Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes explores the life of Fox News founder Roger Ailes while tackling the sexual harassment that brought him down.
“It’s easy to make somebody into a monster. It’s hard to see that you’re on that path, too.”
The above are the words that we first hear as soon as the film documentary starts. What’s most surprising is that they come out of the mouth of former Fox News personality Glenn Beck. I’ll get to more on Beck later on.
Roger Ailes was one of the most powerful men to ever work in media. In the years prior to starting up Fox News, Ailes was one of the top GOP media operatives. This turnabout in his career came after a stint producing The Mike Douglas Show. But the sexual harassment that eventually brought down his career wasn’t limited to Fox News. No, it was going on during his time while working for Douglas.
The 1960s would prove to be a pivotal time for Ailes. If Richard Nixon had never appeared as a guest on the show, who knows what the country would look like. This is because the two of them had an off-camera discussion that would change Republican politics–and the country–forever. Their conversation paved the way for Ailes to become a media consultant for Nixon’s 1968 campaign for president. If you recall, the televised presidential debates were not kind to Nixon in 1960. With Ailes working the campaign, Nixon wouldn’t make the same mistakes.
Over the years, Ailes would help a number of GOP candidates on their campaigns. This even includes the late George H.W. Bush in his run for president. We see the Willie Horton ad in its entirety. This was the advertisement that would forever change politics. It’s the ad that introduced negative campaigning as we know it today.
“Bush was a real gentleman but I don’t think he understood the down and dirty,” Diane Donati says of the late president.
It’s a known fact that the culture at Fox News was terrible for women. Director Alexis Bloom makes sure to spotlight this. But once the hammer falls down on Ailes and the lawsuits started up, Bloom captures the drama. This includes the publicists–Warren Cooper and Karen Kessler of Evergreen PR–hired to represent Ailes. The film marks the first time they speak out especially because they did not sign an NDA. What they had to say was pretty damning in that they had no responsibility. Everything would go through Fox’s own PR. Kessler is quoted as saying that Irena Briganti was “intensely focused on getting as many of the highest profile, and frankly, best looking, women on Fox to say that indeed he was not a harasser.” She was able to find 22 women in one day.
Through interviews with women who worked at Fox News and others who knew Ailes, Bloom is really able to capture who he is as a man in Divide and Conquer. During an interview with Glenn Beck, Beck talks of the times he visited Ailes in his office. The man found him to be intimidating especially when Ailes suggests that people might have something on him. When Beck tells Ailes he’s leaving Fox, their conversation gets to a point in which the mogul says he “still has a president to pick.” This alone speaks to the dangers of Fox News. It speaks to the fear and manipulation in their programming.
Roger Ailes helped to make political coverage in the news what it is today but his flaws were what brought him down. What Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes does is place these darker parts of Ailes’ life in full display for the public.
DIRECTOR: Alexis Bloom
FEATURING: Terry Azur, Glenn Beck, Adasa Blanco, Kellie Boyle, Pat Buchanan, Marsha Callahan, Warren Cooper, Alisyn Camerota, E. Jean Caroll, John Cook, Lidia Curanaj, Bo Dietl, Diane Donati, Babette Bombshell, Sarah Ellison, Karen Kessler