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Review: 'Divide and Conquer' examines Roger Ailes legacy

Roger Ailes was such a larger-than-life, swaggering figure that he practically overwhelms the attempt to dis...

Posted: Dec 7, 2018 6:48 PM
Updated: Dec 7, 2018 6:48 PM

Roger Ailes was such a larger-than-life, swaggering figure that he practically overwhelms the attempt to distill his life into a single documentary. "Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes" is filled with fascinating insights about the late Fox News CEO, but in ways feels as if it only scratches the surface of his influence, and perhaps especially, the most corrosive aspects of his legacy.

Working with producer Alex Gibney, director Alexis Bloom begins at the 2016 Republican National Convention, where Ailes' life's work seemingly came to fruition with the nomination of Donald Trump -- juxtaposed, remarkably in terms of the timing, against Ailes' ouster from Fox amid sexual-harassment allegations.

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The narrative then returns to Ailes' upbringing in Ohio, his humble beginnings in TV and his segue into conservative politics working on behalf of Richard Nixon and others, recognizing early on -- as he's shown telling Mike Wallace in an interview -- that "the skillful use of television" will be vital to candidates at every level going forward.

The documentary cites a tentative draft during that period outlining plans for a Republican TV network, one that would allow conservatives to present their message while bypassing the critical scrutiny of the mainstream press. After his experiment at NBC in launching the cable channel America's Talking, that's essentially what Ailes did when Rupert Murdoch turned him loose at Fox News, creating an entity that synthesized his political objectives and commercial considerations into one hugely influential force.

That creation, and its massive repercussions, serves as the crux of the title "Divide and Conquer." As more than one associate suggests, Ailes had a knack for reading a room, and understood how to prey upon people's apprehensions -- an approach illustrated by a montage of Fox fear-mongering -- to win their support and loyalty, either as viewers or voters.

Beyond interviews with friends, colleagues and critics, the filmmakers provide additional insight through Ailes' own words, as read by actor Peter Gerety.

Still, Bloom devotes a significant portion of the project's second half to Ailes' bullying of local officials in his small town of Cold Spring, N.Y., and the alleged sexual misconduct that led to his downfall, including internal details about his strategizing to professionally survive the accusations.

Those stories are obviously necessary, demonstrating how Ailes abused his position and power in revolting ways. In a sense, though, his egregious private behavior draws the focus away from the damage he inflicted on media and politics -- seamlessly wedding the two, while endeavoring to discredit established outlets in a manner that benefited Fox.

The effects of those efforts are summed up by journalist Sarah Ellison, who observes that it's "unthinkable that Donald Trump as a candidate would exist" without the assiduous way in which Ailes paved the way for him.

"Divide and Conquer" also recounts how Ailes stoked fear within Fox News -- where rumors swirled that he was listening in on employees -- and how Murdoch, happy to bask in the profits, left him alone, later downplaying the harassment allegations that eventually sunk his career.

As CNN anchor and Fox alum Alisyn Camerota points out, the 2016 election should have been a "crowning moment for Roger." Instead, he watched the final stages of the campaign from outside the network he built, before dying in 2017.

Having lived with hemophilia, Ailes was well aware of his own mortality. Glenn Beck, a Fox News star before leaving the network, quotes his former boss as saying, "When I go, people are gonna say awful thing about me."

"Divide and Conquer" is well worth watching, underscoring the power Ailes wielded at the enterprise he ran for 20 years like a virtual kingdom. The key disclaimer would be that while presenting Ailes' life and influence, the film devotes less time than it should to contextualizing the lingering consequences of his reign.

"Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes" premieres in theaters and on iTunes and Amazon on Dec. 7.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 918230

Reported Deaths: 15011
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1252491952
Lake623371084
Allen52301746
Hamilton43009443
St. Joseph41155584
Elkhart32831485
Vanderburgh29698436
Tippecanoe26442247
Johnson23106414
Hendricks21708338
Porter21255340
Clark16988222
Madison16899378
Vigo15562272
Monroe14186190
LaPorte13961235
Delaware13613215
Howard13531258
Kosciusko11150134
Hancock10534159
Warrick10431174
Bartholomew10233166
Floyd10099202
Wayne9557216
Grant8858194
Morgan8654158
Boone8231109
Dubois7521123
Henry7391126
Dearborn734186
Noble7208100
Marshall7168127
Cass7060117
Lawrence6803150
Jackson638980
Shelby6386106
Gibson5999105
Harrison587984
Huntington586490
Montgomery5663101
DeKalb555691
Knox532999
Miami523183
Clinton522464
Putnam519067
Whitley509851
Steuben480267
Wabash470192
Jasper465760
Jefferson456091
Ripley439074
Adams435565
Daviess4008106
Scott389563
White383457
Decatur376895
Clay376455
Greene375589
Wells375183
Fayette363074
Posey351841
Jennings341756
Washington324046
LaGrange312074
Spencer310734
Fountain306553
Randolph302087
Sullivan294947
Owen275961
Orange269659
Starke268961
Fulton264451
Jay248134
Perry244950
Carroll239926
Franklin229337
Vermillion225850
Rush225530
Parke212020
Tipton205354
Pike200938
Blackford163834
Pulaski155250
Crawford140818
Benton138316
Newton138141
Brown130646
Martin124416
Switzerland122310
Warren112616
Union92211
Ohio75811
Unassigned0461

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1319265

Reported Deaths: 21265
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1480641537
Cuyahoga1311202313
Hamilton948871307
Montgomery647451122
Summit548531041
Lucas49502853
Butler45993649
Stark39954963
Lorain30438525
Warren29170326
Mahoning25988629
Clermont24726278
Lake24088411
Delaware21722140
Licking19822239
Fairfield19780218
Greene19671266
Medina19208285
Trumbull19195506
Clark17188321
Portage15585224
Richland15540228
Wood15187208
Allen13654254
Miami13283244
Muskingum11821148
Wayne11448234
Columbiana11100239
Tuscarawas10388264
Marion10273144
Pickaway10162128
Scioto9766124
Erie9479170
Ross8979172
Lawrence8225116
Hancock8105140
Ashtabula8083184
Geauga7976155
Belmont7791183
Jefferson7093168
Huron7087125
Union703549
Washington6823116
Athens666163
Sandusky6608132
Darke6394135
Knox6308120
Seneca6113135
Auglaize569888
Ashland5631110
Shelby555799
Mercer545188
Brown533067
Defiance5278100
Madison527368
Crawford5148113
Highland514876
Fulton508781
Clinton505379
Logan494582
Preble4788110
Putnam4733106
Guernsey439057
Williams437281
Champaign426463
Ottawa425783
Perry414051
Jackson402259
Pike367140
Morrow359149
Fayette353951
Coshocton345064
Hardin341868
Adams338864
Gallia329254
Holmes3148107
Henry312668
Van Wert299269
Hocking280467
Wyandot271858
Carroll250451
Paulding231742
Meigs197842
Monroe178649
Noble160340
Morgan153528
Harrison145740
Vinton130217
Unassigned05
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