March 6, 2013
Roger Ailes
Roger Ailes (Jim Cooper / Associated Press)

In a Vanity Fair excerpt from his upcoming book “Roger Ailes: Off Camera,” author Zev Chafets makes a boast about access:

For months, Roger Ailes and I had been meeting regularly at Fox News headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, at his home in Putnam County, and at public and private gatherings. In that time I got a closer look at Roger Ailes than any journalist who doesn’t work for him ever has.

That’s a big deal. Prying a few quotes out of the always-fascinating chief of Fox News, after all, guarantees an instant and large audience. Even if Ailes has no big announcement to make, no controversy to address, he generates one. A few weeks back, in an interview with The New Republic, he made a bunch of no-news comments that made lots of news.

Referring to President Obama, Ailes said, “He’s too busy getting the middle class to hate rich people, blacks to hate whites. He is busy trying to get everybody to hate each other.”

In the presence of reporters, the guy can’t help himself.

For the benefit of Chafets and his book, Ailes showcased the absence of boundaries in his world. The book excerpt stresses Ailes’s devotion to family, a point delivered in the opening, which shows Ailes trekking out to see a basketball game in which his 12-year-old son, Zac, is participating. All wholesome stuff.

Later comes this stuff:

Since Zac was four, Ailes has been putting things away for him in memory boxes; there are now nine, stuffed with mementos, personal notes, photos, and messages from Ailes to his son. They are meant to be opened when Ailes is gone. I was curious to see what Ailes was leaving behind. He was reluctant to show me, but he finally brought one of the boxes to his office. I had been expecting an ornate trunk, but it turned out to be nothing more than a large plastic container stuffed with what appeared to be a random assortment of memorabilia. There was a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution in which Ailes had written, “The founders believed it and so should you”; photos of Zac and Ailes’s wife Beth on family vacations; an itinerary of their trip to the White House Christmas party; and a sentimental 14th-anniversary card from Beth (“It’s important for him to know that his mommy loved his daddy,” Ailes said), on which he had scrawled a note to Zac: “Your mother is a beautiful woman. Always take care of her.” I saw a printed program from a Fourth of July celebration in Garrison in which father and son had read patriotic texts aloud, a few articles and press releases about Ailes’s career, and a couple of biographies of Ronald Reagan. Tossed in with the other stuff was a plain brown envelope that contained $2,000 in cash and a note: “Here’s the allowance I owe you,” which Ailes said was an inside joke sure to make his son smile. There were also a few symbolic gold coins, “just in case everything goes to hell,” he told me. “If you have a little gold and a handgun, you can always get across the Canadian border.” Zac is still too young for a pistol, but he sometimes accompanies his father to the shooting range at West Point for target practice.

At the bottom of the box there was a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War with paternal advice inscribed on the first page:

Z—

Avoid war if at all possible but never give up your freedom—or your honor. Always stand for what is right.
If absolutely forced to fight, then fight with courage and win. Don’t try to win … win!

Love, Dad

“This is advice Zac might need to hear from me in 10 years and I won’t be here to give it to him,” Ailes said as he closed the box. “I’ve told him, if he has a problem or he feels he needs me, to go off to a quiet place and listen, and he will hear my voice.”

And so will readers of Vanity Fair!

The above passage has haunted the Erik Wemple Blog for hours. Think about the scenarios involving this precious container. There are but two:

Scenario No. 1: Ailes contrived the whole box stunt for the sake of Chafets. This is the more charitable scenario for Ailes.

Scenario No. 2: The box thing is a genuine gesture from a warm and thoughtful 72-year-old man to his young son. It’s a sacred way to pass along the wisdom of one generation to another. It carries intimate memories that only family members can appreciate.

All of which raises the question of why Ailes would allow the box’s contents to be published in a major national magazine/upcoming book. Secret treasure boxes, after all, turn into mere boxes when their contents hit the Internet. Time for another device that Ailes could use to pass posthumous wisdom down to his son. Maybe a thumb drive would work.

To judge the book by its excerpt, Ailes had a clear strategy behind the grant of extensive access: Portray himself as a wonderful family man. Thanks to his inner imbalances, he comes off as a guy altogether too eager to portray himself as a wonderful family man.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.