Opinion: Carolina Journal Opinions

Roger Ailes: The Louis B. Mayer of Cable News

During the “Golden Age of Hollywood” (1927-63), one movie studio, MGM, dominated the industry. The man at the helm of MGM for most of the glory years was Louis B. Mayer.

Mayer, a Russian immigrant, got his start in the movie business when he renovated a burlesque house and turned it into a movie theater. From that humble start, Mayer and some partners organized a film distribution agency based in Boston. Mayer went on to Los Angles and, as they say, the rest is history.

Under Mayer, MGM became a powerhouse, producing films such as “Gone with the Wind” and numerous other classics. And Mayer and MGM had the bankable stars the public wanted to see. He was widely credited with creating the “star system.”

MGM”S lineup included the “King of Hollywood” Clark Gable, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Henry Fonda, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, James Stewart, Doris Day, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Vivien Leigh, Grace Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, John Wayne, Barbara Stanwyck, and Audrey Hepburn, to name a few.

Long gone are the days of the studio system as is — by the way — the era of the dominance of network TV news. With the advent of cable news, the major networks (mainstream media) have for a considerable period of time seen their market share and influence diminish.

This began with Ted Turner and CNN and has accelerated with the Fox News Channel. In the captain’s seat is Fox News’ founder and creator, Roger Ailes.

It is instructive to know a little bit about Ailes’ roots and career prior to the founding of Fox News. It is not generally known, but Ailes was born with hemophilia and as a result spent a lot of his childhood in hospitals because getting the least little scratch could be life threatening. Raised by a blue collar family in Warren, Ohio, he worked summers digging ditches.

When Ailes first went into television, he started at the bottom, and worked his way up, eventually becoming a producer. Along the way he became the executive producer of “The Mike Douglas Show,” which started as a local show in Cleveland and Philadelphia but eventually became nationally syndicated and ran for 20 years.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Ailes was a political consultant for numerous political candidates, including Richard Nixon in 1968, Ronald Reagan in 1984, and George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Along with the late Lee Atwater, Ailes is credited with the orchestrating Bush the elder’s 1988 victory over Michael Dukakis. Ailes produced and scripted all of Bush’s campaigns broadcast ads in the primary and general election that presidential year.

In 1996 Ailes was hired by Rupert Murdoch to create the Fox News Channel for Murdoch’s News Corp. In 2005, Ailes became the chairman of Fox Television Stations Group. He also chairs Fox Business Network.

Like Louie Mayer, Ailes has a keen eye for talent and a unique ability to understand what the American public wants out of a news organization. His stars are not Clark Gable or Myrna Loy, instead they are Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly, Britt Hume and Charles Krauthammer.

In the process he has made the Fox news channel the number one cable channel.

No small feat for a fellow from a small town in Ohio.

Marc Rotterman is a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation.