To them, my talk turned me from getting something done, a sell-out, a Democrat cheater and a traitor. Some of them had me in their sights from day one. They saw me as an “enemy” just like the man in the White House. Myself, a guy who came to the fore by exposing corruption and promoting conservative ideas. Now I was a “liberal collaborator”. So it took some getting used to. What I also didn’t expect was the extent to which this new crowd hated Barack Obama – and I hated mine.
By 2011, the right wing propaganda nuts had managed to turn Obama into a toxic brand for conservatives. When I was first elected to Congress, we didn’t have a Conservative propaganda organization, except maybe a magazine or two like National Review. The only people using the internet were some geeks in Palo Alto. There was no Drudge Report. No broad beard. No Kooks on YouTube spread dangerous nonsense about Obama like they do every day.
“He’s a secret Muslim!”
“He hates America!”
“He’s a communist!”
And of course the really crazy business with his birth certificate. People had really been brainwashed into believing Barack Obama was a Manchurian candidate who was about to betray America.
Mark Levin was the first to say this crazy nonsense on the radio. It got him ratings, so he eventually dragged Hannity and Rush to Looneyville. My longtime friend Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, wasn’t immune to it. He got drawn into the conspiracies and paranoia and became an almost unrecognizable figure.
I’ve known Ailes for a long time since he started dating George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. He had gone to college in Ohio, and since we had that connection, he came to see me at an event and introduced himself. Years later, in August 1996, when I was in San Diego for the Republican National Convention, I had dinner with Ailes and a seasoned broadcaster named Rupert Murdoch. At that dinner they told me all about this new TV network they were just starting up. Little did I know I was listening to the outline of something that was going to make my life hell down the line. Sure enough, back in October, Fox News hit the waves in the air.
I kept in touch with Roger and from the early 2000s I visited him when I was in New York to raise funds. We’d shoot the breeze and talk politics. We got to know each other pretty well.
Murdoch, on the other hand, was harder to know. Sometimes he would invite me to see the Super Bowl in the Fox Box or he would stop by the office. Wherever he was, you could tell that he was the man in charge. He was quite simply a businessman. He cared about reviews and the bottom line. He also wanted to make sure he was ahead of any political or political developments. He always asked who was upstairs, who was downstairs, what bills could and couldn’t happen. If he had any of the crazy conspiracy theories his network was starting to take over, he kept it a secret from me. But he clearly had no problem with them in helping the reviews.
Sometime after the 2008 elections, something changed with my friend Roger Ailes. I met him once in New York during the Obama years to ask him to put on a leash some of the madmen he got up in the air. It made my job so difficult to achieve anything conservative. I didn’t expect this meeting to change anything, but I still thought it was bullshit and I wanted Roger to know.
When I told him that, he didn’t have much to say. But he went on and on about the terrorist attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, which he believed was part of a major conspiracy that led back to Hillary Clinton. Then he outlined elaborate plans by which George Soros and the Clintons and Obama (and whoever came to mind) tried to destroy it.
“They are monitoring me,” he assured me through the Obama White House. He told me that he had built a “safe room” so that he could not be spied on. His villa is being protected by combat-ready security guards, he said. There was a lot of conspiratorial talk. It was like reading crazy spy novels all weekend.
And it was clear that he believed all this crazy stuff. I left this meeting dazed. I just didn’t think the entire federal government was so afraid of Roger Ailes that they’d break a dozen laws to bring him down. I thought I could get him to control the madmen and instead I spoke to the president of the club. One of us was crazy. Maybe it was me.
I have no idea what the relationship between Ailes and Murdoch was like, or if Ailes would ever attack these paranoid tangents when meeting his boss. But Murdoch must have thought Ailes was good for business because he kept him in his job for years.
Places like Fox News have created the wrong incentives. Sean Hannity was one of the worst. I’ve known him for years and we had a good relationship. But then he decided he wanted to blow my ass every night on his show. One day, in January 2015, I finally called him and asked, “What the hell?” I wanted to know why he kept beating up the Republicans in the House when we were actually trying to stand our ground against Obama.
“Well, you have no plan,” he moaned.
“Look,” I told him, “our plan is pretty simple: we’ll only stand up for what we believe in as Republicans.”
I think that wasn’t good enough for him. The conversation didn’t go very far. At one point I called him a nut. However, it’s safe to say that our relationship has never gotten better.
In addition to the local “talent” at Fox, their selection of guests turned people who were once marginalized into powerful media stars. One of the first prototypes from her laboratory was a woman named Michele Bachmann.
Bachmann, who has represented Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District since 2007 and has since made a name for himself as a lunatic, met me in late 2010 after the busy time of the election. She wanted a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the house. Many members stood in front of her for such a contribution. People who had waited patiently for their turn, and who, by the way, weren’t crazy with wild eyes either.
There was no way she was going to join Ways and Means, the most respected committee in Congress, and be ahead of everyone else in line. Not while I was speaking. In earlier days a member of Congress in her position would not even have dared ask about such a thing. Sam Rayburn would have laughed her out of town.
So I said no – diplomatically, of course. But as she went on, it dawned on me. This was not a request from the President of the House. That was a requirement.
Your answer to me was calm and matter-of-fact. “Well then, I just have to talk to Sean Hannity and everyone at Fox,” she said, “and Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and everyone else on the radio, and tell them John Boehner treats the people the Republicans allow.” have to take back the house. “
I wasn’t the one in power, she said. I just thought it was me. She was in power now.
She was right, of course.