The uncouth Roger Ailes

How Roger Ailes reshaped media and politics
How Roger Ailes reshaped media and politics

Fox News chief Roger Ailes was listening to Fred Ryan make his case.

It was 2011 and Ryan, then the CEO of Politico, was on a mission to repair relations between the two media organizations, sources with knowledge of the situation said. Years earlier, Fox News had banned Politico reporters from its airwaves because of suspicions of anti-Fox bias, and Ryan was pushing for a fresh start.

Then, according to the sources, Ailes told Ryan what he wanted: He wanted fair coverage from Politico; he wanted the website to take stock of Fox News' successes, not just its controversies; and he wanted Politico to stop taking talking points from "that faggot David Brock."

The derogatory term Ailes used to describe Brock, the founder of the liberal watchdog group Media Matters For America, so shocked Ryan that he felt compelled to relay it to friends and colleagues, three of whom told CNNMoney about it this week. (Ryan declined to comment.)

To those who know Ailes, however, the story would not be surprising at all. The former Fox News chief, who stepped down last week amid sexual harassment allegations, regularly makes coarse and derogatory statements about women, homosexuals, Jews and racial minorities, several sources who have met with him said.

Related: Fox News investigation is "winding down"

Indeed, many believe Ailes' derogatory language played a role in his departure from NBCUniversal in 1996. Officially, Ailes -- then president and CEO of the CNBC and America's Talking channels -- resigned from the network because he was "uncomfortable" with recent restructuring. But a year earlier, according to biographer Gabriel Sherman, Ailes had called NBC executive David Zaslav "a little f-----g Jew prick," prompting NBC to launch an investigation.

(NBC did not address the investigation, and both Ailes and Zaslav have denied Sherman's reporting, but Bob Wright, the former NBC chairman and CEO who was Ailes's boss at the time, told Sherman, "My conclusion was that he probably said it.")

Ailes' language also contributed to his downfall at Fox News. In addition to being accused of making unwanted advances, Ailes has been accused of making a litany of inappropriate remarks about women's faces and bodies.

One former Fox host recently told CNNMoney that Ailes once said to her, "Walk down the hallway slower, I want to get a look at those legs." A former staffer told the Washington Post, "He would say things like, 'She's really got the goods' and 'look at the tits on that one.'" Sometimes, the staffer said, he joked "that he liked having women on their knees."

Susan Estrich, Ailes' legal counsel, took issue with the anecdotes included in this article.

"These worn out and inaccurate gossip items were shot down years ago," Estrich wrote in an email. "For example, the story about Roger and Mr. Zaslav was debunked by the only two participants who could have been on the call, both of whom proved that such a conversation never took place. Yet it continues to be repeated as if it were true. My experience is that if a reporter makes up and repeats phony or fabricated stories, it may make the reporter feel better but it doesn't make the stories true."

Related: Roger Ailes and the lingering remnants of the 'Mad Men' era

While Ailes is not always so coarse, these sources said, he is very often inappropriate. He seems to delight in making provocative observations and jokes that leave his interlocutors both shocked and amused by the words that have come out of his mouth.

"What Roger says can often be, in polite parlance, inappropriate. But it is also very funny and keenly perceptive," said Michael Wolff, the media columnist who has met with Ailes multiple times. "This is not just vulgarity or slurs, it's an original world view -- novelistic in a sense. If you haven't heard it, you've missed out on something memorable. He's the Toscanini of inappropriateness."

But often Ailes' diction is simply coarse, cruel and offensive. He used the N-word when speaking with President Richard Nixon, according to "Nixonland," a book by historian Rick Perlstein.

Sherman reports that during a post-September 11 lunch with former President Bill Clinton, Ailes suggested rebuilding the World Trade towers and filling "the last ten floors with Muslims so [the terrorists] never do it again."

He has also used the word "faggot" on several occasions, according to sources, including to describe Brock during the meeting with Ryan -- a man who was by no means a friend or close confidant.

"Why am I not surprised?" Brock told CNNMoney when informed of the alleged slur.

After all, it was Brock who noted in his own book, "The Fox Effect," that Ailes once told President George H. W. Bush he shouldn't wear a short-sleeve shirt because he'd "look like a fucking faggot."


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