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Citizen Ailes

“Oh, this is not part of America?” Ailes asked, waving his right hand through the air dismissively. “No. No. The private citizens of this thing have been overlooked. This isn’t even about me.”

Ailes turned to face the board. “Is it true that this document puts institutional interests above businesses and private citizens?”

Shea explained that the plan was designed to help nonprofits keep their open space out of the hands of real-estate developers.

Ailes did not appear to be listening. “Why would everybody not be equal under the law: Businesses? Private—there’s probably no greater position to hold than to be a citizen of the United States. Why would their interests be subverted?”

Shea told him that no one was getting special treatment.

“So, they won’t be above the law and private interests?”

“No, they’re not going to be.”

“Fine. End of story,” Ailes said. He wanted to know if the law would regulate the size of his windows or the color of his house.

“No,” Shea said.

Ailes used the opening. After thanking the board and the citizens for their turnout, he had a lecture about American history to deliver. “George Washington said, ‘A violation of my land is a violation of my being,’ ” he intoned. “That is in our core for 230 years.” Ailes loved to quote Washington, but this saying does not appear in any archive of Washington’s writings or speeches.

Ailes sat down and unbuttoned his suit jacket, then noticed that a woman had been shooting a video of him with her iPhone. “Take it off,” Roger growled. He leaned forward and grabbed a chair, shaking it menacingly.

“What are you doing to the chair, sir?” she asked. Roger sat back and folded his hands in his lap.

The meeting continued for more than an hour as residents debated the pros and the cons of the zoning law. Ailes stayed until the bitter end. After the meeting concluded, he approached Nancy Montgomery, who was cleaning up her papers at the white table.

“You’re the only one I haven’t met yet,” he said, by way of introduction.

“You know, I’m just here for the little guy.”

“Do you even know what I do for a living?” Montgomery asked. Ailes had already turned around and was walking away.

“I’m a bartender, Mr. Ailes,” she said, calling after him.

Ailes stopped and looked back at her. “You’re just a liberal Democrat,” he said.

Later, Ailes had his own version of his exchange with Montgomery. “I made the mistake of saying, ‘I think Philipstown’s in America,’ and now she’s mad at me and goes against everything I’m for and hates me and wants to kill me,” he said.

In the fall of 2010, Ailes succeeded in getting a private sit-down with Shea and Joel Russell, a land-use attorney who had been consulting Philipstown on the zoning issue for years. On the day of the meeting, Ailes arrived at town hall with his bodyguard and Scott Volkman in tow. Ailes slapped a set of color charts down on Shea’s desk.

“What do you think of that?”

Shea looked down at the printouts. They showed ratings figures for Fox News and its rivals.

“Fox is outperforming any other cable news network!” Ailes said. “Well, there are a lot of stupid people out there,” Shea deadpanned. Ailes guffawed. “Ha! A friend of mine said that, too.”

The pleasantries were brief. Ailes let out a blast about zoning bureaucrats depriving him of his property rights. “That rhetoric was over the top and basically was straight out of Fox News,” Russell said later. “He kept talking about how he had a young son and his son wouldn’t be able to live in the America he knew.”

Shea told Ailes that he was misinformed about the zoning restrictions, which triggered another eruption. “I’ll see you out of office!” Ailes snapped. “I’ve never lost a campaign I’ve been involved with!”

For two hours, Shea and Russell attempted to calm Ailes down. It turned out that Ailes’s concerns were not totally unfounded: a zoning map had incorrectly marked his mountaintop property with a scenic designation, which could have limited some development. Shea and Russell immediately assured Ailes they would make the change.

As the conversation wound down, Ailes told the men that he would spend millions if necessary to keep dangerous elements out of the town. To that end, he was thinking about buying Mystery Point, a 129-acre plot of land with a nineteenth-century brick mansion that overlooks the Hudson, to turn into a corporate retreat for Fox. “That’s up for sale,” Ailes said. “I could buy it in a heartbeat. You know why I’m interested?”