fox News acknowledges here that it failed the American public on Election Night and takes full responsibility for this failure."
Fox News promoted itself under the slogan "fair and balanced", but examinations of the channel's guest selection showed this was not the case. In 2001, when the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting studied the guest list of FNC's flagship news program, Special Report, it found that Republicans made up 89 percent of Fox News' partisan guests, outnumbering Democrats 50 to 6. Avowed conservatives made up 71 percent of guests.
To ensure the maximum audience for this right-wing propaganda, Rupert Murdoch actually paid cable operators $10 per subscriber to carry Fox News. During the first two years the station lost $150 million. However, Murdoch's policy enabled Fox News to broadcast to over 55 countries and by August, 2003, had over 80 million subscribers throughout the United States.
In late 2002, Roger Ailes confirmed the allegation in the book Bush at War. Bob Woodward claimed that Ailes had sent a note to Karl Rove in the White House suggesting policies to be adopted in the wake of the 11th September, 2001 terrorist attacks. Woodward described the note as advocating Bush take "the harshest measures possible" in order to maintain the support of the American public. Ailes said the note was not political advice but a message sent "as a human being and a citizen".
In October 2003, Charlie Reina, a former Fox News producer, claimed: "Editorially, the FNC newsroom is under the constant control and vigilance of management. The pressure ranges from subtle to direct. First of all, it's a news network run by one of the most high-profile political operatives of recent times. Everyone there understands that FNC is, to a large extent, 'Roger's Revenge' - against what he considers a liberal, pro-Democrat media establishment that has shunned him for decades. For the staffers, many of whom are too young to have come up through the ranks of objective journalism, and all of whom are non-union, with no protections regarding what they can be made to do, there is undue motivation to please the big boss."
Charlie Reina went onto argue: " The roots of Fox News Channel's day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct. They come in the form of an executive memo distributed electronically each morning, addressing what stories will be covered and, often, suggesting how they should be covered. To the newsroom personnel responsible for the channel's daytime programming, The Memo is the bible. If, on any given day, you notice that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a particular point home, you can bet The Memo is behind it. The Memo was born with the Bush administration, early in 2001, and, intentionally or not, has ensured that the administration's point of view consistently comes across on FNC. This year, of course, the war in Iraq became a constant subject of The Memo. But along with the obvious - information on who is where and what they'll be covering - there have been subtle hints as to the tone of the anchors' copy."
Another former Fox News journalist, Matt Goss, admitted: "Let me just say that the right-wing bias was there in the newsroom, up-front and obvious, from the day a certain executive editor was sent down from the channel to bring us in line with their coverage... To me, FNC reporters' laziness was the worst part of the bias. It wasn't that they were toeing some political line (though of course they were; see the embarrassing series on property rights from 2000), it was that the facts of a story just didn't matter at all." This view was supported by other members of staff who appeared in Robert Greenwald's, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004).
An investigation by Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks discovered that "a series of seven US polls conducted from January through September of this year reveals that before and after the Iraq war, a majority of Americans have had significant misperceptions and these are highly related to support for the war in Iraq." The report went on to argue that those "who primarily watch Fox News are significantly more likely to have misperceptions, while those who primarily listen to NPR or watch PBS are significantly less likely."
For example, fifty-seven percent believed that Iraq gave substantial support to Al-Qaeda, or was directly involved in 9/11 attacks, sixty-nine percent believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11 and twenty-two percent believed the falsity that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. In the composite analysis of the PIPA study, 80 percent of Fox News watchers had one of more of these misperceptions, in contrast to 71 percent for CBS and 27 percent who tuned to NPR/PBS.