Roger Ailes Isn't Dead, He Lives on in Trump, Sexual Harassment Suits and Alternative Facts

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A sign displays the news that former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes has died, on the outside of the Fox News Headquarters in New York City, May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

On Wednesday night, Fox News anchor Greg Gutfeld snarled into the camera. Hillary Clinton must be "cackling" he said, in her "woodshed" in Westchester County, as she watched the investigation into President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey widen like a gaping maw. Washington was in chaos, but at the Midtown Manhattan headquarters of Fox News, everything was more or less OK, even if the restoration of American greatness was taking a little longer than expected.

Sean Hannity said so, as did Jesse Watters. Yes, there was an investigation, but it was just to appease hysterical Democrats. There was no collusion with Russia, and there was no danger of impeachment for Trump. Like all storms, this one would pass.

Not 12 hours later, Fox News announced that Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chief, had died at 77. He had been deposed from his perch the previous year, ousted in large part by the sons of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch. But watch Fox News for even a few minutes, and you'll plainly see that what Ailes wrought remains as healthy as ever.

The cable news channel Ailes created in 1996 had nothing to do with conservatism, if that movement is to be understood as the courtly Republicanism of men like Nelson D. Rockefeller and William F. Buckley, a fundamentally cautious approach to government that borrowed more from the Tories than the Birchers.

This dwindling demographic held no appeal to Ailes, who began his political work with Nixon's 1968 presidential run. In some ways, Ailes never stopped working on that campaign, forever stoking classic Nixonian resentment against the coastal elites who could never understand "the silent majority"—or, in Trump's updating of that famous Nixonism, "forgotten Americans."

Trump was, of course, Ailes's greatest creation, which is likely why Trump defended him even as it was becoming clear that Ailes was going to be felled by multiple claims that he was a cynical and serial sexual predator. “He helped those women,” Trump said of  the women Ailes had sexually harassed.

In making this asinine defense of Ailes, Trump was merely repaying the man who made his political career. After all, it was Fox News that endlessly flogged the claim that President Barack Obama was not truly a U.S. citizen, amplifying Trump's absurd and offensive “birther” campaign for years. Even if Obama was an American, Fox News under Ailes claimed, he was a coward, always apologizing for American strength, always making needless genuflections to foreign leaders. He appointed a woman as secretary of state! Not only a woman, but a Clinton. Thus you had Benghazi, and the Clinton email server scandal, and all the attendant horrors that followed.

Everyone always understood what Fox News was really saying, lovers and haters alike. It was never about the facts, it was about feelings, as it was with Nixon and as it is with Trump. Those feelings were bitter, and deep. Women are ruining America, as are minorities, Mexicans especially. Jews aren't helping. Gays are running amok. The media enables them, because the media is a gaggle of limp-wristed liberals. Meanwhile, globalist bankers are daily making shadowy deals that have closed the factories of Ohio and shipped millions of jobs to China. America needs a leader who can restore strength and prestige, who can assert the nation's inherent muscularity. May he defund Planned Parenthood while he’s at it.

Coupled with these resentments was an incipient paranoia central to the Fox News ethos. Earlier this week, Hannity revived the claim that Seth Rich, a young Democratic National Convention who was most likely killed in a robbery, was actually murdered by shadowy operatives because he’d passed secrets to WikiLeaks.

“If true, this could become one of the biggest scandals in American history,” Hannity said. It was not true, of course, no more true than any other conspiracy theory trafficked by Fox News. That doesn’t matter, though. Here, on full public display, was the sweaty paranoia of Nixon—downing martinis, embittered and drunk, railing against the eternal enemies of America: elites, Jews, blacks, Democrats.

The day before Ailes passed away, Fox News announced it was redesigning its newsroom. Images showed a sleek, contemporary look. Many suggested the announcement was meant to bolster despondent troops weary after more than a year of brutal revelations about their company.

And more keep coming. Earlier this week, a Wall Street Journal article revealed that Ailes had hired a private investigator, the buffoonish Bo Dietl, to “find information that could discredit” the many women who’d made sexual allegations claims against Ailes.

There is a federal investigation into Fox News and its handling (or not handling, as it were) of sexual misconduct claims. There are lawsuits by women who say they were harassed and African-American former employees who say they were discriminated against.

Despite the obvious credibility of these claims, Fox News is never at fault. It is only ever the victim, which is why its default tone is grievance. Nixon was pretty good at grievance, too, while Trump is a master of the sentiment.

At a Coast Guard commencement speech on Wednesday, the leader of the free world complained that “no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly.” The media hate him, as do its liberal enablers. If only he could catch a break, governing the “real America” while Manhattan and California sink into the sea.

Little is clear about the Trump presidency, but this much is: Roger Ailes taught him well.