Will Ailes Jump on Trump's Troubled Campaign Train?
If the rumors that Roger Ailes, the deposed Fox News guru, may be joining Donald Trump’s floundering campaign are true, Democrats should be concerned that he could help Trump win the White House.
The decision would come with considerable risks. After all, Ailes is damaged goods. Last month, Rupert Murdoch, whose 21st Century Fox empire owns Fox News, dumped Ailes, who had run the right-wing network since it began in 1996, for alleged sexual harassment of at least two dozen women employees. Even if Trump makes Ailes an informal “adviser” or gives him a perch as a consultant to some pro-Trump PAC, the appointment would be controversial. Trump has to calculate whether the know-how Ailes would add to the campaign outweighs the negatives of bringing on a high-profile former media chieftain facing multiple sexual harassment accusations.
Trump’s campaign has been hampered by his own incompetence, inexperience, and narcissism. Trump is a brilliant showman, something Ailes no doubt admires, but he is a terrible manager. Almost every aspect of his campaign—fundraising, staying on message (or having any message besides impromptu rants), creating a field operation for registering and turning out voters, coordinating on-the-ground efforts with Republicans running for Congress, dampening internal disputes among top staffers, and delegating responsibility—is disorganized and in disarray.
Ailes, a control freak with great management skills, has mastered the mechanics of political campaigns. Even this late in the game, Ailes could be an enormous asset to the faltering Trump campaign. Trump and Ailes have known each other for 40 years. They’ve traveled in the same New York circles. No one would be surprised if they had each other on speed dial. But they both have outsized egos. Whether Trump would be willing to give Ailes, despite his fall from grace, the authority he’d need, and probably demand, to turn the campaign around is a big question.
In his 20 years running Fox News, Ailes laid the groundwork for Trump’s ascendancy as Republican presidential candidate. Ailes turned Fox News into a propaganda machine for the right wing of the GOP, helping ignite the Tea Party revolt, and hired bombastic broadcasters like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly to do his bidding. By appealing directly to conservative voters, Ailes’s network weakened the grip of Republican Party elites on the party’s base. That opened the door for Trump, whose campaign bypassed the party’s bosses while exploiting the same fears that Fox News had unleashed.
TRUMP AND AILES have much in common. They are both racist, anti-Semitic, bullying, and sexist. Trump could certainly sympathize and identify with Ailes’s recent travails. On July 14, after the allegations of Ailes’s sexual misconduct surfaced, Trump told The Washington Examiner that he didn’t believe them. “I think they are unfounded just based on what I’ve read,” Trump said.
After Murdoch canned Ailes (but provided a $40 million settlement agreement) on July 21, Trump praised Ailes during an interview with Bloomberg Politics managing editor Mark Halperin. “I think it’s so sad. He’s such a great guy,” Trump said. “Roger is, I mean, what he’s done on television, is in the history of television, he’s gotta be placed in the top three, or four or five."
When he appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, Trump doubled down on the compliments. After host Chuck Todd asked Trump if Ailes is advising his campaign, Trump said:
Well I don’t want to comment, but he has been a friend of mine for a long time and I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them and even recently and when they write books that are fairly recently released and they say wonderful things about him and now all of a sudden they’re saying these horrible things about him, it’s very sad. Because he’s a very good person. I’ve always found him to be just a very, very good person and by the way a very, very talented person, look what he’s done. So I feel very badly. But a lot of people think he is going to run my campaign. My campaign is doing pretty well.
When The Hollywood Reporter asked Trump if he’d hire Ailes for his campaign, Trump said: “I would think about it. We have a great team. We have a great campaign going. But Roger is a very capable guy and he's a friend of mine.”
During the Republican primary season, their friendship was tested after Trump attacked Fox News host Megyn Kelly and Ailes had to defend his star broadcaster. The feud started last August at the first GOP Republican presidential debate in Cleveland, when Kelly asked Trump about a litany of derogatory remarks he had made about women, including calling them “fat pigs” and “dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”
Trump was visibly angry at Kelly for asking the question and later that night he attacked Kelly on Twitter, calling her a “bimbo.” He then told CNN, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” implying that Kelly was menstruating during the debate. Trump refused to appear on the next Fox News–sponsored GOP debate in Iowa.
Ailes blasted Trump’s “surprise and unprovoked attack” on Kelly, calling it “as unacceptable as it is disturbing,” and insisted that Trump apologize. At Kelly’s initiative, she and Trump called a truce, when he agreed to appear on her interview show, where they exchanged compliments, on May 17, nine months after the first Fox News debate.
But it turns out that while Trump had verbally insulted Kelly, Ailes had done much worse. On July 6, Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox & Friends co-host, sued Ailes for sexual harassment. Her suit included allegations that she was fired for rebuffing Ailes’s sexual advances. After Carlson’s courageous stance, New York magazine reported that more than a dozen women contacted Carlson’s attorney with detailed sexual allegations against Ailes over many years.
Having stayed silent during the initial round of accusations against Ailes, Megyn Kelly told investigators hired by 21st Century Fox that Ailes had made unwanted sexual advances toward her about ten years ago when she was a young reporter at Fox News, according to a New York magazine article by Gabriel Sherman, author of the 2014 biography The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—and Divided a Country.
In another article in New York, Sherman reported that Laurie Luhn, Fox News’ former director of booking, told investigators that as a quid pro quo for hiring her at his consulting firm and then at Fox News, the married Ailes insisted that she have regular encounters with him, mostly in hotel rooms, as well as phone sex, for more than 20 years. Ailes was more interested in degrading her than actually having sex. On three occasions, Luhn recalled, Ailes insisted that she engage in sadomasochistic sex with another woman while he watched, and on one occasion he took photographs.
Ailes also insisted that Luhn hire young women for him. “You’re going to find me ‘Roger’s Angels.’ You’re going to find me whores,” Ailes said to her many times, she told Sherman. “It was psychological torture,” she recalled. “He’s a predator.” According to Luhn, Fox News executives knew about the relationship and covered it up.
In late 2010 or early 2011, Luhn told New York, she wrote a letter to Fox lawyer Dianne Brandi explaining that Ailes had sexually harassed her for 20 years. On June 15, 2011, Luhn and Brandi signed a $3.15 million settlement agreement that prohibits her from going to court against Fox or speaking to the media about their relationship, according to the New York magazine exposÃ©.
Former and current Fox News employees have told the news media that Ailes regularly made coarse and offensive statements about women, homosexuals, Jews, and racial minorities. A former Fox News employee told The Washington Post, "He would say things like, ‘She’s really got the goods’ and ‘Look at the tits on that one.’” According to the former Ailes employee, he joked “that he liked having women on their knees.”
These women say that Ailes created a poisonous atmosphere at Fox News that allowed male executives to exploit female staffers without fear of reprisals. Fox News’ biggest celebrity host, Bill O’Reilly, was accused by Fox producer Andrea Mackris of engaging in unwanted phone sex with her. O’Reilly settled with her for a reported $10 million.
According to The New York Times, the newspaper’s reporters “spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it.”
AFTER A CAREER as a television producer, Ailes entered the political world in 1967 after convincing Richard Nixon, who was running for president, that he needed a media adviser. He helped Nixon win the White House by appealing to Americans’ fears about student and ghetto riots, promising to restore “law and order,” and giving voice to the “silent majority” of voters, which was a clear dog whistle to white Americans’ racism.
Ailes worked for other conservative politicians, including George H.W. Bush, before Murdoch tapped him to become the founding CEO of Fox News in 1996.He turned Fox News into a propaganda arm of America’s conservative movement. According to Sherman’s biography, The Loudest Voice in the Room, Ailes was a big fan of Leni Riefenstahl, a brilliant filmmaker and propagandist for Adolf Hitler. Under Ailes, Fox News frequently manufactured news, appealed to white Americans’ anxieties and resentments, utilized anti-Semitism (accusing businesses of promoting a “war on Christmas” for asking employees to say “Happy holidays”), accused the rest of the media of liberal bias, stoked fear of immigrants, gave credence to the “birther” movement that accused President Obama of not being an American, and tried to discredit and demonize anything that Obama sought to accomplish.
Ailes’s Fox News lowered journalistic standards of news reporting, inspiring Stephen Colbert’s invention of the word “truthiness” to describe the cable network’s approach. Even the ultra-conservative Murdoch was uncomfortable with Ailes’s extremism, but he left Ailes alone to run the cable network because it attracted a large audience and generated enormous profits. Last year, Fox News led all cable networks, reaching 1.8 million viewers in primetime and earning profits of about $1.5 billion. No ambitious Republican politician could afford to offend Ailes, who used Fox News as his personal weapon to accumulate power as well as wealth. We now know that his quest for power not only involved politics but also the abuse of women.
IN MANY WAYS, Ailes and Trump have lived parallel lives and are kindred spirits. Although Ailes was born to a working-class family in Ohio and Trump inherited his father’s real-estate empire, both have spent their careers lusting for power, fame, and fortune. And, like Ailes, Trump’s behavior extends to sexist attitudes and abusive and predatory behavior toward women.
In a front-page story in May, The New York Times recounted the thrice-married Trump’s cringe-worthy sexism, including Trump’s frequent boasting about his sexual performance and conquests, his lewd and insulting comments, and his unwelcome advances toward women, as well as accusations of rape.
The Times story also revealed that inside his business empire, the Trump Organization, Trump created a hostile work environment for women, frequently making sexist comments about women’s bodies and looks. The Times reported that throughout these incidents “there was an unmistakable dynamic at play: Mr. Trump had the power, and the women did not.”
These attitudes took shape early in Trump’s life. His all-male boarding school classmates remember Trump judging women on their looks alone. “Donald was extremely sensitive to whether or not the women he invited to campus were pretty,” George White, a fellow student in Trump’s high school class of 1964, told the Times. “For Donald, it’s display.”
From the late 1990s through the early 2000s, Trump appeared more than two dozen times on shock jock Howard Stern’s controversial radio show, where the real-estate mogul frequently discussed women he had sex with or wanted to have sex with, and rated women on a ten-point scale. “A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a ten,” Trump said to Stern on one program. In a 2000 conversation, Trump told Stern that he would have slept with Princess Diana (who had died in 1997) “without hesitation” and that “she had the height, she had the beauty, she had the skin.” He added, “She was crazy, but these are minor details.”
After Trump purchased the Miss Universe organization, he used the contest to meet attractive women. Temple Taggart, who was the 21-year-old Miss Utah in 1997, recalled to the Times how Trump introduced himself to her by kissing her directly on the lips. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, gross.’” Trump continued to pursue her as he did other Miss Universe contestants.
In a 2005 interview, Trump told Stern that he wanted to have children with his new wife, Melania. “’Cause I like kids,” said Trump. “I mean, I won’t do anything to take care of them. I’ll supply funds and she’ll take care of the kids. It’s not like I’m gonna be walking the kids down Central Park.”
In 2011, after New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote about Trump’s business bankruptcies, he sent her a copy of the column, circling her headshot with the words “the face of a dog” scrawled across it. The same year, according to attorney Elizabeth Beck, Trump had an “absolute meltdown” when she requested a break from a deposition with Trump in order to pump breast milk. “He got up, his face got red, he shook his finger at me and he screamed, ‘You’re disgusting, you’re disgusting,’ and he ran out of there,” Beck told CNN.
In May 2013, after news stories reported that sexual abuse was widespread in the military, Trump tweeted: “What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?”
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump has continued to expose his crude sexist attitudes toward women. Last September, Trump insulted Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and his rival for the Republican nomination. “Look at that face,” Trump said, “Would anyone vote for that?” He went on: “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? I mean, she's a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
Trump, who was once pro-choice, now thinks that the Supreme Court should overturn its ruling making abortion legal. Moreover, in an interview with MSNBC in March, Trump called for “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions.
Trump’s insecurity about his sexual prowess was on full display at the GOP presidential debate in Detroit in March. After rival Marco Rubio had pointed out that Trump has small hands, implying that he also has a small penis, Trump shot back. “Look at those hands,” Trump said on the debate stage, holding up his hands in the air. “Are they small hands? And he referred to my hands—if they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee you.”
But the most disturbing aspects of Trump’s sexism is his attitude toward violence against women and his own predatory and violent behavior toward them. After heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson was convicted of raping an 18-year-old woman in 1992, Trump campaigned for Tyson to receive a lenient sentence. In April, Trump appeared at a campaign rally in Indianapolis, the same city where Tyson had raped the young woman years earlier, and proclaimed: “Mike Tyson endorsed me. I love it … when I get endorsed by the tough ones, I like it.”
Trump himself has been accused of raping a 13-year-old child, raping his ex-wife, and attempting to rape a former business associate. In a deposition during their divorce proceedings, Trump’s first wife, Ivana Trump, described an incident in which Trump held her arms back, pulled at her hair, and raped her in a fit of rage. The scene was recounted in Harry Hurt’s 1993 book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, but before the book was published Trump insisted that Ivana write a statement denying that she had used the word “rape.” Instead, she wrote that she felt “violated.”
After remaining quiet for almost 20 years, Jill Harth has recently come forward to accuse Trump of “attempted rape.” In an interview with The Guardian, Harth says that she first met Trump in 1992 when she and her then-boyfriend George Houraney worked with Trump on a beauty pageant. In a 1996 deposition, Harth described her first meeting with Trump at Trump Tower: “Donald Trump stared at me throughout that meeting. He stared at me even while George was giving his presentation. … In the middle of it he says to George, ‘Are you sleeping with her?’ Meaning me. And George looked a little shocked and he said, “Well, yeah.” And he goes, ‘Well, for the weekend or what?’”
Soon after, Harth says, Trump began making unwelcome sexual advances. “Trump did everything in his power to get me to leave [Houraney],” Harth recalled. “He constantly called me and said: ‘I love you, baby, I’m going to be the best lover you ever had. What are you doing with that loser, you need to be with me, you need to step it up to the big leagues.’”
In the lawsuit, Harth claimed that while she was on a trip to conduct business with Trump in 1993, he groped her several times and even attempted to rape her in his daughter’s bedroom. She describes a scene, at his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, where Trump threw her against the wall, began touching her all over, and lifted up her dress. She told The Guardian: “If I hadn't pushed him away, I’m sure he would have just went for it. He was aggressive.”
Harth withdrew her lawsuit soon after Trump settled a separate lawsuit with her boyfriend over a business matter, but she has never denied her accusations against Trump. In fact, she told The Guardian that Trump associates recently contacted her several times, trying to persuade her to recant her allegations, but she’s refused to do so.
In June of this year, a woman using the name “Jane Doe” filed a federal lawsuit in New York accusing Trump of raping her in 1994, when she was just 13 years old. “Jane Doe” says she went to parties with Trump and his friend Jeffrey Epstein, a registered sex offender. On at least one occasion, Doe says, Trump raped her and screamed that “he would do whatever he wanted.” In the legal files, “Jane Doe” claims that Trump threatened to ruin her life and her family’s life if she ever revealed the incident.
BOTH AILES AND TRUMP deny all these accusations of sexual abuse. But both men have a long track record of abusing the truth, as well as women. Throughout his media career, Ailes was a master of the big lie. And Trump’s record as a pathological liar has been well-documented, including PolitiFact’s assessment that 70 percent of Trump’s statements on the campaign trail were “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” outrageously false.
Ailes’s approach to journalism and Trump’s approach to politics are the same. If Ailes joins Trump’s campaign, they’ll make the perfect couple. If that happens, Democrats should worry.