Roger Ailes poses in his office in 2015 in "Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes" (Wesley Mann/Magnolia Pictures)

What the Roger Ailes saga can teach us about tyrants, power and protection

Inflection Point talks with Alexis Bloom about her new documentary "Divide & Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes"


Lauren Schiller
January 10, 2019 10:00PM (UTC)

“The King is dead — long live the King.” That’s how Alexis Bloom describes where her documentary, "Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes" leaves off.

“[Roger] might be dead, but we we live in his shadow and with his creation, Donald Trump,” Bloom told me in our interview for Inflection Point.

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As the former Chairman and CEO of Fox News and political advisor to Richard Nixon, Roger Ailes was a modern day Dr. Frankenstein. He experimented with and masterfully wielded the lightning rods of partisan politics, tribalism and demagoguery to jolt the American right wing into endorsing the political arms of his empire. He understood that sowing the seeds of division was a way to control the public, give rise to easily-manipulated political leaders, and convert true believers.

And when you have true believers willing to cover up for you, you can get away with anything you want.

Using a combination of personal charm, emotional blackmail, and cold, hard cash, Ailes collected a network of enablers around him who would do just about anything to protect him.

That, Alexis Bloom says, is the real story behind Ailes’ power — and the power of all corrupt leaders.

“I was . . . surprised by the cover up. That's what really got to me,” Bloom told me. “You know, how many people covered up for Roger Ailes. How many people facilitated him. And it's fascinating to look at that cast of characters.”

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Bloom told me of a time toward the end of Ailes’ life when a crisis team was called in to handle former news anchor Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment claims. “Roger was hooked up to an I.V. drip and he had his sort of cabal of enablers around him, and the phones are ringing off the hook and (Rudy) Giuliani's on and (Alan) Dershowitz is on and they're saying, ‘we're going f**kin' take Gretchen Carlson down.’”

While the people who surrounded Ailes in a circle of protection tended to be ultra-wealthy members of the conservative elite, not all of his enablers were men.

“You know many of them are women. It's definitely not like a penis-related thing,” Bloom says. Among Ailes most fervent allies were his secretary, as well as his general counsel, Dianne Brandi.

“It takes a whole machine of people to to keep a business going and they're all dedicated to sort of stamping out things that are potentially damaging,” says Bloom. “And they did that for years with Roger and with Bill O'Reilly.”

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So what is it about people like Roger Ailes that draw others around them? Perhaps because of the same reasons Alexis Bloom was drawn to create her documentary.

“As far as personalities and people go, he's fascinating,” Bloom says. “He's bombastic and ambitious and thuggish, but he's also very vulnerable and kind of fragile. He's a psychological sort of paradox.”

The lesson here? Let’s stop looking the other way when thugs with lots of money and fragile egos do bad things. Let’s stop rewarding such men with our loyalty and our silence.

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Instead, let’s look them in the eye and tell them “I’m not going to let you hurt anyone else.” And let’s start protecting and lifting up the people who need it most.

Listen to my conversation with Alexis Bloom, the director of "Divide & Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes."

Find more stories of how women rise up on Inflection Point, Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Stitcher and NPROne.

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Lauren Schiller

Lauren Schiller is the creator and host of Inflection Point, a podcast and public radio show from KALW and PRX featuring stories of how women rise up. For more rising up stories, follow Lauren on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to the podcast on Android or Apple.

MORE FROM Lauren SchillerFOLLOW laschillerLIKE Lauren Schiller

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