Sunday, January 10, 2010


There's a profile of Fox News's Roger Ailes in today's New York Times, in which we get just the pugnacious bluster we expect from Ailes:

"I built this channel from my life experience," Mr. Ailes, 69, said. "My first qualification is I didn't go to Columbia Journalism School. There are no parties in this town that I want to go to."

And yet it turns out that Ailes is a bit of a pants-wetting wimp:

... it was clear in the interview that the 9/11 attacks had a profound effect on Mr. Ailes. They convinced him that he and his network could be terrorist targets.

On the day of the attacks, Mr. Ailes asked his chief engineer the minimum number of workers needed to keep the channel on the air. The answer: 42. "I am one of them," he said. "I've got a bad leg, I'm a little overweight, so I can't run fast, but I will fight.

"We had 3,000 dead people a couple miles from here. I knew that any communications company could be a target."

His movements now are shadowed by a phalanx of corporate-provided security. He travels to and from work in a miniature convoy of two sport utility vehicles. A camera on his desk displays the comings and goings outside his office, where he usually keeps the blinds drawn....

Let me point out that I walked through Rockefeller Center, just across the street from Fox's headquarters, a few hours after an anthrax envelope had been discovered at NBC News back in 2001. People were strolling through the plaza as if nothing was going on. I recall that there were skaters in the rink in front of 30 Rock. Mere weeks after 9/11, these ordinary people were a hell of a lot less fearful than Roger Ailes was -- than Roger Ailes is more than eight years later.

And yet I turn to the Week in Review section of the Times and read that Barack Obama needs to do some work to avoid being labeled a "wimp" -- even though he

just ramped up the war in Afghanistan, sending an additional 30,000 American troops. He has stepped up drone strikes by unmanned Predators in Pakistan and provided intelligence and firepower for two airstrikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen that killed more than 60 militants. He has resisted the temptation to sign a new nuclear arms agreement with Russia that might not provide American inspectors with the level of verification detail that they want. He is moving toward the wide use of full body scans in American airports. On Thursday, in an oblique nod to the Cheney criticism, he even used the phrase "we are at war," in describing the fight against Al Qaeda.

But, see, that doesn't make Obama seem less like a wimp. Paradoxically, Obama would seem less like a wimp if he seemed more like a wimp -- if he visibly displayed fear verging on panic, just like Roger Ailes (or like Ailes's fellow Nixonian, Dick Cheney, who similarly seems to live every day in mortal dread of a terrorist attack aimed personally at himself). Obama would seem less like a wimp if he wimpily used the word "terror" as often as humanly possible -- the incessant repetition of a word meaning "extreme fear" is, in our political culture, the bizarre mark of toughness.

In the Ailes profile, there's this quote from Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland:

"Like Richard Nixon, like Spiro Agnew, Fox News can never see itself as the attacker," he said. "They are always playing defense because they believe they are always under attack, which attracts people that have the same personality formation. By bringing that mind-set, plus the high energy seamless stream of the aggression of talk radio, [Ailes] has found an audience."

And, preposterously, proclaiming himself to be always under attack has made Ailes -- like Cheney, and like Nixon -- seem like an all-American tough guy. By contrast, Barack Obama doesn't like to whine about being under constant siege, personally or in the name of his nation -- so he's the wimp.

Maureen Dowd says of Obama today:

He's so sure of himself and his actions that he fails to see that he misses the moment to be president -- to be the strong father who protects the home from invaders, who reassures and instructs the public at traumatic moments.

But it's not "the strong father" we apparently want. It's the weak father. It's the father who always says that he's under attack, and so are we, and thus rallies us to feel sorry for him, and for ourselves.

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