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December 19, 2004
Roger Ailes
FOX News, Chairman & CEO
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Info: Roger Ailes has been with FOX News since 1996 and oversaw the launch of the Fox News Channel. As chairman & CEO, he oversees all national operations for FOX News. Ailes discussed the success of FOX News, his career path and the future of network & cable news. The interview took place on the set of ďThe OíReilly FactorĒ and ďFox and FriendsĒ in New York City.


Uncorrected transcript provided by Morningside Partners.
C-SPAN uses its best efforts to provide accurate transcripts of its programs, but it can not be held liable for mistakes such as omitted words, punctuation, spelling, mistakes that change meaning, etc.

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Roger Ailes, why do some people in the news business hate you and hate Fox?

(LAUGHTER)

ROGER AILES, CHMN. & CEO, FOX NEWS: Oh, we've changed the business a little bit. I mean, I can't speak to why they hate me. I don't know -- you know, hate is something that you have to get over in your life, and some people haven't gotten over it. I can't think of anybody I hate, but -- I think Fox News has come on the scene and identified itself as "fair and balanced." We try to do that every day. I think others, instead of trying to get more fair and balanced, probably are offended by that or worried about it.

You know, we get attacked and we get copied, usually at the same time by the same people. And basically, it's fear that we're doing something they're not doing, and they try to pretend that we're doing something political which they're not doing, but that's nonsense. We've been around eight years. We're not retracting stories. We don't have a former attorney general looking into us to try to determine how we screwed it up, we're just doing the news every day.

LAMB: When did you know you'd made it on top? Besides the ratings, when did you get a sense that things were working?

AILES: Well, I don't know when exactly I knew it was working, but the first time we really beat CNN for an evening and went down and announced it in the newsroom, the staff was standing on their desks, cheering. And I said, You know, these people have a lot of spirit and they want to win, and they're going to win. And that probably gave me a lot of good feeling about the future.

LAMB: Go back to the first moment you can remember when this became an idea.

AILES: Rupert Murdoch and I were talking, and he -- he asked me if I could create a news channel. And I know that he had tried in the past, but it hadn't quite worked out the way he'd hoped. And I think that he had a vision that the American people were underserved in news. And so I began to look at that, and I said, Sure. You know, If you can get the distribution, I can create a channel.

LAMB: What year?

AILES: Oh, '96.

LAMB: Why did he come to you?

AILES: I was available. I'd, you know, decided to leave NBC at that time. "America's Talking" they were going to turn over to MSNBC and put it under Andy Lack. I decided that I wanted to leave. I was available. I had done some consulting for Rupert Murdoch in the past. I liked him. And I don't know why he came to me. I think that my primary qualification for running a news channel is that I don't have a degree in journalism. I have life experience that goes pretty far beyond all that.

LAMB: You know that drives people crazy when you say that, in our business.

AILES: Well, it drives them crazy because they donít like to think that life experience is the equivalent. But I know people who have been to journalism schools. I speak at journalism schools. Iíve known journalists. Iíve been on the opposite side of journalists from time to time. I know how they think. And I actually think life experience matters. And I ran a business channel before I did this, so it was business news, but view business news as a part of news.

LAMB: How would you define journalism?

AILES: Journalism is a collection of stories, editing them and presenting them to the people in some fair manner with as many facts as you can muster to get it through to people. Itís a pretty simple craft. Itís not brain surgery. Itís simple but itís not easy. And to do it right is hard work.

LAMB: What do they teach in journalism school?

AILES: Well, I think they get too political from time to time. I think they draw conclusions for students, at least many of the ones that Iíve talked to. They donít necessarily teach them the simple things of gather all the facts, present all the facts. I think in many cases they have agendas.

I was asked by a university to give them some money, and I said -- I went to the university and I taught a couple of classes and I interviewed a bunch of students and I said, Iím not going to give you any money until you can graduate somebody who likes America. Itís not a bad country, you know. And I said, As soon as you get me someone like that, Iíll give you some money.

Based on what theyíre learning, youíd think we live somewhere else.

LAMB: What evidence did you have at that school that the teachers did not like America?

AILES: Everything is negative. Everything is about -- look, 95 percent of our people are working, the other 5 percent are basically pretty well taken care of by the government. Health care is not bad here. Bill Clinton did all right under it. Most people who want surgery donít go to Canada, they try to come here. This is a country where everybody is trying to get in and nobody is trying get out.

So it just occurs to me that some of that ought to be taught in context. Not that we donít have problems, not that we donít have deep problems in our cities, poverty and some other things, but this is the society that has cured and will continue to cure many of those problems. And I think that the context of all that has to be taught. And I donít see it being taught very often.

LAMB: If you were to start your own journalism school, how would you teach it?

AILES: I would just teach to do the facts, be fair, make sure that youíve got the same weigh if there is more than one point of view to every point of view. I always tell our journalists, reach out to a point of view you donít agree with and make sure itís in that story.

Itís simple stuff, but you have to do it. And I see the other networks -- I saw David Westin the other day take a shot at Fox News. Now David is the process of trying to turn himself into Fred Friendly, heís a corporate lawyer whoís trying to be a great journalist. But he has got some problems.

Heís the guy who wanted Leonardo DiCaprio to be a journalist for him. Heís the guy who had his head of politics during the election basically come out and say they didn't have to be fair, they should support Kerry in the debates. I find that odd. I think David's got a lot of work to do in house before he goes out taking a shot at us.

LAMB: Is there anything wrong with a news organization taking or having a point of view?

AILES: Well, I think there's a difference between news and analysis/opinion. What I saw them do -- they recently did a news meeting up at Stanford, which -- you know, heads of news at Stanford is sort of redundant. But in any case, no. If -- as long as you label it as -- you know, you know this is an opinion show.

What they're trying to do is say that Fox News is mixing opinion and fact. That's just simply not true. I mean, if you watch Shep Smith's show at 7:00, I have no idea what Shep thinks politically. I don't see any particular agenda. Bias can be a lot of different ways -- story selection, story placement, story emphasis. There's a lot of ways you can create subtle bias. But the networks for years have mixed these things, and now they're claiming we mix it, when, in fact, Bill O'Reilly is a news analysis show, or Greta or somebody else, and the hard news we do is not in question. We haven't retracted a story in eight years.

LAMB: Do you worry, now that you're on top?

AILES: Oh, sure. Look, I get up every day, you know, playing it like we're 20 miles behind. I'll never change. That's just my background. I grew up in Ohio. I dug ditches for a living. I wanted to get out of there. I always thought, you know, the only way to do it is hard work, and you got to be better and smarter than the next guy. There's no other magic to it. And when -- you know, we have probably a third of the personnel that CNN has. We've always had that, from day one.

LAMB: How many people work here?

AILES: Well, probably 1,200, maybe 1,400, if you look at freelancers during the war and sort of add onto whatever. And they probably have close to 4,000. And so I always tell our people that they have to be three times as good or four times as good as they are.

LAMB: How much does it cost you to operate a year?

AILES: I read in "Business Week," and they're usually wrong, and they were wrong this time, that -- that the -- CNN spends -- I forget how they phrased it. They had an odd phrasing. But it was, like, $300 million to do the news, or something, and Fox spends $65 million. Therefore, ours was inferior. Well, first of all, I don't know how they make that equation. Secondly, those numbers are false. They're totally wrong. And I don't know what they mean by "do the news." Are they talking about news gathering? Are they talking about all their shows? Are they talking about anchor salaries? Are they talking about -- it just was a mess of a journalistic article, actually.

But you know, we spend less than they do because they have CNNi, which is CNN International, or as we call it, the anti-American channel. And we don't do that. We have one channel. It's Fox News. We put it out all over the world. Anybody wants to see it can see it. So we spend less.

But I don't think you necessarily can equate -- we haven't missed any big stories. You know, we were the first in Baghdad during the war. We were the -- you know, we -- we are often first. But I think the key is to be accurate. If you're accurate in your reporting, then fair will follow because it's hard to -- if you're accurate, it's hard to be unfair. So I think that what we try to do is do the news, get to the air as fast as we can, although we would rather be fair than be first. And we're doing pretty well.

LAMB: On accuracy, is there a difference between Bill O'Reilly being accurate, or Sean Hannity, and, say, Brit Hume?

AILES: Well, Brit doesn't do opinion television during his. Bill and Sean do opinions. And I think that's quite clear. So my opinion of something may not be accurate, based on facts, it is my opinion, whereas a hard news show really has to have the facts.

And so there's an opinion segment at the end of Brit's show, where journalists -- now, we don't mix journalists and spinners, you know. Some shows do that. They'll take Bob Novak and Tucker Carlson and put them against two guys who can say they had lunch with Martians. There's no journalistic standard for spinners. There is a journalistic standard for journalists. So you either put spinners on the panel or you put journalists on the panel. If you do it the other way, the journalists will always lose because they simply can't say they had lunch with Martians.

LAMB: Go back to your statement about CNN International being anti-American.

AILES: Well, the best way to get distribution around the world is to be the BBC or Al Jazeera or CNNi, basically do -- if you watch it day in and day out, you can't find a whole lot good about America. Now, they have no obligation to do good stories about America, but they do have an obligation to have balance and context. And Al Jazeera simply doesn't. BBC doesn't. And CNNi is less offensive, but they don't do it much, either. And I think that context is critically important to the news.

LAMB: Where can Fox News be seen around the world?

AILES: Well, we're in about 40 countries. We're coming down off satellite, Sky and Star in Asia, Sky in London. And we're distributed in a lot of countries, a lot of Arab countries, a lot of -- Germany and Italy and, you know, England, and so on, Japan.

We don't have broad distribution in those areas, and we haven't -- it's very hard to get ad sales in those markets because you have to translate it into those languages, and so on. It's very expensive. So we're rolling out by creating the Fox News Channel. Anybody who wants to see it can see it.

Now but, you know, people talk about one -- or is English the -- you know, should we learn English? Well, that's a big debate in this country. It's not so big elsewhere. By 2050, India will probably have 1.6 billion people, more than China, and they're studying English. So guess what? Maybe we ought to study English.

LAMB: Would you ever do what CNN does and translate what you do into Spanish?

AILES: We're looking at that now -- I really can't say too much about it -- both for this country and elsewhere. But certainly, Spanish is becoming more and more predominant in some areas.

LAMB: But philosophically, would you believe that in this country, we ought to help the Spanish understand the news more than they do now by translating it into their language?

AILES: Well, you could argue that flat around. You could argue they need to study English so they can...

LAMB: That's what I mean.

AILES: ... so they can work, and you can argue that Americans need to study Spanish out of respect for the fact that -- I mean, you know, I think kids learning Spanish is terrific. I think it's great. I think learning any language is terrific and being able to speak anywhere in the world. But we don't put the same emphasis on -- sometimes on English in this country as we do on other languages. That's the problem. I have no problem, as long as you do it equally. I just insist that America get a fair shot, too.

LAMB: In a recent "New Yorker" piece, Ken Auletta wrote that you've never worked in news, and I wondered if he...

AILES: Coming from an old Democratic consultant, that was an interesting comment.

LAMB: Well, I...

AILES: That's what he did for a living, except he lost his races, I won mine, but...

LAMB: What was the first time you ever did news?

AILES: Well, it depends on what you mean "do news." I've done it locally. I worked as a consultant, when I had my own company, to television stations on their news and how to put their news together, anchors. I've trained anchors over the years. I've worked with reporters when I worked in politics. I used to say that reporters are primarily interested in the mistakes, pictures and attacks. And as long as you give them one of those, they'll probably chase the story. I've trained the people here not to follow those things, necessarily, but look for the real depth in the story.

LAMB: Say that again. Mistakes...

AILES: Pictures -- you give a journalist a picture in electronic media, you've got a guaranteed story. It's what I used to call the "orchestra pit theory of politics." Two guys on a stage, one guy jumps up and says, I've got the solution to the problems in the Middle East. Other guy jumps up and falls in the orchestra pit. Who do you think's going to be on the front page of the paper? Who's going to lead the evening news? The guy laying on the bass drum. It's just the way it is. So you give them a picture, they'll chase it.

You give them a mistake, generally, they'll chase it. You attack somebody, they'll generally take it because they do a lift out of everything I've said so far today, it'll be what I said about David Westin. They'll do that as an attack. It was actually a rebuttal, but they won't characterize it that way.

So if you know what the news is looking for, then you can teach journalists how to do substance on stories. And the reason Fox News wins is very simple. We have some very fine journalists who've done an excellent job, and they come in every day to try to be fair. It's that simple.

LAMB: If -- you may not want to do this, but if somebody called you and you were in the consulting business, said, What should CBS News do, now that Dan Rather's leaving, what would you say?

AILES: Well, I know John Roberts. I mean, John is -- look, I'm one of these guys who -- who -- I've kidded about the network news a lot because it makes them crazy. But I don't necessarily think it's over. I mean, you know, the media has a tendency to love extremes. They pretend to hate extremes, but they love extremes. So anybody who'll come out and say, It's over tomorrow night at 7:00 o'clock -- oh, that's a big story! No, it's not over tomorrow night at 7:00 o'clock. We all know that.

I happen to think Brian Williams may do a lot better than people are giving him credit for. He's a very smart guy. As you know, off the air, he's quite charming. If he gets any of that up on the air, it'll be fine. He didn't do great in cable. May have been the wrong show, wrong place, wrong time, maybe even wrong medium. But Brian is a capable anchor for broadcast news, and a smart guy. And I think Brian may do just fine. He's going to inherit Tom Brokaw's audience. Rather's leaving at the same time. There are several million people who watch this every night. If they produce that broadcast, Brian Williams may be fine. He's what everybody -- every parent wishes their daughter would marry. What a great-looking guy! Nice. He's polite, got a lot of nice shirts. He's articulate, sincere. I mean, what's not to like about Brian?

John Roberts, similar. I know John...

LAMB: ... he going to be the choice?

AILES: I don't know. I see they're trying to talk to Russert, but you know, I know Tim, as you know Tim. He's great. You know, whether Tim wants to do that or just go to the ball game, I'm never quite sure. You know, Tim is a -- is a terrific talent. I don't know that he's ever -- he's a great interviewer. I don't know about him reading prompter and doing all that stuff. I can't imagine Matt Lauer, other than not wanting to get up in the morning at that hour, would want to give up what's a pretty lucrative gig.

So who knows? But Roberts is fine. Brian Williams is fine. They're not finished tomorrow night, despite my previous statements about those shows being dinosaurs. They are dinosaurs.

LAMB: But what would you do, though, if you were running one of those shows, to make it different?

AILES: Well, you have to start with your on-air talent. And the truth is that people tune in to see Dan Rather. They tune in to see -- you know, sometimes they're waiting for a train wreck, but it doesn't matter what they're watching it for. They're watching it because Dan is one of the great street reporters of all time. I mean, he was -- you know, you put Dan in the field with a story, where there are things happening, and he'll report it. He'll do it straight. He'll do it fine. I mean, I'm not as fond of him as an anchor, and I think he got into not liking certain people doing things. But I think that Dan's a great, great journalist, great street reporter.

Tom I know, and you know. Peter's been around the world. These guys know what they're doing, and people watch them. Now, will they transfer that to somebody else? I think so. The public understands reality. They know. OK, time for them to retire. Let's take a look at the new guy. If the new guy's good, let's go with it. It's OK. You know, I'm not -- I'm not so much -- I think the whole idea of a network spending $200 million for a half hour is starting to get old, and that -- the economics of the business may change it. But you start with a person, and then you develop a great show and try to do what the cable channels haven't done all day.

LAMB: How long are you going to keep doing this?

AILES: As long as I'm having fun. You know, people always ask me that about you. How long is he going to keep doing this? And I say, You know, he's got the best job in television. He gets to talk to everybody, ask good questions, go home, no pressure. It's great. You know, as long as I'm having fun, I guess I'll do it. As long as I think I'm making a contribution to journalism, which I do believe Fox News makes a tremendous contribution to journalism. We see it from how they try to copy it, how they try to attack and -- you know, if we weren't making any impact, they'd ignore us.

LAMB: Have they tried to hire any of your people away?

AILES: Oh, sure. Sure.

LAMB: What do you think it is about, you know, the fellow that sits out here at night, Bill O'Reilly, or any of the others that you have -- what is it about them that has drawn these three million people a night audiences? And that's not a large number, but it's the largest number that's ever come to cable on a regular basis.

AILES: And it's growing. I mean, the truth is, it's growing. We're pulling people from broadcast. You know, we're -- despite CNN's advertising, we're beating them two to one every day. And I think our audience is coming more from broadcasting.

Each person is an individual. Each one is different. You know, people forget that Bill O'Reilly was a street reporter for 23 years or 25 years, Falklands war, was all over the world, all over the country. He knows how a story goes together. And so he has strong opinions about these things now and wanted a forum to express them, but it didn't take away his 20 years of experience on the road.

You know, each of these people bring something unique, but they all have a sense of -- of presentation. They can get through the screen. They have a style that the audience likes.

LAMB: How do you find out when the audience likes somebody?

AILES: I was asked because we just beat all four of our competitors last quarter, if you cumed all four, we still beat them by 20 percent. And so I was asked by News Corp to bring up my research on -- quantitative and qualitative research on how we got there, and I was forced to go to the board room and explain that we have no research. I've never done a focus group on any of the talent. I've never done one on any of the shows. I've never done quantitative research on whether we're doing it right.

I don't believe -- I mean, focus groups, you go to a mall, you get 12 people who need $40 and somebody to talk to, and then you try to get them to explain how to do your job. That strikes me as pathetic. But I mean, you know.how it is..

LAMB: How did you decide in the first place that these people were going to make it here?

AILES: Look, I sat down one day and decided, What do I look for when I look for talent? And I came up with a list of 27 things. You know, do they know how to tell a story? Would I enjoy having dinner with them? Do they know how to form an argument? Do I hate their agent? I mean, there are 27 things that make it work for me.

LAMB: Do you hate their agent?

AILES: Well, if I hate their agent, I have -- they have a little more trouble negotiating with me because their agent -- if the agent's an idiot, this is going to be a problem.

LAMB: Is there such a thing in this business?

AILES: What?

LAMB: An idiot who -- an agent who's an idiot?

AILES: Sure.

(LAUGHTER)

AILES: I say yes. There are some exceptions.

LAMB: How does that part of this business work?

AILES: Well, everybody gets representation, and the agents, you know, present them, and in many cases, do a lot of good work for their client because they make you see their tape or their -- make them available. They negotiate their deal. They, you know, often guide the talent and help you. Other times, they just -- you want somebody, they have an agent, you end up paying them, and the agent makes a commission. It depends. Being an agent is a very hard job, if you do it really well.

LAMB: Go back to that list of 27. What else?

AILES: Well, I can't remember all of them.

LAMB: Are there really 27 or...

AILES: Oh, there were exactly 27, but I don't -- I have it in my drawer now because after 35 years of doing this, I never actually sat down and quantified what it is I look for, so I decided to do that one day. I mean, can they speak? You know, do they have good articulation skills? Can they read teleprompter? Are they a good interviewer? Are they curious? You know, why do I like them? Are they flaky? I mean, there are things you just look for when you talk to people. Do they have a sense of humor?

I mean, one of the things that I try to instill in people at Fox News is, take the news very seriously, do not take yourself very seriously because, at best, you know, we're not perfect.

LAMB: What have you personally done here, specifically, that you can tell us about? For instance, did you invent the phrase "fair and balanced"?

AILES: Yes.

LAMB: And why?

AILES: Well, I mean, it's been out there for 50 years.

LAMB: I know.

AILES: The fact that no other news organization ever chose to pick it up and deal with it struck me as odd.

LAMB: How did you decide that?

AILES: Because I looked at other people's polls, national polls, and most of the people thought the news was either biased or boring or both. And they generally thought it was biased in one direction. But what my view was, if the American people truly believe this, then it's very important for us to be fair and try not to be boring. And that's the premise of Fox News.

LAMB: A couple of months ago, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences had their annual Emmy Awards here in this town. Fox had no one nominated, and there was no one in the room that I know of. Why?

AILES: I resigned from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences because after five years, we never even got a nomination. Now, what the public doesn't know about these Emmy Awards is you get to vote for yourself, and you can pack the panels to vote, which I didn't realize. But if you have more employees, like CNN has four times more employees, they can get four times more people that can go to these panels. And so they can vote for themselves. And I think it's wrong to vote for yourself. I think it's OK if you're a presidential candidate and you've got 120 million people voting, it's OK. But I don't think it's OK to vote for yourself for an award. My show is the best, Iím going to vote for me. What a nutty idea. So you guys are all walking around, and Iím thinking, thatís not good.

Also, they wanted to ignore Fox News, and we had some fine journalists here doing fine work. And because we were the upstarts, we were the new kids on the block. The other guys had been in the club for a long time. They decided to block us.

So I said, we donít need to play. In fact, I told my people, if you start winning awards, youíll probably get fired. That means youíre doing it politically correct. I can name a special and win an award. Nobody will ever have to see it.

LAMB: Is there any way you can ever go back into that Ė not Ė it doesnít matter to me, but I meanÖ

AILES: Look, I donít think so, because I think that the internal processes have to clean up. There has to be a real blue-ribbon panel, not a bunch of interns running around hotels eating the bagels and chasing each other. There have to be serious people watching serious work, and not allowing it to go through yourself, put it into the blue-ribbon panel, do it right, win the award legitimately, and thatís fine. Iím not denigrating everybody whoís won awards. Thereís some fine work there. But they didnít want us to play. So we decided we wonít play. Weíll just get the audience.

The award we win every day is the ratings. You know, they can say all they want, but Fox Ė we donít tell the American people who to watch. They make that decision. If the American people voted on these awards, what you see in the ballroom would be totally different. Weíd have 100 percent of the awards, and the other guys would have none.

LAMB: OK, fair and balanced, we report you decide, was that yours?

AILES: Actually, I consulted with a fiend of mine in advertising, but essentially it was mine. I wanted to make it clear that the audience gets to make up its mind. And our job is to give them enough facts so that they feel they can do that. And Iím a marketing fellow. I mean, I did win an award once from Ad Age. I donít know how they voted on that. I didnít vote for myself, so I guess it was OK, but I got a marketing award. Iíve never taken a marketing course. I donít know what I would have become if I had taken a marketing course. But I understand marketing, because Iíve acted as a consultant to other corporations on marketing. I understand Ė I think Iím a student of audiences, Brian. I think that I understand the American people, I understand the audience. Been out there for a lot of years, working in television stations, radio stations. Watching the American people.

The American people are very smart. They may not have all of the information that they need, but theyíre not stupid. They can get it. And to underestimate them is a mistake.

LAMB: What else did you invent here?

AILES: Well, I mean, basically, the day I got here, we had no news gathering capability, other than the local Fox stations that were basically doing local news in whatever market. We had no facility, no studios, no personnel, no executives, no reporters, no stars, no marketing. And I had six months to launch it.

LAMB: In í96.

AILES: í96. But when I left NBC, 82 people within a three-month period resigned and came to this network. And many of them Ė a few of them were vice presidents, you know, finance, media relations. A lot of the people who had worked with me at CNBC decided to gamble their career on our network. Come here and see if we can build one. Because that unit of 5 percent or 10 percent of my staff was in place, I could then spend six months working on hiring all the on-air talent, creating the programming, setting up the line-up, and doing the programming piece of it.

So my Ė people say, well, whatís your greatest contribution to Fox News? Itís very simple. I hired good people.

LAMB: Who is the first person you hired that we now know as a success?

AILES: Well, I donít remember the exact sequence. I guess Neil Cavuto maybe. Our business news anchor was the top anchor at CNBC, and his contract was up. He had a hole in the contract. And I remember the final phone call. And he said, well, I like you, Roger, but you donít have a network. I said, oh, details. Weíll build a network. Donít worry about it. And he gambled and came with me. Lauren Green, one of the women on the morning show, I think was the first reporter, because I remember her doing run-throughs for us in a video studio across town where we were trying to figure out how to make the graphics work with the reporter on the screen.

So some of these folks came in quite early, and gambled big.

LAMB: Did you think Bill OíReilly would be the success that he is?

AILES: Well, he failed for the first year and a half. And he came to me after about a year, a year and a half, and he said, I donít understand it. I believe this show should work. I believe Iím doing the right thing. And I had a few recommendations for him and so on. And I said, look, Bill, the primary problem here is my mistake. I put you in the wrong time period. I had him at 6:00. It wasnít Ė it was too early. I said, Iím going to give you the primary audience spot in the line-up. And he said, youíre the first guy I ever worked with that if I was failing gave me a better time period. And I said, I got you in the wrong time spot. Itís my mistake. I said, now if you fail, it will be your mistake. A very competitive guy, and he did Ė he took off very well after that.

LAMB: What did you think of the way the press, the media covered his recent problem with the lawsuit?

AILES: Some responsibly, some irresponsibly, as usual, you know. MSNBC and NBC tried to make a big game out of it, and CNN handled it responsibly.

LAMB: What about "The New York Times?"

AILES: I donít remember what they did. I think they were -- well, they were pretty rough, I think.

LAMB: What do you consider to be responsible?

AILES: Facts. They didnít have a lot of facts.

LAMB: Was there ever a time when you thought your star could go down?

AILES: Iím not going to talk too much about that, since it all came out that there was no wrongdoing, and thatís the way Iíll leave it. I believe in innocent until proven guilty. I believe people have the right to defend themselves. I believe that Iím not known as a guy who cuts and runs. I have to have some facts.

LAMB: Did Fox News end up paying any money for this situation?

AILES: No.

LAMB: And so youíre comfortable with the way it came out.

AILES: I answered your question, no, Fox paid nothing.

LAMB: You got in the business of news in the Ď70s, something called TVN.

AILES: I remember you from those days. Yeah, you were there too.

LAMB: I wasnít at TVN.

AILES: Dennis Swanson. Well, you came inÖ

LAMB: No, I was in the government.

AILES: Oh, OK.

LAMB: And thatís, I thinkÖ

AILES: I remember meeting you at that office one day. I donít remember when it was.

LAMB: Television newsÖ

AILES: You aged better than me, by the way.

LAMB: Hardly.

Go back to that, what was it?

AILES: TVN was -- I was brought in as a consultant, actually. I guess the Coors Company started a network -- they wanted to get into the satellite news business, as I recall. This is very early days of the satellite. Dennis Swanson, whoís now at CBS, was there. In fact, I was ordered to fire Swanson, and I thought he was the only guy who knew what he was doing. So I argued and kept him. And Charlie Gibson was there at the time. And I was ordered to fire Gibson. And I said, no, Iím not going to fire Gibson, heís a good newsman. So -- I did fire some other people. At any rate, I was brought in as a consultant to kind of fix it and make it work. But the truth was that at the time, I guess Coors was the primary backer of it, and I donít remember the details, but they went public and had to get out of the news business or something, and I was -- it was one of my consulting clients. I was never there as a full-pledged job.

LAMB: Did they want Charlie Gibson fired because of his politics?

AILES: You know, I donít remember. Somebody didnít like him as a reporter, but I thought he was a very good reporter. And I, from the very early days of my life, back to "The Mike Douglas Show" in the Ď60s and you know -- Iíve been fired a couple of times. But I donít care. I mean, I -- one of the advantages of digging ditches when you start is, you have no real fear of what can happen to you. If it doesnít get any worse than that, that wasnít bad. It was OK. It wasnít great, but it wasnít bad. So I never did anything, you know. I just -- if I thought somebody was good or thought the idea was good, Iíd fight for it. And Charlie was good.

LAMB: So you wouldnít fire somebody at this network whoís a reporter that you found out was liberal?

AILES: Well, Iím sure a lot of them are.

LAMB: Youíre sure a lot of them are?

AILES: Yes.

LAMB: So thereís no litmus test.

AILES: Absolutely not. I donít have any idea about most of them, but I canít believe -- look, most of the people who work here came from other networks and journalism schools. Can you name a conservative journalism school or a conservative network they could have come from? I mean, we donít care about that. What we care is present the news. If thereís more than one side, make sure you have it. If you think thereís something else that you donít agree with, make sure itís in the story.

LAMB: So go back toÖ

AILES: I donít care how people vote. It is not my business. Nobody in all my years of being in the business has ever asked my opinion on an issue. People might be surprised about my opinions on issues. Theyíve made assumptions about me, based on what Iíve done, but no, I donít ask anybody, and I donít particularly care how they vote.

LAMB: What did you do for Richard Nixon?

AILES: I worked for three months -- letís see, I guess I came in about March of that year. Actually -- no, noÖ

LAMB: March of Ď68 orÖ

AILES: Ď68, I came in as an observer, with Bill Safire and some others, I guess Pat Buchanan was there. I remember having dinner up in New Hampshire that year. But I guess I didnít actually -- I came aboard in about June or July of that year, because somebody offered me a chance to produce television for a presidential election. It had very little to do with politics. I didnít own it. The interesting media challenge was, everybody said, this guy canít get elected, because of television. And I thought I knew television pretty well, and I was 28 years old. And I said, nobodyís ever going to get elected again without it.

And you know, I happened to run into Nixon, because he was on "The Mike Douglas Show," and he happened to be on the same day that Little Egypt was on, she was a belly dancer and she had a boa constrictor. And so one of the guys came to me and he said, well, my God, weíve got former Vice President Nixon coming into the front door. Weíve got Little Egypt with a boa constrictor in the green room. What do you want to do? I said, I donít want to scare him and I donít want to scare the snake. Letís put them in separate rooms. This is a true story. So they put the -- Nixon in my office. I was 28 years old. I came back one day, up for rehearsal, and he says, "thatís too bad a guy has to rely on a gimmick to get elected." I said, if you think television is a gimmick, youíre going to lose again. Thatís what I said to him, I didnít know him. And Len Garment, who later became a close friend of mine and a great lawyer from Washington, worked for him, and he called me and asked me to come and brief his people, and would I be interested in producing some television?

And I thought, thatís interesting. Iím a 28-year-old former ditch digger from Ohio and theyíre asking me to produce television for a presidential campaign. So I did. I produced "The Man in the Arena" show segment.

LAMB: So itís three months, three or four months.

AILES: Yeah. I worked for him for three or four months.

LAMB: What did you do for Ronald Reagan?

AILES: First time I was part of that team that did some work on his media side. Second time, I coached him for the -- particularly after he blew the first debate, they brought me in to coach him for the second debate, because I was known as a debate coach.

By the way, had they put Little Egypt in my office that day, entirely different career. You know? It just -- my entire career is based on flukes and saying, well, OK, this is the hand Iím dealt. How do I play it? So that is absolutely the way I got into it.

LAMB: How long did you work for Ronald Reagan?

AILES: Well, I never worked for the government. I worked in campaigns. I had a consulting company that did primarily corporate consulting, but I was known for political consulting, because that got more press. And of course, you know, Tim Russert and Brian Williams and Ken Bode and Tom Johnson, and all these guys worked in politics. So this is not -- they just happened to work for the good side for the press, so maybe they were fine, but I worked for Reagan during those campaigns I guess for a few months, helping with the debates or whatever.

LAMB: What did you do for George Herbert Walker Bush?

AILES: I was senior media adviser and part of his G-6 group that year, with Lee Atwater and Bob Teeter and Nick Brady and letís see -- Craig Fuller, Bob Mosbacher. There were about six or seven of us.

LAMB: Whatís more fun, more interesting, more satisfying?

AILES: Keep in mind, thatís 15 years ago, almost, 13.

LAMB: But whatís more fun, more interesting, this job you got now or working in politics?

AILES: Oh, this is much better. I quit politics because I hated it.

LAMB: Hated it?

AILES: Hated it.

LAMB: What did you hate about it?

AILES: I get up one day, and hated it. I mean, I thought that the candidates were -- I was beginning to know more about the issues than they did, which worried me. I hated the travel. I hated the -- I thought it was getting mean-spirited. It wasnít about strategy and tactics. My friend Bob Squire, who was top liberal consultant in the country -- he and I were close personal friends. I wrote the eulogy for "Time" magazine for him when he died. His family asked me to, because they knew we were friends. We both agreed never to disclose that, so it wouldnít cost us any money, but we used to debate in the off-season, and go off and do corporate things and so on.

And so I, you know, I did mostly corporate work. Occasionally I did political work. It was not the largest part of my business ever. Television and corporate always was. But I got well known, and then I just hated it. I didnít want to do it anymore. I just thought that there was something wrong with the whole media piece of the business, and didnít want to do it. And I gave up over -- well, probably 40 percent of my business overnight.

LAMB: People our age know the name Mike Douglas. Is he still alive?

AILES: He called me about -- I used to be a production assistant for Mike Douglas. I started as a production assistant, and three years later became his executive producer. So I moved through. I was a director and so on. And he called me about nine months ago, and he said, Iím going to get an honorary degree at some Florida college. He said, just knock out a little speech for me for acceptance speech. Because he still thinks Iím his PA, his production assistant.

LAMB: Really?

AILES: No, Iím just kidding, but he called me and said, hey, would you knock out a little speech for me? It reminded me of the old days when I was 22 or 23, and heíd say, hey, kid, write up that cue card for -- I remember an old vaudeville song called "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know Iíve Been a Liar All My Life?" And you try to write that cue card. So I used to write those cue cards for him.

So he said, can you knock out a little speech? So I wrote about a seven-minute speech for him, and I talked to him on the phone about a month ago. Heís in Florida. He plays golf.

LAMB: How old is he?

AILES: I donít really know. Probably 80, I donít know.

LAMB: What did you -- how long was he on television? I rememberÖ

AILES:Weíd like to say Ď72. I donít know how old -- looksÖ

LAMB: He was on every day.

AILES: On every day. Biggest, highest rated show in the history of daytime television at that point. It was bigger than "Gary Moore." Actually, we had more viewers for "The Mike Douglas Show" in the Ď60s at its peak -- we were in 182 cities -- we had more viewers than "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson."

LAMB: And where was it done?

AILES: Philadelphia. It started in Cleveland, and moved to Philadelphia in 1965. I moved with it, as an associate producer, then took over as producer, and then executive producer, and took it to 182 markets, and then I quit.

LAMB: What was special about Michael, Mike Douglas?

AILES: Mike Douglas had a quality of everyman. He could sit down with Sammy Davis Jr. or Bob Hope, or whoever the guest host of the week was, and he really wanted to know about them, because he was like the fan of these people. Good singer himself, good interviewer. Capable, you know, emcee. But he liked these people. He loved show business. And he -- the audience liked him, and he got through that screen. And that is what taught me about likeability for television people. You know, if the audience just really doesnít like you, itís tough. You ought to think of another career.

LAMB: Would he make it today?

AILES: He might. He was unique. He was at the time of Mike and Merv Griffin and so on. I -- itís tougher today because of the crudeness of the medium and so on, but if you watched -- I watched over Thanksgiving, I happened to catch Regis, who grew up during that same time, and really came in under those guys and learned it, you watch Regis and Kelly now, they were doing stuff we were doing on "The Mike Douglas Show." They were throwing baseballs and dunking each other in the water. They were doing -- they were doing all the shtick that we did in those days. So the show still works. If you watch "Fox and Friends" on this channel, itís very much like Americaís Talking. It is Americaís Talking. I decided to preserve a piece of Americaís Talking when I left NBC. AndÖ

LAMB: What was Americaís Talking, for those who never saw it?

AILES: Americaís Talking was a cable network that NBC originally decided to start, and then when they got a chance to do a merger with Microsoft for MSNBC, that was a much better business play for them, they thought. They didnít know it was going to be -- not do well. So they decided to go to MSNBC. They gave up Americaís Talking. But I decided to keep it, bring it here, put it in, call it "Fox and Friends," and today itís the No. 1 morning show on cable.

LAMB: Would you take Don Imus over there?

AILES: No, I actually -- prior to the show becoming a hit, I talked to Don, and I think Iím a big fan of his, and I like him enormously. But I -- itís a different kind of show now. I mean, I think -- Don was at his best when he could book anybody. Now, theyíve restricted who he books. He can basically only have NBC correspondents. Occasionally, heíll have a star on, like Brit or somebody, but he wonít -- heĎs very careful now, and theyíve restricted a lot of his bookings. And -- or somethingís happened. But he himself is still Imus. Heís unique. Heís a great talent, but you know, weíre beating that show three to one, so Iíd be really stupid to change it for Don Imus. Weíre beating him three to one every day.

LAMB: Now, when Americaís Talking wasnít happening, you had your own show.

AILES: I put myself on the air, because I had taught interview technique for years, and Americaís Talking was totally unknown and unable to get guests.

LAMB: How many days a week did you do your show?

AILES: I donít remember, maybe four or five. I did it -- I would run in, unlike you and have any preparation, I would go in, have somebody read me their bio while I was getting my makeup on, and run in and do the interview. The best interviews I did were Mario Cuomo, Joan Baez, probably -- I donít know. There were great interviews. I mean, I enjoyed talking to the people. Like you. You have a curious mind. Thatís what drives you and this show. I think I have a curious mind. I really want to hear from these people and how they think.

So I enjoyed it, but Iím not a natural on-air performer. Iím very good at finding other people to do it, and Iím very good at formulating questions that will get good answers, but I did it primarily to help the -- help the network and get some bookings.

LAMB: Did you ever want to do it again?

AILES: No, I fired myself when I came here. I could do it here if I wanted to. Rupert wouldnít care. He actually was sort of a fan of that show, and it got pretty good ratings at Americaís Talking. And I wouldnít have the time, running a network like this, but there are a few people I would love to interview, you know, but I donít know if Iíd want to do it as a regular thing. I think Iím -- Iím outside the demographic now, you know. You and I are irrelevant to advertisers. Even though Fox News Channel is doing extremely well with advertisers, Iím personally outside the demographic.

LAMB: Back to what we were talking about in the beginning. I heard you talk about the media establishment. What is it?

AILES: Oh, itís the people who go to the same parties. Itís the people that CBS and "The New York Times," who refused to cover the oil-for-food program for six months while Fox News was out there digging away on that story. Weíre the ones who put it upfront. Our little team of people thought there was a story there. Turns out itís the largest financial scandal in history, and now you see some of the other networks -- but if they go to "Le Cirque" every night with Kofi Annan, theyíre not going to say, hey, Kofi, got a minute?

LAMB: Who else is in the establishment?

AILES: Itís usually the East Coast and West Coast people who frequent the same parties, believe the same things, vote the same way, donít like anybody who differs with them, doesnít understand the flyover country in the middle, and they kind of, you know, hang out at the same restaurants and go to the same parties. Theyíre all hoping for an invitation to Tina Brownís. You know, and I come in, she invites me, becauseÖ

LAMB: Do you go?

AILES: Ö she and I are friends. I have. I enjoy going to make other people crazy, and occasionally we go.

LAMB: How can you tell when youíre making somebody crazy and theyíre in your presence?

AILES: Well, they usually try to persuade me that Iím either wrong or nuts, and certainly a bad person for not agreeing with them. And generally, when you start a debate and they try to do that, you know youíre making them crazy.

LAMB: But what is it? I mean, go back to what we were talking about in the beginning. What is it that gets under their skin about this network?

AILES: Look, they suspect we like America. They suspect that we thinkÖ

LAMB: Do they really hate America?

AILES: No, they donít hate it. They just -- are constantly telling you whatís wrong. Thereís never a good story about this country. We donít -- you know, the American people donít hear that. We donít -- you know, we donít promote something that isnít true, but we will put it in context. I mean, 95 percent of our people are working. That doesnít say we donít have an unemployment problem, you know, in Ohio and Michigan and some of those places. It doesnít mean that there isnít outsourcing. It doesnít mean -- you have to cover those, but you have to put it in a context. I mean, do you want to live in Somalia? Is that a good idea? You have to put it in a context of what we have. And thatís part of the news. Part of the news is all the facts. And we try to do that. That makes us a little different.

LAMB: How do you feel the wrath of the establishment?

AILES: Well, we donít get invitations to some of the parties. We get attacked in the press. I mean, David Westin went after our slogan at Stanford. I mean, they talk to each other about us, and they think that really hurts our feelings. I taught a class up at Columbia, I go up and look at Columbia. Walk into the International School at Columbia and look at the books that are required reading for the students: 100 percent anti-American. Capitalism is no goodÖ

LAMB: One hundred percent anti-American?

AILES: Well, I went through the books when I went up there recently and did David Dinkinsí class, because I do it every year, and went through the books. And I am trying to find one that might be balanced on the issue of America or capitalism. I couldnít find one.

LAMB: Well, for you it started in Warren, Ohio.

AILES: Right.

LAMB: What was the environment?

AILES: Good parents. Dad was a factory foreman, worked all his life. Mom worked as a checkout woman in a market. Grandparents -- one was a janitor, school janitor, my grandfather. When I was 18, my dad said, where are you going? I said, what do you mean where am I going? He said, well, you canít live here. I said, what do you mean? He said, hey, youíre 18. Are you going to join the service, go to college? What are you going to do? I said, I donít know. He said, you go to college, you make a dollar, Iíll give you a dollar. If you donít make a dollar, you donít get a dollar. You want me to put your name in up at the shop, try to get you a job? Fine. I will. No favoritism, but Iíll put your name in. You want to do it? I said, well, OK. I get it. You know. Itís -- he was -- he was doing the right thing for me.

LAMB: So you went to Ohio University?

AILES: Yeah, because they told me it was a party school and I wouldnít have to study very much. And I did play-by-play sports for Met-American Conference and skipped a lot of classes, you know, finally got an F. The dean brought me in, said, we have to keep you because itís a state school, but we only have to keep you one more semester. What do you want to do? So I said, all right. So I got a 3.5 and I stayed. And it was fine andÖ

LAMB: Got your degree.

AILES: I got my degree and got out. Got into radio and television, found something I loved to do, secret to life, find something you love to do, find somebody that will pay you to do it -- hey, your lifeĎs fine. And I got lucky, you know. And Iíve studied a lot more since I got out of school, and know a lot more than I did then, but it was a good experience. And my dad did the right thing. A lot of people think that was cruel. It was the right thing.

LAMB: So five years from now, youíre still here, what do you want to accomplish in those five years?

AILES: Well, weíre moving into radio. I think radio will be as big as TV for Fox.

LAMB: How are you doing it?

AILES: I canít disclose exactly. Within the next month, weíll have an announcement probably on something thatís coming down the road. Weíre syndicating Alan Colmes, Tony Snow. Weíve got -- Iíve got two other shows in the pipeline that weíre going to put out soon. We have -- our news is probably on -- breaking news is probably on 200 -- over 200 radio stations right now, from the Fox News Channel. Weíre finding weíre the most demanded brand out there in the cable. So I think that radio is going to be huge. I think youíll see some more stuff on the Internet side. We donít have the advantage of an AOL/Time Warner or MSNBC, because theyíre with Microsoft, they can force it, but we have some ideas of how we can expand in those areas as well, and I think that Fox News Channel is becoming home base for America. You used to go in and go through six or eight channels. Now theyíre not doing that anymore. They tend to come to us and stay there. And thatís good. They sit through our commercials. They stay with us. They believe theyíre getting fair and accurate news, and we think weíll become more and more the home base.

LAMB: What about the news channel -- I mean, the business channel?

AILES: I canít say too much about it. I mean, clearly we have to have distribution. Clearly CNBC has had a monopoly on a niche for a long time. I know how to do it, because I ran CNBC, and we turned it around during that period of time. I wonít say I did, but good employees did. And we know how to do business news.

I am of the opinion that business news is really news. I mean, if it isnít, why are the guys running for president talking about the economy and jobs and retail sales and all these things? So itís really news. And itís how you present that. So there are 32 business shows currently on cable television. The top five, under Neil Cavuto, are at the Fox News Channel. And Lou Dobbs at six is not doing business anymore. Heís -- I donít know what he is doing, running for office or something. And then CNBC after that. But we think there is a market for business news, because we think it is real news.

LAMB: Why would you do a business channel when CNNfn has been dropped and CNBCís ratings are down?

AILES: Well, they never got distribution. I think CNBC -- you know, they claim they went down when the bubble burst, but you know, the market went down 25 percent, and their ratings went down 80 percent. So I keep thinking, you know, when I was there, we didnít have that problem. We didnít even have a bubble. So I think maybe we can do something.

I just believe it can be -- look, weíre all in business to make money. All these channels eventually have to make money, and I believe that if you do business news correctly, you will make money. And they make money, but they make most of theirs on infomercials. If they didnít have infomercials, man, itíd be ugly.

LAMB: So if you start -- when would you start?

AILES: Well, as soon as we get distribution. Weíve got to -- weíre working on a business plan. Weíve got to determine ad sales. Weíve got to look at whoís going to be with where, how many subs do you need to have -- subscribers -- and then you have to have distribution. So all those things are sort of in the works, and I can do it in four months if I have to, but we have to put those pieces in place first.

LAMB: Would you start just with DirecTV?

AILES: No. I donít think thatís lucrative.

LAMB: Weíre out of time.

AILES: OK.

LAMB: Thank you, Roger Ailes.

AILES: All right, good to see you.

 




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