The outsize success of Fox News gives Ailes a free hand to shape the network in his own image. "Murdoch has almost no involvement with it at all," says Michael Wolff, who spent nine months embedded at News Corp researching a biography of the Australian media giant. "People are afraid of Roger. Murdoch is, himself, afraid of Roger. He has amassed enormous power within the company – and within the country – from the success of Fox News."
Fear, in fact, is precisely what Ailes is selling: his network has relentlessly hyped phantom menaces such as the planned "terror mosque" near Ground Zero, inspiring Florida pastor Terry Jones to torch the Qur'an. Privately, Murdoch is as impressed by Ailes's business savvy as he is dismissive of his extremist politics. "You know Roger is crazy," Murdoch recently told a colleague, shaking his head in disbelief. "He really believes that stuff."
To watch even a day of Fox News – the anger, the bombast, the virulent paranoid streak, the unending appeals to white resentment, the reporting that is held to the same standard of evidence as a political campaign attack ad – is to see a refraction of its founder, one of the most skilled and fearsome operatives in the history of the Republican party. As a political consultant, Ailes repackaged Richard Nixon for television in 1968, papered over Ronald Reagan's budding Alzheimer's in 1984, shamelessly stoked racial fears to elect George Bush in 1988, and waged a secret campaign on behalf of Big Tobacco to derail healthcare reform in 1993. "He was the premier guy in the business," says former Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins. "He was our Michelangelo."