Roger Ailes, granted unprecedented freedom by Rupert Murdoch and utilizing his unique production talent, has built Fox News into cable news's Goliath, dominating the ratings with an audience that is both large and dedicated to the network's brand. Fox is loved by the conservative base and feared by politicians of both parties.
Ailes could have used his production genius to build a constructive force. Instead, he has built one that has fundamentally damaged our political and media landscape, leaving a legacy of cynicism and destruction. Joe McGinniss, the author of several books, including the classic The Selling of the President and The Rogue, a 2011 book on Sarah Palin, has been a friend of Ailes's for forty-four years, yet still believes that "from Richard Nixon to Rupert Murdoch, I think everyone he's ever worked for has harmed this country in some way. I also think Fox News is an excrescence."
At Fox, Ailes has ushered in the era of post-truth politics. The facts no longer matter, only what is politically expedient, sensationalistic, and designed to confirm the preexisting opinions of a large audience. It's a world where a news organization encourages people to believe that Barack Obama attended a madrassa, even though he did not; and encourages its viewers to believe the Earth is not warming, in spite of the fact that virtually every scientific authority says it is. It is an organization that consciously reports that the Democrats' health care bill contains death panels, despite the fact that it does not.
In each of these cases, Fox broadcasted and laundered these lies and others like them until they became gospel for a segment of the population. Once, this role was reserved for talk radio or small-circulation ideological publications. Now the highest-rated cable news network in America broadcasts them.
There is simply nothing comparable on the left. No mainstream left-of-center media organization--however broadly you define that category--departs so willingly and extensively from journalism's fundamental mission to report facts as fairly and objectively as possible. No outright lie is accepted as widely on the left as distortions like the "death panels" have been on the right.
Beyond the lies, Roger Ailes has been at the forefront of a political culture that seeks to divide our country. On the Nixon and Bush campaigns, he worked to fragment America along racial lines. Now at Fox, he has continued that effort, in addition to dividing us by party and ideology. Balkanizing our nation makes it practically impossible for our leaders to work together. There could be no compromise on the health care bill because Republicans feared an attack from Fox. There can be no working together to solve the climate crisis because Fox has convinced its audience that global warming does not exist. Republicans felt compelled to push our nation to the edge of default because they feared the reaction of their Fox News-watching base. For more, check out our new book "The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine."