“I don’t care about my legacy,” Roger Ailes once said in a 2012 interview. “It’s too late. My enemies will create it, and they’ll push it.” It was a typical statement for the recently ousted Fox News CEO—half laissez-faire shrug, half baiting attack, and completely full of shit. In truth, Ailes cares a great deal about his legacy, and whenever one of those “enemies” (read: anyone but Ailes or a hired mouthpiece) attempts to define it for him, he’s quick to respond and shout them down. So it should come as no surprise to hear to that—in the wake of his being deposed from the network that served as the manifestation of the inner workings of his mind, right down to the rampant sexual harassment—Ailes is once again intent on channeling those displaced thoughts into a book, one that will attempt to secure his legacy in his own words.
According to CNN’s Brian Stelter, Ailes has been telling his friends that “the book is a priority for him now,” referring to the memoir that he’s been publicly mulling over since at least 2011. Around that time, New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported that Ailes was negotiating a deal with the Rupert Murdoch-owned HarperCollins to write it with the help of Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton, with whom he’d previously conspired on George H.W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign (and most famously, on the “Willie Horton” ad that destroyed Michael Dukakis). The timing there led some to believe that Ailes was planning on stepping down from Fox after the 2012 election, and so he was simply following the path of many other wealthy businessmen who can’t force boardrooms to listen to them drone on anymore. But it soon became clear Ailes had the far more pressing objective of countering Sherman’s own, 2014 Ailes biography, The Loudest Voice In The Room, by getting his book out first.
He didn’t. Instead—while Ailes repeatedly refused to talk to Sherman unless, as Sherman wrote, any quotes or background information he considered “negative” were removed—he did cooperate with the far more sympathetic Ze’ev Chafets on Roger Ailes: Off Camera, a slapped-together, book-length magazine profile that was fast-tracked to beat Sherman to the shelf by a couple months. Not surprisingly, it was a total Ailes-approved puff piece that parroted Ailes’ own self-aggrandizing anecdotes about what a tough-talking badass he is, and criticized him only where it doesn’t really count.
Meanwhile, Fox News granted Chafets plenty of airtime to sing Ailes’ praises, while its personalities spent more than a year before Sherman’s book release attacking him as a shoddy journalist, a liar, and a “puppet” of George Soros. And PR chief Brian Lewis, considered Ailes’ right-hand man, was reportedly fired over suspicion that he’d helped Sherman with his book, with Lewis receiving “$8 million in hush money,” Gawker reported, to prevent him from going public with presumably damning info on how Ailes ran things.
So clearly, Ailes does care about his reputation—and in recent weeks, after Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit spurred Megyn Kelly to join a growing list of women who say Ailes sexually harassed them, one can see why burnishing that reputation would suddenly become “a priority for him” again. In fact, the timing is once again not especially coincidental, as this new report comes only days after The Daily Beast noted that former Fox News anchor Laurie Dhue is prepping her own tell-all. Dhue has so far refused to comment on whether that book will include yet more stories of Ailes treating the channel like one big locker room, but considering the accounts that are out there already, it’s a safe bet.
And there’s certainly been plenty more stories like that from Ailes’ rapidly growing list of “enemies,” who filled this recent Washington Post article with tales of Ailes behaving like a caricature of every “casting couch” sleaze you’ve ever read about or seen in an ’80s music video. That includes promising advancement in exchange for sexual favors, joking with his male staffers about keeping “women on their knees,” and stocking Fox News with “attractive women [and] translucent desks” because “I want to see her legs”—a drive that led to him installing a designated “leg cam,” according to NPR’s David Folkenflik.
If Ailes actually sees his memoir threat through this time, of course, it seems unlikely any of that will make its way into his book. (Except maybe the leg stuff, which Ailes could probably turn into an argument for his own savvy showmanship.) Nevertheless, CNN hints that Ailes might use his memoir to “respond in some way to the harassment allegations”—though the terms of his exit agreement preclude him from disparaging the network or Rupert Murdoch over his removal.
In the short term, in the wake of Ailes’ “resignation,” the same posse has ridden to his defense, with loyalists like Neil Cavuto, Geraldo Rivera, Bill O’Reilly, and Greta Van Susteren once again dismissing anything negative about him.
Ailes even got a testimonial from fellow accused sexual harasser and legacy re-shaper Donald Trump, who stood up for his longtime “friend” on Sunday’s Meet The Press, calling him “a great guy” and “a very, very good person.” The excellent judge of character also suggested that “the women who are complaining” of being systematically demeaned and coerced into sex, “I know how much he’s helped them … 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.”
Fortunately for Ailes, he will likely have every opportunity to counteract these sad, horrible, widespread accusations of his abusing his power, through the many channels he will continue to be afforded to do so. For one, in addition to that widely reported $40 million golden parachute, Ailes will remain an “adviser” to Murdoch through 2018. Many are also already speculating that, once his non-compete clause is up, he could take the reins of another conservative news outlet, as he’s threatened to do for years—this time driven by his favorite muse, revenge. Or, as a typically judicious Trump added, “A lot of people are thinking he’s going to run my campaign,” thus officially taking control of the monster he’s created.
Or Ailes could just quietly retire to a cabin in the Adirondacks that’s wallpapered with yellowed Leg Show covers, snuggle up in an afghan, and finally write the shallow, self-fellating hagiography he’s been peppering his press interviews with over the past two decades. Granted, that book would probably do little to change Ailes’ legacy at this point. But if nothing else, it should be good for keeping your wobbly tables fair and balanced.