Joe Lindsley was as close to the late Fox News chairman as anybody. Now, for the first time, he’s giving his account of their dramatic split.
For two years, as an ambitious twentysomething, Joe Lindsley had a closer relationship with Roger Ailes than any Fox News executive. He lived, for a time, on the Aileses’ property in upstate New York, vacationed with Ailes and his wife, Beth, and served in effect as a surrogate son.
But then Lindsley suddenly decided to leave, throwing the then 71-year-old media mogul into a panic. Ailes was so furious about his departure that he tried to ensure Lindsley could never work as a journalist in Washington. Or, at least, that’s what he told Bill Kristol shortly after Lindsley’s departure.
.. His dramatic exit was widely reported at the time because, those news reports alleged, News Corporation security guards tailed him through the Hudson Valley’s quaint local towns, seeking either to lure him back or to shut him up.
.. Ailes’ relationship with Lindsley was all the more extraordinary because the late Fox News chief didn’t cultivate protégés—he decapitated them. Since the founding of Fox News in 1996, several executives who had served a rung beneath him had found themselves suddenly exiled to the outer reaches of the network or fired outright. But Lindsley, four decades Ailes’ junior, was different. Ailes treated him like a son, laid out a promising path for his advancement, and, according to Lindsley, introduced him to people as “Ailes Jr.”
.. Ailes, at a meeting in his office at News Corporation headquarters in Manhattan and again in subsequent phone conversations, pressed Kristol to blackball Lindsley in Washington media circles
.. When Kristol’s Fox News contract expired at the end of 2012, the network did not renew it, and his relationship with the network was permanently severed.
.. “When I left Fox, I was not beholden. I had never signed nondisclosure papers; I was in a unique position.”
.. “When Ailes was at the top of his game, he was raging at something—everything would melt out of his way. And I was the same way. I considered rage my chief talent,” Lindsley says. “The rage was a cover for deep wounds that were never healed, that were never even addressed.”
.. Lindsley is calling his book a memoir, but it takes an unusual format. Written in the third person—he says the protagonist, Jack Renard, who becomes an apprentice to Roger Ailes, is his alter ego—it lands somewhere between memoir and roman à clef.
.. During Renard’s first meeting with Ailes, the Fox chief declares, “The President of the United States”—Barack Obama, of course—“is a terrorist.”
.. said the book reads like “somebody having a manic episode” and left him uncertain what was real and what was made up.
.. As far as Lindsley is concerned, that’s precisely the point. He doesn’t disguise the fact that the bookwriting process, and the book itself, was part of a long recovery that is still running its course.
.. Ailes calls him to ask, rhetorically, “You in church praying for answers?”
“Well, maybe God’s not home,” Ailes tells Renard. “He’s not home today. I heard from Him. He’s busy. He doesn’t have time for you.” He goes on to tell the impressionable young journalist that truth doesn’t exist—only narratives. “That’s why we have five Supreme Court justices,” he declares. “Everything must be made into a narrative … Facts don’t matter.” Then he invites him to dinner at the Olive Garden.
.. This aura of jolliness surrounding a bitter, angry, and perhaps fearfully sad core made him absolutely mysterious and hence ferociously powerful.”
.. living in Roger’s world, he felt himself taking on Ailes’ attributes—not just physically but emotionally. “I would wake up in the middle of the night with these realizations of who I had been and how I was changing. On a basic level, you could say I was driven by a brilliant rage … but I had a spiritual inner level of knowing I wanted to be a different person, I didn’t want to live being governed by rage and hate,” he says.
.. Lindsley told me that, though he remains a conservative, he doesn’t think highly of Fox News—and it’s not clear how much his anger and regrets color his retelling of events. “It’s a disservice to good reporters and a disservice to the republic when they claim to be a fantastic news source,” he says of the network.
.. Lindsley says he had come to feel increasingly suffocated by Ailes’ paranoia. (“Paranoia was his great comfort,” he says.) Ailes was convinced, for example, that President Obama was working an operative inside Fox News, and he hounded staff members in an effort to out the mole, according to one Fox News executive. “He couldn’t rest easy at all in life. Peace was a phantom. He was always raging,”
.. The book’s manic tone, Lindsley says, is by design. “When people read the story, I want them to feel as paranoid, as crazy, as disturbed as I felt,” he told me. “I want the reader to feel that sort of frenzy and to understand deeply what this world is like, this world that has affected all of us.”
.. In addition to his personal discomfort with Ailes, Lindsley was also disappointed in the news product. He concluded they were impossible to disentangle—that Ailes’ brutishness and anger weren’t affecting only him, but also the news he was putting out in Cold Spring and at Fox and that, by extension, they were corroding the country. “Many Americans invite Bill O’Reilly into their living rooms more often than their neighbors,” he says.
.. the network, with its catchy graphics and busty blondes, seduces viewers and creeps up on them in the same way that Ailes did on him—and to the same effect, producing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of paranoid, angry, and agitated voters.
.. Fox News Channel, he says, is more a brand than a news outlet, and Ailes succeeded in “convincing a large part of the American people” that Ailes was “on their side.”