Roger Ailes has spent much of his life in New York City—but he’s never considered himself a New Yorker. For most of his career, home was a place in the mind—a fantasized version of Warren, Ohio, the town where he spent his boyhood in the forties and fifties.
But a few years ago, Ailes decided to create a home of his own, a real one. “All I ever wanted was a nice place to live, a great family, and to die peacefully in my sleep,” he has said. The town he chose was the hamlet Garrison, 46 miles north of Manhattan in Putnam County, New York. Garrison, a few other hamlets, and the neighboring villages Nelsonville and Cold Spring form the larger town of Philipstown. It seemed, on the surface, to be an ideal place to instill his son, Zachary, with the Eisenhower values that Ailes had known as a boy. Putnam County even had a Republican bent: While voters tended to vote Democratic at the state level, the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the county had been Lyndon B. Johnson.
And whereas Warren, Ohio, had long since rusted, its steel plants closed, its downtown half-shuttered, Philipstown still seemed to be in its heyday. Cold Spring was a vibrant civic space, dotted with well-maintained Victorian homes, quaint store-fronts, and stately churches.
On a hilltop parcel, Roger and his wife Elizabeth built an impressive, 9,000-square-foot mansion constructed of Adirondack river stone. To the west was the spot where Continental Army troops strung a 185-ton iron chain across the Hudson to block British ships advancing upriver. Across the river stood West Point military academy. The grand interior of his house also bore witness to American greatness. Photographs of generals George Patton, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Dwight Eisenhower lined the walls.
In the summer of 2008, to cement their ties to their new home, the Aileses bought the local newspaper, the Putnam County News & Recorder. Founded in the mid-nineteenth century as the Cold Spring Recorder, the weekly newspaper was like the community itself: an artifact of a bygone age. The previous owner and publisher, Brian O’Donnell, kept production methods antique. In a one-room office, housed in a former barbershop on Main Street, staffers laid out the paper with scissors and glue. “It covered the 4-H Club and the kids’ activities at the school,” said Elizabeth Anderson, the founder and managing director of the investment firm Beekman Wealth Advisory and a part-time resident of Philipstown.
Ailes described Philipstown as a bastion of traditional America, and in a certain sense, he was right. Many of the town’s contractors and restaurant owners were the descendants of nineteenth-century Irish and Italian immigrants who had moved there to work in the local foundries. Other residents had ancestors living in the area since before the nation’s birth. But that was only part of the town. In the second half of the twentieth century, a different kind of settler had arrived: the college-educated urbanite who idealized country life.
After 9/11, residents saw a new wave of city dwellers move in. Along with their politics, they brought their own back-to-the-land ethic, with all the predictable signifiers. The number of Priuses and Subarus parked in the lot at Foodtown increased, as did the variety of heirloom produce at the weekend farmers’ market.
It all added up to a rich brew of clashing sensibilities, a culture war in miniature, of the kind that had driven Fox’s ratings for years. With the pages of the PCN&R now at their disposal, the Aileses were about to turn the temperature up.
One morning in July 2008, Brian O’Donnell called the employees of the PCN&R to the newsroom to meet Roger Ailes and his wife. The staff was on edge. Although Beth was taking the title of publisher, Roger did most of the talking that day. They could keep their jobs, he said, but there would be “new” rules. “The first one was, ‘Don’t bad-mouth your employer,’ ” reporter Michael Turton, an affable Canadian, recalled. “Roger’s second proviso was to ‘get both sides of the story.’ ”
“He was talking about the name the News & Recorder,” Turton remembered, “and he said the Recording part was fine, but he didn’t think the News part was up to snuff.”
In public, Roger and his wife, Beth, maintained that the PCN&R would not become Fox News. But Roger communicated other intentions privately. “He said the community needed more of a speaking to,” said local journalist Kevin Foley, who was once a campaign volunteer for Democratic governor Mario Cuomo and a deputy superintendent of the New York State Insurance Department. Shortly after buying the paper, Roger invited the 57-year-old Foley up to the mountain several times to interview for the top editing job. He spent much of the time monologuing about the ills afflicting his adopted home. He said he would never send Zachary to the public school because it was overrun with liberalism. At his window, he pointed at an outdoor sculpture exhibit at Boscobel House and Gardens, a half-mile in the distance. “Do you think they have the right to block my view?” Roger asked. “Isn’t it their property?” Foley asked. “It’s not their property! It’s a nonprofit! They get tax breaks!” Roger replied. He spoke of his security more than once. “He worried about his kid and his wife and said he wouldn’t want anything to happen to them because of what he was,” Foley recalled. Roger told him his German shepherd, Champ, helped protect them. “He said, ‘I let the dog out of the car when we come here. The dog gets out first. He’s trained to patrol the whole grounds and report back before we get out.’ ”
Foley quickly lost interest in the job, and Ailes lost interest in him. Later that summer, Ailes hired Maureen Hunt, a Fox News human-resources employee and Philipstown resident, to edit the paper, but she didn’t last long.
As summer turned to fall, political issues began to arise. Alison Rooney, the copy editor, at first found reasons to be optimistic about the ownership change. She liked using the new computers to put out the paper and looked forward to the newsroom moving into a renovated two-story building on Main Street. But that honeymoon ended when Rooney laid out a press release from the Garrison Art Center that described a work invoking the “mythological story” of the Virgin Birth. After the release was published, the priest of Our Lady of Loretto wrote a letter to the editor, and Beth Ailes lit into Rooney. A few weeks later, Rooney got another dressing-down as she formatted a promotion of the high school’s upcoming production of Urinetown, this time from an editor who found the language offensive and removed the title of the show from the headline.
Another drama erupted after a reporter named Michael Turton was assigned to cover Haldane Middle School’s mock presidential election. After the event, Turton filed a report headlined “Mock Election Generated Excitement at Haldane; Obama Defeats McCain by 2–1 Margin.” He went on, “The 2008 U.S. presidential election is now history. And when the votes were tallied, Barack Obama had defeated John McCain by more than a two to one margin. The final vote count was 128 to 53.” Reading the published version a few days later, Turton was shocked. The headline had been changed: “Mock Presidential Election Held at Haldane; Middle School Students Vote to Learn Civic Responsibility.” So had the opening paragraph: “Haldane students in grades 6 through 8 were entitled to vote for president and they did so with great enthusiasm.” Obama’s margin of victory was struck from the article. His win was buried in the last paragraph.
Turton was upset, and wrote a questioning e-mail to Hunt, but never heard back. Instead, he received a series of accusatory e-mails from the Aileses. Turton had disregarded “specific instructions” for the piece, Beth wrote. “Do you anticipate this becoming an ongoing problem for you?” A short while later, Roger weighed in. Maureen Hunt’s instructions to focus on the school’s process for teaching about elections had been “very clear,” he wrote, and Turton’s “desire to change the story into a big Obama win” should have taken a backseat. Ailes described himself as “disappointed” by Turton’s failure “to follow the agreed upon direction.”
Soon afterward, Turton learned that Maureen Hunt had resigned, and Ailes continued his quest to bring “fair and balanced” to Philipstown.
In February 2009, Ailes met Joe Lindsley, a 25-year-old journalist, for lunch in his private third-floor dining room at Fox News. A fast-rising star in the conservative movement, Lindsley had attended Notre Dame, where he launched The Irish Rover to combat the liberal bias of the Notre Dame News. A fervent Catholic with a booming voice and a certain youthful likeness to Ailes, Lindsley inspired his classmates with his earnest sense of mission, once leading a pilgrimage to northern Michigan to visit the home of conservative historian Russell Kirk. After graduating, he worked for The Weekly Standard, assisting executive editor (and Fox News contributor) Fred Barnes, before moving over to the magazine’s culture section.
After they spoke, Ailes offered Lindsley the position of editor-in-chief, asking him to start right away. Ailes was in the process of buying a second paper, The Putnam County Courier, out of bankruptcy and needed a committed journalist to run the newsrooms of his budding publishing enterprise. Lindsley jumped at the opportunity to work directly for an icon of the cause. Without time to line up an apartment, Lindsley moved into the pool house on the north end of Roger and Beth’s property.
When Lindsley moved to Philipstown in the winter of 2009, Ailes’s mountain was a topic of intense conversation on Cold Spring’s Main Street, comedy and rumor mixing with paranoia. “[Ailes] was said to have ordered the removal of all trees around his house so that he … had a 360-degree view of any leftist assault teams preparing to rush the house,” Leonora Burton, the owner of the Country Goose shop on Main Street, recalled. Roger and Beth also bought up as many surrounding houses as they could. Security cameras were installed throughout the property. “A team of landscapers was, in the absence of the Ailes family, working on the grounds of the compound,” Burton later recounted. “They were planting a tree when the boss’s cell phone rang. It was the absent Beth. ‘No, no,’ she said. ‘That’s not where I want the tree. I insist that you move it.’ She directed them to the correct site. The landscapers were puzzled until they realized that the many security cameras on the grounds had captured them at work. Beth had been watching them from wherever she was and called to correct the tree planting.” Other local contractors helped install a bunker that could weather a terrorist attack underneath their mansion. “He can live in there for more than six months,” a friend who has visited it said. “There are bedrooms, a couple of TVs, water, and freeze-dried food.” “I’m not allowed to talk about it,” Ailes’s older brother Robert said. “I think the proper term is a ‘panic room.’ ”
In truth, Ailes’s liberal neighbors were not that bothered that Ailes’s home was his castle. But the local paper was a different matter. The signs of its rightward march were impossible to miss. As Lindsley began to redesign the papers, his bosses suggested that he place the Cold Spring Recorder’s original motto—“By the grace of God, free and independent”—on the masthead. Articles were sharper-edged. Overt religiosity crept into the pages, evidence, they suspected, of the growing influence of Father McSweeney, the priest of Our Lady of Loretto. Patriotic paeans, and excerpts from the Federalist Papers, began to populate the weekly.
In May 2009, readers opened the paper to find something they had never seen before: an editorial. The unsigned attack on Obama’s stimulus titled “Debt, Decisions, and Destiny” called the plan “reckless” and said “rich people should be shown some respect.” Lindsley, who wrote the editorial, quoted from Atlas Shrugged: “We either see ourselves as a nation of people who want to achieve, produce, succeed, and contribute to society or else we see ourselves as a people who want to rely on the producers to create ‘free money’ and support us with grants and federal spending.”
This was too much for some. Leonora Burton stopped selling the paper in the Country Goose. “After Beth learned of my decision, she boycotted the store,” she recalled.
Lindsley relished the partisan combat. With the intensity of a bulldozer, he devoted upwards of 80 hours a week to the Ailes’s papers. He moved into an apartment on the Hudson River close to the newsroom. A state-ranked track star in high school, Lindsley gave up running. He put on weight, 40 pounds at the peak, adding to his resemblance to Ailes. On Thursdays and Fridays, he often accompanied Ailes to Fox News, where he wrote speeches for him and attended to other personal matters. On Sunday mornings, Lindsley sat with Roger and Beth at Mass. He was up on the mountain at all hours, watching the Fighting Irish games with Ailes or joining the family for dinner with the likes of John Bolton and Glenn Beck. He joined Ailes in the News Corp. box at Yankee Stadium and he traveled with the family on News Corp.’s private plane to visit prominent Republicans across the country. “You know you can’t tell anyone about this, right?” Beth said to him before their first trip on the jet. (Lindsley declined to comment.)
With his trusted editor in place, Ailes used the paper to muscle local politicians. James Borkowski, a lawyer and town justice in Putnam County from 1998 to 2009, learned the danger of crossing the PCN&R when he decided to run for Putnam County sheriff in the 2009 election, challenging Ailes’s close ally, the incumbent Don Smith. A few months before the Republican primary election, Lindsley invited Borkowski to meet with him and Beth for breakfast at a restaurant across the street from the PCN&R offices. At one point in the conversation, Beth turned to Borkowski.
“So,” Beth said, leaning in close, “you are pro-life, aren’t you?”
Borkowski hesitated. “Personally I am pro-life. But I’m of the position that reasonable people with genuine belief can disagree.”
Wrong answer. “It cast a pall over the whole meeting,” Borkowski said later. “I remembered thinking, What does that have to do with running for sheriff?”
A few weeks later, Borkowski got another call from Lindsley. Roger wanted to see him this time. They met in the PCN&R’s conference room. “Why are you running against him?” Ailes asked, referring to his friend Smith. “This guy is a West Point grad, a religious guy, a family guy.”
“He might be a nice guy, but he’s not doing a good job,” Borkowski countered. Ailes was unswayed. He began peppering Borkowski with questions about local politicos.
Richard Shea was also one of the politicians Roger asked about. A moderate Democrat who served on the town board, Shea was running in the 2009 election for Philipstown supervisor, the title given to the town’s senior elected official. A fifth-generation Cold Springer, he owned a successful local contracting business and fashioned himself as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. There was one issue, however, on which he was progressive: the environment. Shea was campaigning on reforming the town’s decades-old zoning codes to preserve open space.
This brought him into conflict with Ailes. The notion of zoning was abhorrent to Ailes. The more he studied the issue, the more he disliked what he found. “Jesus, wait a minute,” he told a reporter, describing his thought process. “They’re starting to try and tell you how much glass you can have in your window, what color you can paint your house, and they’re saying, well, ‘You can’t cut down any trees.’ ” He added, “God made trees so you can build houses and have baseball bats.” He felt that he had a right to chop down any tree, and that the legal implications were obvious: “They’re going around to old ladies and telling them if they have a mud puddle they’re in a wetland and stealing their farm and stuff.”
It was a risk for Shea to take Ailes on over zoning. For decades, ever since local activists defeated ConEd’s plan to build a massive power station atop nearby Storm King Mountain, zoning had been the third rail of Philipstown politics, the one issue that brought all the various cultural and economic resentments into stark relief. The first time Shea met Ailes was at a town forum, sponsored by the PCN&R and moderated by Joe Lindsley, in October 2009. Afterward, Ailes went up to Shea and told him that he was dodging Lindsley’s questions about zoning. “What are you trying to hide from me?” Ailes said. “I own the newspaper.” (Ailes claimed that he simply asked for Shea’s phone number and complained about the local environmentalist “zealots.”)
The next month, Shea won the election. Immediately, he set about making good on his campaign promise to push through a rezoning plan. A few weeks later, Shea discovered just what life with Roger Ailes as a constituent would mean. On Sunday morning, January 10, he received a string of frantic phone calls from friends in town. Ailes had been calling around ranting about a front-page New York Times profile of him that appeared in that morning’s paper. “My takeaway was that this guy is pretty much threatening me,” Shea was quoted saying about the town forum.
Later that day, his phone rang. “You have no fucking idea what you’ve done!” Shea immediately recognized the voice. “You have no idea what you’re up against. If you want a war, you’ll have a battle, but it won’t be a long battle.”
“It was an accurate portrayal of the exchange,” Shea said calmly. “If you’re offended, I’m sorry about that, but it was accurate.”
“Listen,” Ailes seethed, “don’t be naive about these things. I will destroy your life.” (Shea declined to comment on his meetings with Ailes.)
Throughout the winter, the PCN&R filled with stories and editorials questioning Shea’s zoning plan as avidly as Fox attacked Obama’s policies. According to the PCN&R, an out-of-control band of tree-huggers and Manhattan elites was over-running the town, dictating to the little guy how he could use his land.
The emotions stirred up in part by the PCN&R’s crusade drew extreme elements into the debate. Anti-zoning factions had begun making posters displaying photos of guns and the slogan “They’re Taking Away Your Property Rights.” To lower the temperature, Shea decided to call a townwide meeting at Haldane High School. It would be a chance for all the citizens to get in a room together and clear the air.
Shortly before 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7, 2010, Ailes walked across the parking lot of the high school with a white-haired lawyer from Poughkeepsie named Scott Volkman. Hundreds of townspeople were streaming into the school’s gymnasium. Inside the gym, the mood had the electric energy of a political rally. Ailes and Volkman, seemingly the only two men in suits, sat in the middle of the main floor as Shea brought the meeting to order. “Let us observe civility above all,” he said, instructing citizens to keep their remarks to two minutes.
It was a futile request. Jeannette Yannitelli, a Fox News fan whose son ran a liquor store near Main Street, took to the mike. “Fifty-two percent of this town is now tax exempt!” she said.
“Stop right there, that’s not true,” Shea said.
But Yannitelli pressed on. “If you were stealing from me, I’d call 911!”
An hour into the meeting, Ailes’s lawyer got up from his seat and took the microphone. After he tangled with Shea for a few minutes, demanding a one-on-one meeting, Shea jokingly asked if Volkman wanted him to burn the zoning proposal on the spot. At that, Ailes stood up and intervened. Without giving his name—he was a man who acted as if he needed no introduction—Ailes began to lecture the supervisor.
“Civility above everything, please, Mr. Shea,” Ailes said, pointing the fingers of his right hand at him. “Civility above everything, Mr. Shea. Sarcasm is not useful here, Mr. Shea.”
Ailes buttoned his suit jacket, lowered the microphone, and plunged his left hand into his pants pocket. He had the floor now.
“Apparently this process has been going on since before the Civil War,” he said. “This is, as you explained to me, the first night that private property owners were going to have a workshop.”
“Can I ask you why Mr. Volkman is here?” asked Democratic town board member Nancy Montgomery, who was sitting next to Shea. “He’s not a private property owner in this town.”
“In America you are allowed to have an attorney represent you who understands the law!” Ailes replied. Cheers, whoops, and whistles rang out from the balcony and the sides of the parquet. “But this is Philipstown,” Montgomery said. “This is a civil meeting where our community has come together to discuss—”
“Oh, this is not part of America?” Ailes asked, waving his right hand through the air dismissively. “No. No. The private citizens of this thing have been overlooked. This isn’t even about me.”
Ailes turned to face the board. “Is it true that this document puts institutional interests above businesses and private citizens?”
Shea explained that the plan was designed to help nonprofits keep their open space out of the hands of real-estate developers.
Ailes did not appear to be listening. “Why would everybody not be equal under the law: Businesses? Private—there’s probably no greater position to hold than to be a citizen of the United States. Why would their interests be subverted?”
Shea told him that no one was getting special treatment.
“So, they won’t be above the law and private interests?”
“No, they’re not going to be.”
“Fine. End of story,” Ailes said. He wanted to know if the law would regulate the size of his windows or the color of his house.
“No,” Shea said.
Ailes used the opening. After thanking the board and the citizens for their turnout, he had a lecture about American history to deliver. “George Washington said, ‘A violation of my land is a violation of my being,’ ” he intoned. “That is in our core for 230 years.” Ailes loved to quote Washington, but this saying does not appear in any archive of Washington’s writings or speeches.
Ailes sat down and unbuttoned his suit jacket, then noticed that a woman had been shooting a video of him with her iPhone. “Take it off,” Roger growled. He leaned forward and grabbed a chair, shaking it menacingly.
“What are you doing to the chair, sir?” she asked. Roger sat back and folded his hands in his lap.
The meeting continued for more than an hour as residents debated the pros and the cons of the zoning law. Ailes stayed until the bitter end. After the meeting concluded, he approached Nancy Montgomery, who was cleaning up her papers at the white table.
“You’re the only one I haven’t met yet,” he said, by way of introduction.
“You know, I’m just here for the little guy.”
“Do you even know what I do for a living?” Montgomery asked. Ailes had already turned around and was walking away.
“I’m a bartender, Mr. Ailes,” she said, calling after him.
Ailes stopped and looked back at her. “You’re just a liberal Democrat,” he said.
Later, Ailes had his own version of his exchange with Montgomery. “I made the mistake of saying, ‘I think Philipstown’s in America,’ and now she’s mad at me and goes against everything I’m for and hates me and wants to kill me,” he said.
In the fall of 2010, Ailes succeeded in getting a private sit-down with Shea and Joel Russell, a land-use attorney who had been consulting Philipstown on the zoning issue for years. On the day of the meeting, Ailes arrived at town hall with his bodyguard and Scott Volkman in tow. Ailes slapped a set of color charts down on Shea’s desk.
“What do you think of that?”
Shea looked down at the printouts. They showed ratings figures for Fox News and its rivals.
“Fox is outperforming any other cable news network!” Ailes said. “Well, there are a lot of stupid people out there,” Shea deadpanned. Ailes guffawed. “Ha! A friend of mine said that, too.”
The pleasantries were brief. Ailes let out a blast about zoning bureaucrats depriving him of his property rights. “That rhetoric was over the top and basically was straight out of Fox News,” Russell said later. “He kept talking about how he had a young son and his son wouldn’t be able to live in the America he knew.”
Shea told Ailes that he was misinformed about the zoning restrictions, which triggered another eruption. “I’ll see you out of office!” Ailes snapped. “I’ve never lost a campaign I’ve been involved with!”
For two hours, Shea and Russell attempted to calm Ailes down. It turned out that Ailes’s concerns were not totally unfounded: a zoning map had incorrectly marked his mountaintop property with a scenic designation, which could have limited some development. Shea and Russell immediately assured Ailes they would make the change.
As the conversation wound down, Ailes told the men that he would spend millions if necessary to keep dangerous elements out of the town. To that end, he was thinking about buying Mystery Point, a 129-acre plot of land with a nineteenth-century brick mansion that overlooks the Hudson, to turn into a corporate retreat for Fox. “That’s up for sale,” Ailes said. “I could buy it in a heartbeat. You know why I’m interested?”
The men stared back at him. “I hear a group of Chinese investors are looking. I’m not going to have some Chinese investors set up a missile silo right across from West Point.”
Putnam County resident Gordon Stewart did not attend the town hall at Haldane, but he heard postmortems the next morning. It provided one more data point that the “Ailes problem,” as a friend called it, would not be going away. Unlike many in Philipstown’s progressive set, Stewart did not immediately begin to fret about Ailes’s increasing power in the community. Although Stewart and Ailes had crossed paths only a handful of times, they had shared history. Born on the South Side of Chicago in 1939, Stewart was originally, like Ailes, a midwesterner of modest means. He moved to Ohio for college, studying history and music at Oberlin, and in a remarkable coincidence roomed there with Roger’s brother. (“He was an easy guy to get along with,” Robert Ailes recalled.) Stewart’s peripatetic career, like that of Ailes, intermingled the worlds of politics, entertainment, and business: Stewart had worked as a theater director, as a presidential speechwriter, and as a vice-president of the American Stock Exchange. Though a Democrat— he had served as Jimmy Carter’s deputy chief speechwriter and helped craft what came to be known as the “malaise” speech—he respected his conservative neighbor’s formidable talent.
In 2005, after living many years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Stewart and his wife bought a place in Garrison. They looked forward to watching their young adopted daughter run in the backyard and swim in their pool. Stewart often dropped by Pete’s Hometown Grocery on Main Street to pick up a copy of the PCN&R. Reading the articles each week, he did not at first see glaring signs of right-wing agitprop. He especially liked the paper’s tough coverage of a contract dispute at the local school board. Shortly after Stewart gave a quote to the PCN&R criticizing the Garrison school, he bumped into Ailes in Manhattan at lunchtime at Michael’s, a restaurant frequented by media executives. “We gotta get together on this, that school sucks!” Ailes said to him.
“What’s your problem with it?” Stewart said.
“There’s no Christ child on the lawn at Christmastime!” Ailes said. “They have all this fucking Kwanzaa stuff, they have this Hanukkah shit, and you can’t even get Jesus! They think it’s illegal. You can’t show any flags. So I’m not sending our kid there.” As Stewart turned to leave, Ailes told him to stay in touch. “Call me,” he said.
In the fall of 2009, Stephen Ives, a documentary filmmaker, invited Stewart over to his house in Garrison. A group of neighbors were gathering there to brainstorm ways to confront Ailes. They called themselves the Full Moon Project, but Stewart liked to call them “the Cold Spring Village Commune.” The folksinger Dar Williams was the gravitational center of this constellation of politically active residents. As the conversations unfolded over several weeks, an idea took shape. The Full Moon Project would launch an online publication to rival the PCN&R. There was even a plan to start a Media Matters–like watchdog group to police right-wing bias in the PCN&R. They called it the Rapid Response Team.
When Ailes got wind of the meetings, he called Stewart and asked him whether he was a member of the “Full Moon conspiracy.” Stewart laughed.
But by the time of the zoning town hall at Haldane in April 2010, Stewart’s benign view of the PCN&R was changing. Under Joe Lindsley’s editorship, Stewart saw undeniable evidence that the paper was taking on a partisan tack. He also heard a string of troubling stories of Ailes threatening locals who stood in his way. “You want to see a Fox News truck parked outside your place? I can have one up here tomorrow,” he said to one.
It struck Stewart how disconnected Ailes’s simplified vision of the town was from the diverse reality Stewart had come to know. “Until Roger showed up, no one much cared what your party affiliation was,” Stewart said. “With 9,000 people, it doesn’t work too well. It’s hard to demonize people for party affiliation when they all know each other. Scaling Rogerism and Foxism down is a disaster.” A canny businessman, Stewart sensed opportunity. The Full Moon meetings had produced a lot of talk, but Stewart was ready for action. He set out in secret to launch a local news website to take on Ailes directly—Putnam’s county’s version of MSNBC.
On Tuesday morning, July 6, 2010, Lindsley was at his desk at the PCN&R working on the coverage of the Independence Day parade, which Roger and Beth had revived in 2009 after a 30-year absence, when he let out a grunt. While searching the Internet, he came across the bylines of two PCN&R writers, Michael Turton and Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong, writing about Putnam County news on a site called Philipstown.info, which he had never heard of before, the proprietor of which was none other than Gordon Stewart. The two had defected, as had Alison Rooney, the copy editor. Lindsley pushed his chair back from his computer and called Ailes. “What does this mean? Are we going to have trouble getting the paper out?” Ailes asked in light of the walkout.
“Absolutely not,” Lindsley replied. The lineup was already settled with a Fourth of July recap and Federalist Paper No. 78.
The following day Ailes called Stewart and screamed at him for stealing his people. Stewart returned the bluster. “You’re a big United States Constitution guy,” he said. “The last time I checked, indentured servitude is illegal in the United States. I didn’t steal them. They left. They don’t want to work for you.”
“I can give them all health insurance and they will quit and come back!” Ailes replied.
“Good. At least then I will have reformed your miserable labor practices.”
Stewart’s newsroom, set up across the street from the PCN&R in a former aromatherapy shop, posed a significant problem for Ailes. Despite the small-town stakes, it was a rivalry freighted with larger symbolism: for the first time since launching Fox News, the media business was changing in ways Ailes did not fully understand. The Internet was a wave washing over every corner of the communications industry. Newspapers and magazines had been the first casualties. It was only a matter of time until cable television began to suffer, too. “There was no push to innovate technologically,” a former senior Fox executive said. CNN invested millions in the latest gadgetry such as touch screens and holograms. Fox didn’t. Ailes, the executive added, felt “his core audience of older, white viewers preferred the simplicity of a traditional television newscast.”
Ailes decided to sit down with Stewart in New York to gauge his intentions.
Over the course of a two-and-a-half-hour meal at Fox News, Ailes was surprisingly open about his lack of knowledge of new media. “I don’t know what to do with you,” he told Stewart. “I have the same problem with you that I have at Fox News. I don’t do a lot of web at Fox News.” Ailes indicated if he gave away content for free on the web, his viewers might not pay for cable bills. “I’d be eating my own lunch,” he said. The best Ailes could hope for was a war of attrition. “I’m going to run you out of money,” Ailes assured Stewart. “What he didn’t know is, I don’t have any money,” Stewart later said. “My deal with my wife was, if you want to spend the money you earn on the website, it’s better than a blonde and a red sports car.”
In the days after the reporters defected, a cloud of suspicion enveloped the PCN&R newsroom. “They thought everyone was a traitor,” reporter Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong said. Alison Rooney noticed strange activity on her PCN&R laptop that she had yet to return to the Aileses: her e-mail box had been opened remotely. Later, Roger and Beth accused her of all manner of conspiracies. “It was weird,” one person familiar with the events said. “There was this whole James Bond spy type of stuff, like we were dealing with national security here, but all her e-mails were like, ‘Dammit, I hate my job!’ ” (Rooney declined to comment on the episode).
As a final measure, just in case the reporters did not fully grasp what Roger and Beth thought of their decision to leave, the PCN&R printed a reminder the week after they jumped ship. Tucked between the articles, readers came across a small cartoon of a rat.
Lindsley was a surrogate son—Roger called him Ailes Junior and intimated that he had big plans in store for him. He suggested his protégé could write his memoirs or perhaps become the youngest editor of The Wall Street Journal. Roger introduced him to George H.W. Bush and Rush Limbaugh. Beth joked morbidly about his future. “When Roger dies, you’re going to have some special responsibilities around here,” she said. According to two senior Fox executives, Ailes spoke often about Lindsley at the office. “We thought he would be brought in to run the Fox News newsroom,” one executive said.
“Roger would talk about how great he was, and how he had the best news instinct,” one senior producer recalled. “He talked about these local politicians like it was national news. He said we should be doing more stories like this ourselves, more investigations.”
But Lindsley began to feel smothered by Roger and Beth’s attentions. Instead of letting Lindsley go home to visit his family in North Carolina, Roger invited his sisters for an extended stay at the mountain. When Lindsley said he wanted to go on vacation to visit relatives in Ireland, Roger and Beth said they would go with him. They flew together on News Corp.’s private jet. Some days Lindsley felt that Champ, Roger’s German shepherd, was his only friend.
Lindsley had begun to confide in two of his young staffers, former Fox News interns named T.J. Haley and and Carli-Rae Panny. When Haley threatened to leave, Lindsley warned him, “Don’t quit. You don’t know what they will do to you.” At his apartment one night, Lindsley turned on Martin Scorsese’s noir thriller Shutter Island. He felt an unsettling resonance watching Teddy Daniels, the anguished U.S. marshal played by Leonardo DiCaprio, loses his moorings inside a sinister mental facility. Lindsley wanted to spring for the exit, but didn’t know how to get out.
Joe Lindsley’s awakening came at a delicate moment for Roger and Beth. Ailes had learned that New Yorker journalist Peter Boyer was interviewing locals for an article about the contretemps surrounding the PCN&R. As was his custom, Ailes expressed wariness about his intentions. But as Boyer was a serious reporter who had published an acclaimed book about CBS News in the late eighties, Roger and Beth eventually agreed to speak with him. Although Boyer wrote for a magazine that Ailes labeled a liberal rag, he had reason to trust him. Boyer was a southern gentleman and a conservative.
When Boyer showed up at the PCN&R one morning in December to interview Beth and Lindsley together, the mood in the newsroom was tense. Despite the rift emerging between Lindsley and the Ailes family, Lindsley played the good soldier in front of the journalist. But Roger was wary. He began peppering Lindsley with phone calls about the impending article. “So how’s your friend Boyer doing? What’s your friend Boyer doing today? Hey man, what’s up with Boyer?”
“I’m not talking to the guy,” Lindsley would tell him. “When he calls, I tell you he calls.” The New Yorker article hit newsstands on January 24, 2011. Headlined “Fox Among the Chickens” and written along the lines of Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book, Boyer’s story portrayed Roger and his liberal antagonists, like the Yooks and the Zooks, as destined to destroy any hope for peaceful coexistence. But unlike the Seuss book, which ends without any resolution of the conflict, by the end of Boyer’s tidy fable, mutual understanding ensued. “Many places a thousand times larger are served by only a single newspaper; Philipstown now has two, each distinctly better than what was there before,” he wrote.
Ailes was pleased with the result. “He called me the day after the story ran,” Stewart recalled, “and said he liked it and thought Boyer was really good, and Beth loved her picture.” Stewart and other townsfolk had a much dimmer view. They felt Boyer got spun.
And in the fall of 2012, Ailes hired Boyer as a Fox editor-at-large. “I have followed Peter’s work throughout his storied career,” Roger Ailes said in a statement to the press. “He’s a talented and insightful journalist who will add weight and depth to our investigative reporting.”
As Boyer was completing his article over the Christmas holiday, Lindsley finally decided to resign. He told Roger and Beth about it in early January, a couple of weeks before the article was published. He said he would keep the information confidential and stay on for several months until they found a new editor-in-chief.
Roger and Beth did not take the news well. One day, Roger called Lindsley with instructions for Haley: “Tell him not to wear a hoodie. It’s creepy.” Lindsley realized that Roger must have watched Haley leave the office on the security cameras, which were installed after a vandalism incident. Surveillance became a fact of life for the three young reporters. During their lunch breaks to Panera Bread, a more discreet location in the next town, they wondered if they were being tailed by Ailes’s security detail. They wanted to leave, but had no place to go. Aware it was a gamble, Haley decided to call Boyer for help. He agreed to meet him, Panny, and Lindsley for a beer.
“They made it clear that they were unhappy—which, frankly, quite surprised me,” Boyer later said. Boyer told them that, unfortunately, he did not have any promising leads.
Roger’s demands on Lindsley grew more controlling. One night, Lindsley got a call on his cell phone. Roger told him that the security alarms in the compound had been tripped. Roger, who was out of town and couldn’t make it to the house, told Lindsley to race up to the mountain and stop the intruders.
“What if they’re armed?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Ailes said. “Go up there!”
Lindsley arrived at the Ailes compound before the police did. Ailes stayed on the cell phone with Lindsley as he walked through the dark and empty mansion. He told Lindsley to flip on different lights to scare off any burglars. It turned out to be a false alarm.
In early March, Ailes arrived at the PCN&R office to stage an intervention of sorts and quell another staff rebellion. He met with Haley and Panny one-on-one. “I have 2,000 employees at Fox, yet this small newspaper is the cause of all my headaches,” Ailes said. “I’m sick of the drama in this office.”
The last week of March, Beth showed up on the warpath. She told Haley to stop coming in to the office and work from home, filing cover stories as usual. He did not know if he was being fired or not. She criticized Lindsley and Panny as well. It was the final push that the three needed. While Beth stepped out, Haley looked to his friends and nodded. They gathered up their things and walked out of the newsroom. Lindsley wanted to get the hell out of Cold Spring. Haley agreed to drive him to Washington, D.C., that night to see friends. As they drove out of town, they saw a dark Lexus SUV heading in the opposite direction. Beth was behind the wheel. Haley floored it and did not stop for miles.
The young journalists had reason to fear Ailes. When Panny went back to the office a few days later to offer her resignation in person, Roger and Beth screamed at her for an hour. They accused her of spreading dirt about them and asked her to sign a nondisparagement agreement that they had already prepared. Panny refused to look at the document and left. After a few days in D.C., Lindsley returned to his apartment in Cold Spring and noticed strange cars parked out front. As he drove to lunch that day, he saw a black Lincoln Navigator in his rearview mirror. He stopped his Jeep at a red light. When he saw the Lincoln swerve off the road into a construction site, he floored the gas as soon as the light turned green and headed back toward his apartment. Back in Cold Spring, Lindsley spotted the SUV on a side street and decided to turn the tables. He drove straight toward it. The Lincoln sped off. After a few blocks, his pursuer pulled over. Lindsley drove up alongside the driver and recognized him as a News Corp. security officer. Later, Lindsley called the agent and asked if he was sent to follow him. He said Ailes told him to.
Peter Johnson Jr., Ailes’s personal lawyer, sent the reporters a flurry of threatening e-mails and certified letters. They contained a nondisparagement agreement and a list of potential charges Roger and Beth were considering filing. (Haley and Panny declined to comment).
In April 2011, a few weeks after the walkout, Gawker reported a detailed account of the spying episode. Brian Lewis refused to comment for the story. “I hate everything that goes on up there,” he told people. None of the former PCN&R staffers were quoted by name in the article. But Beth blamed Lindsley.
When Ailes walked into a meeting at Fox that week, he told his executives, “Lots of stuff is out there. None of it is true.” In future meetings, Ailes did not utter Joe Lindsley’s name.
Shortly after Lindsley left, he discovered that their bylines had been erased from the PCN&R archives. On the online version of dozens of articles they had written, the author field stated simply: “Staff Reports.” The surrogate son had been expunged. Roger Ailes had set out to make Garrison conform more closely to his American ideals—but he’d recreated the culture of media conflict he’d done so much to foster in his day job.
Excerpted from Random House’s forthcoming The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—and Divided a Country