Esquire writer Tom Junod has a lengthy profile of Fox News chief Roger Ailes in the magazine's February issue, and depending on whom you ask it's either a "nuanced, satirical 'F-you'" to Ailes, a "deep, must-read profile" written in the form of "a Glenn Beck rant," or just a "puzzlingly overwritten" collection of theories on why Ailes "is the way he is." (Read the entire article in Esquire.) Here are six key takeaways from the magazine's "exclusive and unbiased investigation" of "a man who reengineered political and media culture" in his own image:
1. Ailes "gave America" Richard Nixon, and vice versa
One of the best parts of Junod's "graduate program in Roger Ailes" is the Fox News chief's "riff on his old boss, Richard Nixon," says Mark Joyella in Mediaite. The former president, Ailes says, would be "on the couch with Oprah" were he alive today, winning our sympathy by discussing his "stuff." In fact, Ailes met Nixon when he booked him on the first daytime talk show, "The Mike Douglas Show," in 1967, and then used TV to get him elected, Junod says. So in a very real sense "it was Roger Ailes who gave us Richard Nixon," he adds. "And, more important, Richard Nixon gave America Roger Ailes."
2. He's lost only once, with MSNBC
Another one of Junod's "great, juicy nuggets" is the story of "just how much Ailes wanted to take the helm of MSNBC" at its inception, says Joel Meares in the Columbia Journalism Review, and why he was turned down. To this day, it may be the "one time Roger Ailes lost," Junod says. It didn't help that he told NBC News their new cable channel's name "sounded like a disease," but the real reason NBC didn't let Ailes shape MSNBC in his own image is they thought his "divide and conquer" approach to cable news was "nuts." So Ailes quit CNBC, called Rupert Murdoch, and the rest is history.
3. Ailes is "surprisingly" sensitive
We knew Ailes was "extremely paranoid, hyperpartisan, and quite possibly insane," says Hamilton Nolan in Gawker. But until we read the Esquire profile, "he never struck us as the sensitive type." But he is, says Junod, and not just because he finds the time to read and be hurt by criticism from bloggers. He's also "instinctively alert to other people's stuff," as "surprisingly empathetic as he is sensitive." By design or luck, that gives him "an all-important sense of advantage."
4. Did hemophilia make him a fighter?
"Everybody bleeds," says Junod, but Ailes nearly died from bleeding, because he was born a hemophiliac, and "there wasn't much that could be done for hemophilia until the '60s." After bullies beat him up once, his father told him to fight every fight like "it's life and death," because for him it was. And it's probably why he still fights "so many of his life-and-death battles through the television screen," and wins most of them. "It's hard to tell whether this is an actual theory," says Dan Amira in New York, or just one of "Junod's lengthy rhetorical flourishes," but wouldn't it be rich if the left turned out to be losing to "a foe whose heart might actually bleed too much?"
5. There's a good reason he doesn't carry a BlackBerry anymore
"Junod takes nearly 700 convoluted words to tell us that Ailes doesn't have a BlackBerry because he got into too many email fights with angry members of the public," says Marion Maneker in The Big Picture, which is too bad, because that "great bit" gets swamped by Junod's "vamping." As Junod tells it, Ailes "lost" his BlackBerry because, after "intemperately answering every intemperate e-mail that came his way with no insult or complaint beneath his notice... his public-relations staff, fearing that the Ailesian e-mails might become public... concluded that maybe giving a man like Roger Ailes a BlackBerry wasn't such a good idea after all."
6. He is really good at what he does
As much as Junod skewers Ailes, he does so with "inevitable respect for Ailes' power and skill," says Ben Smith in Politico. "The best insight we get is a good summation of Ailes' strength as an uber-producer," says Maneker, and Junod does a good job explaining how Ailes excels at "creating an idealized universe of pretty and pumped-up news readers who sell a seamless worldview." But he misses a big opportunity to explore why Ailes' acknowledged mastery at "making television news more entertaining" than his rival fails when it comes to Fox Business.