Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Ailes Effect

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By Ari Rabin-Havt

Those dismissing the relevance of Glenn Beck at Fox News often cite him as a fringe figure, isolated at the network by more mainstream conservatives. Countering that notion, David Brock and I wrote in The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine about the kinship linking the network boss and his prized host:
From the paranoid rants about the creeping threats of communism to odd comparisons between mainstream political leaders and Nazis, Glenn Beck gave voice to some of Ailes's deepest fears about the Obama presidency.
As evidence of this symbiosis we cite a letter from Ailes to a group of rabbis defending Beck's use of Holocaust imagery; specifically Beck had suggested that Jewish Funds for Justice head Simon Greer's belief that putting "humankind and the common good first" were according to Beck "exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany." The host added, "a Jew, of all people, should know that."

Ailes replied to the rabbis' request for reasoned discourse writing, "Of course social justice means different things to different audiences, however it has been used in situations leading to fascism, socialism, and communism as well."

Now leaked emails purported to have been sent by Roger Ailes reveal the network boss was not only Beck's defender, but actively sought to promote his brand of extreme rhetoric at Fox. According to Gawker, which obtained the emails:
On November 1, 2010, Ailes sent an email to Bill O'Reilly and his producer David Tabacoff. It contained a partial transcript from a 12-year-old 60 Minutes profile of George Soros in which Soros, a Jew, acknowledged that he posed as a Christian under the Nazi regime and helped confiscate property from other Jews being shipped off to death camps.
The truth was as a fourteen-year-old boy in occupied Hungary, Soros was hidden from the Nazis by a Christian family. The man hiding Soros was assigned to go inventory the estate of a wealthy Jewish family and brought Soros along to protect him. Soros himself was never part of any property confiscation.

O'Reilly's producer Tabacoff briskly replied to his boss with a single word: "ugly" (It unclear whether he was referring to Soros' conduct as a fourteen year old boy or the fact that Ailes was personally peddling this information.) Ailes responded by asking, "Do you think you guys will use it or should I give it to someone else?"

That someone else was Glenn Beck. The next night, as others spent time covering the midterms (it was Election Day), during the 5 p.m. hour the Fox host promoted a special about George Soros. Beck referred to the billionaire philanthropist as a "puppet master" and questioned his Jewish identity.
Beck's "special," which was broadcast a week later, included the information Roger Ailes forwarded to O'Reilly a week earlier. Echoing his boss, Beck claimed Soros "had to help the government confiscate the lands of his fellow Jewish friends and neighbors." On his radio show Beck went even further, saying that Soros helped "send the Jews" to "death camps."

Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, and a Holocaust survivor whose parents hid him with his Catholic nanny, responded angrily: "Look, I spit on Jews when I was six years old . . . Does that make me an anti-Semite?" The Holocaust, Foxman explained, "is so sensitive that I'm not even sure Holocaust survivors themselves are willing to make such judgments." He continued, "For a political commentator or entertainer to have the audacity to say, there's a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, that's horrific. It's totally off limits and over the top."

Later Ailes acknowledged Fox News needed a "course correction" to ameliorate its "branding issue" created by Beck. Even though the host has left the network the roots of its brand problem do not end with Beck. They go right to the top.

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