Filmmaker Alexis Bloom’s new documentary Divide and Conquer:The Story of Roger Ailes chronicles the rise and fall of the powerful and influential former Chairperson and CEO of Fox News. Ailes’s skillful use of television goes back to 1968 and continued all the way into the 21stc. “He was canny…and could read people and feel the temperature in a room,” as one of his former colleague points out in the film.
The film paints an interesting and complex portrait of Ailes by interviewing his former colleagues and friends, who worked with him right from the 1960s to all the way to his years as head of Fox News. He famously helped Nixon polish his media skills and as someone in the film says, “He produced Nixon, ” and helped create the “man in the arena ” propaganda piece with tight shots of Nixon surrounded by people.” That town hall interview style that Ailes used for Nixon went on to become a popular format that is still used.
Despite wielding a lot political and media influence right from President Richard Nixon’s presidency to Donald Trump the way Ailes powerful career ended was one of disgrace. In 2016 Ailes was forced to resign from Fox News in the midst of sexual harassment scandals from his female colleagues at the station. Ailes resigned after a 20 year stint at Fox News just as Donald Trump became the Republican candidate of the Republican Party. Ailes died in 2017.
What was surprising to discover while watching the film is that Ailes “lived his whole life in fear,” as one of the people interviewed in the film points out. Ailes was fearful that he would bleed to death since he was diagnosed as a hemophiliac. Besides being fearful he was also paranoid. The other surprising discovery was his father’s behavior towards him that scarred him for life and gave rise to his mistrust in people.
Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger AIles released on Dec 7. 2018 in San Francisco Bay Area.