In truth, Ailes’s liberal neighbors were not that bothered that Ailes’s home was his castle. But the local paper was a different matter. The signs of its rightward march were impossible to miss. As Lindsley began to redesign the papers, his bosses suggested that he place the Cold Spring Recorder’s original motto—“By the grace of God, free and independent”—on the masthead. Articles were sharper-edged. Overt religiosity crept into the pages, evidence, they suspected, of the growing influence of Father McSweeney, the priest of Our Lady of Loretto. Patriotic paeans, and excerpts from the Federalist Papers, began to populate the weekly.
In May 2009, readers opened the paper to find something they had never seen before: an editorial. The unsigned attack on Obama’s stimulus titled “Debt, Decisions, and Destiny” called the plan “reckless” and said “rich people should be shown some respect.” Lindsley, who wrote the editorial, quoted from Atlas Shrugged: “We either see ourselves as a nation of people who want to achieve, produce, succeed, and contribute to society or else we see ourselves as a people who want to rely on the producers to create ‘free money’ and support us with grants and federal spending.”
This was too much for some. Leonora Burton stopped selling the paper in the Country Goose. “After Beth learned of my decision, she boycotted the store,” she recalled.
Lindsley relished the partisan combat. With the intensity of a bulldozer, he devoted upwards of 80 hours a week to the Ailes’s papers. He moved into an apartment on the Hudson River close to the newsroom. A state-ranked track star in high school, Lindsley gave up running. He put on weight, 40 pounds at the peak, adding to his resemblance to Ailes. On Thursdays and Fridays, he often accompanied Ailes to Fox News, where he wrote speeches for him and attended to other personal matters. On Sunday mornings, Lindsley sat with Roger and Beth at Mass. He was up on the mountain at all hours, watching the Fighting Irish games with Ailes or joining the family for dinner with the likes of John Bolton and Glenn Beck. He joined Ailes in the News Corp. box at Yankee Stadium and he traveled with the family on News Corp.’s private plane to visit prominent Republicans across the country. “You know you can’t tell anyone about this, right?” Beth said to him before their first trip on the jet. (Lindsley declined to comment.)
With his trusted editor in place, Ailes used the paper to muscle local politicians. James Borkowski, a lawyer and town justice in Putnam County from 1998 to 2009, learned the danger of crossing the PCN&R when he decided to run for Putnam County sheriff in the 2009 election, challenging Ailes’s close ally, the incumbent Don Smith. A few months before the Republican primary election, Lindsley invited Borkowski to meet with him and Beth for breakfast at a restaurant across the street from the PCN&R offices. At one point in the conversation, Beth turned to Borkowski.
“So,” Beth said, leaning in close, “you are pro-life, aren’t you?”
Borkowski hesitated. “Personally I am pro-life. But I’m of the position that reasonable people with genuine belief can disagree.”
Wrong answer. “It cast a pall over the whole meeting,” Borkowski said later. “I remembered thinking, What does that have to do with running for sheriff?”
A few weeks later, Borkowski got another call from Lindsley. Roger wanted to see him this time. They met in the PCN&R’s conference room. “Why are you running against him?” Ailes asked, referring to his friend Smith. “This guy is a West Point grad, a religious guy, a family guy.”
“He might be a nice guy, but he’s not doing a good job,” Borkowski countered. Ailes was unswayed. He began peppering Borkowski with questions about local politicos.
Richard Shea was also one of the politicians Roger asked about. A moderate Democrat who served on the town board, Shea was running in the 2009 election for Philipstown supervisor, the title given to the town’s senior elected official. A fifth-generation Cold Springer, he owned a successful local contracting business and fashioned himself as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. There was one issue, however, on which he was progressive: the environment. Shea was campaigning on reforming the town’s decades-old zoning codes to preserve open space.
This brought him into conflict with Ailes. The notion of zoning was abhorrent to Ailes. The more he studied the issue, the more he disliked what he found. “Jesus, wait a minute,” he told a reporter, describing his thought process. “They’re starting to try and tell you how much glass you can have in your window, what color you can paint your house, and they’re saying, well, ‘You can’t cut down any trees.’ ” He added, “God made trees so you can build houses and have baseball bats.” He felt that he had a right to chop down any tree, and that the legal implications were obvious: “They’re going around to old ladies and telling them if they have a mud puddle they’re in a wetland and stealing their farm and stuff.”