The FOX news founder who died Thursday taught America how to get angry about politics on TV—and helped make Donald Trump president.
Fox News founder Roger Ailes died Thursday at the age of 77, shuffling off this mortal coil under a cloud of shame after a career spent in a haze of glory—glory, that is, if you are a conservative Republican. If you are a liberal, you may well have pushed through normal human decency and celebrated his passing outright. After all, there was no one more fiendishly effective at harvesting the violently reactionary hatred that used to mostly course beneath the surface of American public life—but which, thanks to Ailes’s ascension and the apotheosis of his friend Donald Trump, has become the rotten keystone of our political age.
Ailes’s rise happened because he was a masterful storyteller, one of the greatest the medium of television has ever produced. As the late journalist Joe McGinness wrote in his classic The Selling of the President 1968, Ailes first came to prominence as a producer on the Mike Douglas Show, which was marketed at housewives. A secret to the show’s success was its willingness to stage controversy. In 1963, for example, it featured perhaps the most controversial person in America, professional atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hare, just three days after the Supreme Court handed down an enormously unpopular ruling outlawing school prayer. Ailes, hired in 1965 at the age of 25, watched and learned—though his real education came as a child, when he was an obsessive watcher of TV. He grasped the rhythms of the living-room medium and its seductive power to addle rational thought like nobody else.
It has been another extraordinary 24 hours in the nation’s capital. In the biggest news of the day, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBIDirector Robert Mueller to serve as a special counsel to oversee a probe into Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. The move came one day after reports emerged that President Trump had personally asked former FBI Director James Comey to end the agency’s investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired for lying both publicly and privately about his contacts with Russian officials. In another new development, The New York Times reports Trump picked Michael Flynn as his national security adviser even though Flynn had warned Trump’s transition team that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign. We speak to Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties. She runs the website EmptyWheel.net.
DOES DONALD TRUMP have even an ounce of shame?
As a presidential candidate, he spent much of the election campaign needling, critiquing, denouncing, and even threatening the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Yet as president, he is making his first foreign visit this weekend to … the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Even by Trumpian standards, the volte-face is brazen. In his first few months in power, we have witnessed the trademark Trump Turnabout on issues ranging from NATO to China to the Export-Import Bank. We have listened to him go from praising Bashar al-Assad and rebuking Janet Yellen on the campaign trail, to praising Yellen and rebuking Assad in office. Last October, he said that then-FBI Director James Comey had “guts” for doing “the right thing”; last week, he sacked Comey and called him a “showboat” and a “grandstander.”
Trump, to put it mildly, is no stranger to the shameless U-turn. Still, the Trump Turnabout on Saudi Arabia — one of America’s closest allies since President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud aboard the USS Murphy in 1945 — is a true sight to behold. This weekend, Trump will arrive in Saudi Arabia for a bilateral summit with King Salman as well as a series of meetings with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
There will be handshakes, hugs, and smiles galore. We will be expected to forget how Trump blasted the Saudi royals for being freeloaders and threatened them with an economic boycott. Speaking to the New York Times last year, Trump claimed that, without U.S. support and protection, “Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist for very long.” The real problem, he continued, was that the Saudis are “a money machine … and yet they don’t reimburse us the way we should be reimbursed.” Asked if he would be willing to “stop buying oil from the Saudis” if they refused to pull their weight, Trump responded: “Oh yeah, sure. I would do that.”
The US military has carried out an air strike against a convoy of Syrian pro-government fighters who posed a threat to US-backed forces in the country’s south near the Jordan border, US officials say.
The US official said on Thursday that the strikes near the town of At Tanf destroyed at least one tank and a bulldozer, while another official said they followed warning shots by US aircraft meant to dissuade the fighters from advancing further.
The US officials stressed the defensive strike did not signal deepening US involvement in Syria’s civil war.
However, the Al Tanf attack raises questions about the ongoing feasibility for the US-led coalition to maintain its singular focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Syria’s civil war began in 2011 after mass protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad and has killed hundreds of thousands of people, driven half the country’s population from their homes and dragged in world powers.
Donald Trump on Thursday said he was the target of the “greatest witch hunt” in US political history after a decision by the Department of Justice to appoint special counsel to investigate ties between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
The morning after FBI director Robert Mueller accepted the appointment to lead the department’s investigation into Russian intervention in the US election, Trump lashed out in a pair of tweets.
“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and Obama administration, there was never a special councel [sic] appointed!” he wrote in the first tweet. He later corrected the spelling of counsel. “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
Later in the day, Trump said the appointment of a special counsel was a “very negative thing” that “hurts our country terribly because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not unified country”.