Roger Ailes was at the Kennedy Center in Washington last night to accept a $250,000 prize from the Bradley Foundation, which described him as a "visionary of American journalism" in the press release announcing the honor (Ailes said he would donate the money to charity). Conservatives who flocked to the award ceremony shared the view. "You're a hero to our people," one gushed to the Fox chief during the cocktail reception.
Around 8:30, Ailes stepped onto the stage. "Congratulations to my fellow recipients, all of whom are younger and thinner, which is a little irritating," he said. The night's other winners were former Solicitor General Paul Clement, National Affairs editor Yuval Levin, and former Indiana governor and current president of Purdue University Mitch Daniels.
Ailes faced a friendly crowd stocked with conservatives like Paul Ryan and several Fox hosts including Greta Van Susteren, Bret Baier, and Brit Hume. They ate up his speech, which he delivered like a stand-up routine, peppered with Mad Men–vintage one-liners. "I want to thank my beautiful wife, Beth, for everything she does and for making this evening possible. For instance, getting me into this tux," he said, pausing so the crowd could marvel at his horizontal proportions. "Not an easy thing." He went on: "You have to remember, behind every successful man is a surprised wife."
But, Roger Ailes being Roger Ailes, the jolly routine was undergirded by a serious political message. There wasn't much talk about journalism. Instead, Ailes warned about the dangers of shadowy forces who sought to do America harm. "We must stop waving our extended arms in an effort to balance ourselves as we tiptoe along the edges of the Constitution in an effort not to upset weak-kneed appeasers with our unflinching belief in the ideas and principles that made our country different and, yes, better," he said, to thunderous applause.
"Are we losing America to the inevitable onrushing tides of history? No. But we're in a storm. Our mast is broken. Our compass is off. And there's a damn big hole in the boat. We've allowed ourselves to be manipulated by others, many of whom want to impose their culture and laws onto the manufactured utopian idea that all cultures are equal and most are better than America. Of course all people should be proud of their heritage. They should teach their children to be proud of their history and their traditions, and they should be welcomed in America. But America is a culture. It has a culture. And it must be recognized."
Ailes also took shots at his cable news competitors. "We must not allow our collective memory to fade or morph into trendy and revisionist versions of political correctness, which becomes a substitute for the truth. Traditional American culture influenced me greatly as I created the Fox News Channel for Rupert Murdoch. We knew that a fair and balanced news channel could succeed as long as no views were rejected and conservative views were allowed to be heard."
And he had the numbers to back it up. "Fox News Channel just finished its 137th consecutive month in first place," he said. "The top thirteen programs on cable news are all on the Fox News Channel."
Ailes provided a possible explanation for his winning streak. "We cover the news. But we also cover stories we know others will not like," he said. "Like the abortion doctor in Philadelphia, who was actually killing babies after they were born. We covered Benghazi when four Americans were killed, even when no other network would touch the story."
After aiming at the media, Ailes had words for Obama. Benghazi, Ailes said, was "important because it involves over 200 years of military ethos." He now seemed to be lecturing the president. "You see, when we ask you to go out in the night and risk your life for America, we promise that we will backstop you and try and get you out if its humanly possible. In Benghazi, we did not do that." As he reached the peroration, he sounded like a candidate, challenging his opponent at the stump. "I've come to the conclusion that I don't even care what the president of the United States was doing that night. However, I would like to know what the commander-in-chief was doing that night."
The faithful in the audience whooped and cheered. Ailes moved on to another conservative bugbear: the tax man. "The federal government is about to hire 16,000 more IRS agents to enforce health care. There are 47 new tax increases. No wonder they need guns!"
Ailes had them revved up now. Sarah Palin had rallied the base with talk of death panels. Ailes was predicting armed tax collectors. "We already know the IRS is arrogant," he said. "They waste as much money as other government agencies. They enjoy pushing people around, and they can't line dance. We don't need 16,000 more people who can't line dance! And we don't need more people with guns enforcing our health care!" He waited a beat and then began impersonating an IRS agent packing heat. "All right, Granny, put your hands up. We're tired of telling you this; it's time you take your Metamucil."
Ailes's recent speeches have sparked controversy. At the University of North Carolina in April 2012, he mocked Sarah Palin ("Did anybody think she had a chance to be president? Anybody in here? Okay. Oops."). During a speech at Ohio University, his alma mater, in May 2012, he called the New York Times a bunch of "lying scum."
At the Kennedy Center, Ailes made sure to offer a disclaimer. "My remarks tonight are my own; they don't necessarily reflect those of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, or Fox," he said at the opening of his turn at the mike. "I will say, however, that I didn't give up my citizenship to create and run a news organization. So I speak here on the highest authority with the greatest title anyone could ever aspire to: citizen of the United States."
The crowd gave Ailes a standing ovation.