Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes is a holistic portrait
It might sound overly reductive to say that the story of Roger Ailes, the original president of Fox News, is the story of American politics over the past few decades, but new documentary Divide and Conquer makes a strong case for it being true. Regardless, whether or not Ailes was a kingmaker, he certainly believed himself to be one. And that self-mythologizing–to the point of spinning the truth–means that director Alexis Bloom has her work cut out for her.
I don’t think anyone expects this documentary to be “fair and balanced” (sorry), but there are a surprising amount of Ailes’ own words in the documentary from interviews and recordings from before his death. The film never casts doubts on Ailes’ intellect or strategic acumen, but rightfully questions the means and ends to which they were employed–the spread of fear and the control of women.
Divide and Conquer traces Ailes career from the beginning all the way to Fox News waving good night to President Donald Trump live on the air. It weaves together how Ailes ascended in the world of politics and cable news with how he abused that power to take advantage of women in his employ. By featuring many of the women who worked for AIles and came forward, it demonstrates a pattern of behavior emboldened by his position. By placing these events in the context of Ailes career, rather than introducing them when the accusations became public, it allows the documentary to position these things not as “a man's career destroyed by women” but as Ailes’ own behavior finally catching up to him. It is an important distinction, and is really a more holistic approach.
The documentary also has a few moments where those who have known Ailes a long time, including former Fox News personality Glenn Beck, ruminate on Ailes’s psychology. These anecdotes reveal a paranoia and a distrust that is paralogical. The real power of the documentary is that the more the film reveals about Ailes, the clearer the picture of Fox News become. The network dabbles in alarmist, sensationalized news in a grab for ratings, and dabbles in conspiracy theories that Ailes himself put stock in. In his personal life, Ailes also frequently misrepresented reality to his advantage, changing details to make himself look better.
While Divide and Conquer doesn’t offer any shocking revelations, Bloom excels at creating connections between the man and his media empire.
Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes opens today at the Ritz Bourse.