Rev. Rob Schenck was a prominent figure in the anti-abortion movement of the 1980s and 1990’s. Now, he says that his rhetoric led to violence – and he is warning President Trump that words matter.
Originally aired on August 16, 2019
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.”
The Constitution gives the president nearly unlimited power to grant clemency to people convicted of federal offenses, so Mr. Trump can pardon Mr. Arpaio. But Mr. Arpaio was an elected official who defied a federal court’s order that he stop violating people’s constitutional rights. He was found in contempt of that court. By pardoning him, Mr. Trump would show his contempt for the American court system and its only means of enforcing the law, since he would be sending a message to other officials that they may flout court orders also... (Both also spent years promoting the lie that President Barack Obama was born outside the United States.).. Both men built their brands by exploiting racial resentments of white Americans. While Mr. Trump was beginning his revanchist run for the White House on the backs of Mexican “rapists,” Mr. Arpaio was terrorizing brown-skinned people across southern Arizona, sweeping them up in “saturation patrols” and holding them in what he referred to as a “concentration camp” for months at a time... It was this behavior that a federal judge in 2011 found to be unconstitutional and ordered Mr. Arpaio to stop. He refused, placing himself above the law and the Constitution that he had sworn to uphold... would also go against longstanding Justice Department policy, which calls for a waiting period of at least five years before the consideration of a pardon application and some expression of regret or remorse by the applicant. Mr. Arpaio shows no sign of remorse; to the contrary, he sees himself as the victim. “If they can go after me, they can go after anyone in this country,” he told Fox News on Wednesday. He’s right — in a nation based on the rule of law, anyone who ignores a court order, or otherwise breaks the law, may be prosecuted and convicted... What’s remarkable here is that Mr. Trump is weighing mercy for a public official who did not just violate the law, but who remains proud of doing so. The law-and-order president is cheering on an unrepentant lawbreaker. Perhaps that’s because Mr. Arpaio has always represented what Mr. Trump aspires to be: a thuggish autocrat who enforces the law as he pleases, without accountability or personal consequence.
this concocted dumb show of loyalty only served to suggest how unsustainable it all is.
.. The reason that this White House staff is so leaky, so prepared to express private anxiety and contempt, even while parading obeisance for the cameras, is that the President himself has so far been incapable of garnering its discretion or respect. Trump has made it plain that he is capable of turning his confused fury against anyone in his circle at any time.
.. blamed the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, for the legal imbroglio that Trump himself has created.
.. The President has fired a few aides, he has made known his disdain and disappointment at many others, and he will, undoubtedly, turn against more.
Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, Sean Spicer–––who has not yet felt the lash?
.. Trump’s egotism, his demand for one-way loyalty, and his incapacity to assume responsibility for his own untruths and mistakes were, his biographers make plain, his pattern in business and have proved to be his pattern as President.
.. Veteran Washington reporters tell me that they have never experienced this kind of anxiety, regret, and sense of imminent personal doom among White House staffers
.. by retailing information anonymously they will be able to live with themselves after serving a President who has proved so disconnected from the truth and reality.
.. Pat, who on vacations resided separately from the President.
.. making sure that Henry Kissinger was no longer seated at state dinners next to the most attractive woman at the occasion.
.. Nixon, who barely acknowledged, much less touched, his own wife in public, resented Kissinger’s public, and well-cultivated, image as a Washington sex symbol.
.. Incident after incident revealed Nixon’s distaste for his fellow human beings, his racism and anti-Semitism, his overpowering personal suspicions, and his sad longings. Nixon, the most anti-social of men
.. It was all for the sake of “history,” Nixon said.
.. Kennedy and Johnson had taped selectively, but Nixon wanted it all for the record––his own records––but no one was to know.
.. there is little evidence that the show of bogus loyalty performed last week has any basis in real life.
.. Will Bannon, Spicer, Conway, Sessions, Kushner, and many others who have been battered in one way or another by Trump, keep their counsel? Will all of them risk their futures to protect someone whose focus is on himself alone and the rest be damned? Will none of them conclude that they are working for a President whose honesty is on a par with his loyalty to others?
“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t say the right words or you say the wrong thing,” he said. “I have done that and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.” If you were Megyn Kelly or Carly Fiorina, or Judge Gonzalo Curiel, or a member of the Khan family, would you have been satisfied with these weasel words? No, you wouldn’t.
.. Trump didn’t attack the Khans during “the heat of debate.” He belittled Ghazala Khan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, in a telephone interview with Maureen Dowd, the Times columnist, on the day after the Democratic Convention ended. Then Trump extended his comments to the dead soldier’s father, Khizr Khan, who had criticized him at the Convention, and, despite protests by other Republicans, he kept up his attacks for days.
This wasn’t a verbal slip or an instant response.
.. Instead of fessing up properly, Trump continued to blame the media for highlighting what he says.
.. He claimed, “They will take words of mine out of context and spend a week obsessing over every single syllable, and then pretend to discover some hidden meaning in what I said.” It wasn’t clear which of his many utterances Trump was referring to here. Presumably, it was ambiguous statements like this one: “We have a very hostile judge. Now, he is Hispanic, I believe. He is a very hostile judge to me. I said it loud and clear.” Or perhaps it was this opaque statement: “isis is honoring President Obama. He is the founder of isis.”
.. Among the many things it ignores, however, are these: 1) Trump has just brought in a wealthy former Goldman Sachs investment banker, Steve Bannon, to run his campaign. 2) The person Bannon’s replacing, Manafort, is a prominent Washington lobbyist whose lucrative arrangements with a pro-Russian party in Ukraine had turned into an embarrassing distraction.
.. 3) Before making the personnel changes, Trump met with one of the richest and most reclusive hedge-fund managers in the country, Robert Mercer, who has a long record of supporting ultra-conservative causes, including Breitbart, the controversial news site that Bannon runs.
He says he has never even sought forgiveness from God, the divine author and inspiration of his favorite book, from which he struggled to name a favorite verse.
But Donald Trump actually expressed some “regret” last week,
.. Precisely what does Trump regret?
Does he regret attacking a Gold Star family?
Does he regret making fun of one of my colleagues with a disability?
Does he regret comparing Ben Carson’s temper to the incurable pathology of a child molester?
Does he regret suggesting that Ted Cruz’s father associated with John F. Kennedy’s assassin?
What, exactly, does he regret? There are so many things from which to choose.
I don’t believe, even for a nanosecond, that he regrets the personal impact of what he has said on anyone besides himself.
.. I believe that he only regrets that what he has said has not worked well for him in the general election portion of the campaign. That is the difference between regret as an act of public contrition and regret as an expression of personal disappointment in one’s own flagging fortunes.
.. This fragile narcissist, who is a sort of bottomless pit of emotional need and affirmation, is easily injured by even the slightest confrontation.
.. He is a man who has said of himself, “I have no friends, as far as I’m concerned,”
.. There is something rotten at the core of this man that no length of script or turn of phrase can ameliorate.
“You presented the correct data and blew the whistle,” another listener wrote. “You are not a loser. You are a challenger.”
Again, Ebeling wasn’t moved. So I asked him if there’s something more he wanted to hear.
“You aren’t NASA. You aren’t Thiokol,” he said. “I hadn’t heard any of those people.”
Kathy noted that neither Thiokol nor NASA had contacted her dad since deep depression prompted his retirement shortly after the Challenger disaster.
“He’s never gotten confirmation that he did do his job and he was a good worker and he told the truth,” Kathy said.
.. But some retired participants in that decision are still alive, including 78-year-old Allan McDonald, who was Ebeling’s boss at the time and a leader of the effort to postpone the launch. He called Ebeling right away.
.. “You and your colleagues did everything that was expected of you,” Hardy wrote. “The decision was a collective decision made by several NASA and Thiokol individuals. You should not torture yourself with any assumed blame.”
Hardy closed with a promise to pray for Ebeling’s physical and emotional health. “God bless you,” he wrote.
The note from Hardy and the phone call from McDonald seemed to be a turning point. It was two weeks now after the Challenger story, and Kathy had been reading letter after letter every day. Sitting in his big easy chair in his living room, Ebeling’s eyes and mood seemed brighter.
.. “I know that is the truth that my burden has been reduced,” he said. “I can’t say it’s totally gone, but I can certainly say it’s reduced.”