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Citizen Ailes

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The men stared back at him. “I hear a group of Chinese investors are looking. I’m not going to have some Chinese investors set up a missile silo right across from West Point.”

Putnam County resident Gordon Stewart did not attend the town hall at Haldane, but he heard postmortems the next morning. It provided one more data point that the “Ailes problem,” as a friend called it, would not be going away. Unlike many in Philipstown’s progressive set, Stewart did not immediately begin to fret about Ailes’s increasing power in the community. Although Stewart and Ailes had crossed paths only a handful of times, they had shared history. Born on the South Side of Chicago in 1939, Stewart was originally, like Ailes, a midwesterner of modest means. He moved to Ohio for college, studying history and music at Oberlin, and in a remarkable coincidence roomed there with Roger’s brother. (“He was an easy guy to get along with,” Robert Ailes recalled.) Stewart’s peripatetic career, like that of Ailes, intermingled the worlds of politics, entertainment, and business: Stewart had worked as a theater director, as a presidential speechwriter, and as a vice-president of the American Stock Exchange. Though a Democrat— he had served as Jimmy Carter’s deputy chief speechwriter and helped craft what came to be known as the “malaise” speech—he respected his conservative neighbor’s formidable talent.

In 2005, after living many years on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Stewart and his wife bought a place in Garrison. They looked forward to watching their young adopted daughter run in the backyard and swim in their pool. Stewart often dropped by Pete’s Hometown Grocery on Main Street to pick up a copy of the PCN&R. Reading the articles each week, he did not at first see glaring signs of right-wing agitprop. He especially liked the paper’s tough coverage of a contract dispute at the local school board. Shortly after Stewart gave a quote to the PCN&R criticizing the Garrison school, he bumped into Ailes in Manhattan at lunchtime at Michael’s, a restaurant frequented by media executives. “We gotta get together on this, that school sucks!” Ailes said to him.

“What’s your problem with it?” Stewart said.

“There’s no Christ child on the lawn at Christmastime!” Ailes said. “They have all this fucking Kwanzaa stuff, they have this Hanukkah shit, and you can’t even get Jesus! They think it’s illegal. You can’t show any flags. So I’m not sending our kid there.” As Stewart turned to leave, Ailes told him to stay in touch. “Call me,” he said.

In the fall of 2009, Stephen Ives, a documentary filmmaker, invited Stewart over to his house in Garrison. A group of neighbors were gathering there to brainstorm ways to confront Ailes. They called themselves the Full Moon Project, but Stewart liked to call them “the Cold Spring Village Commune.” The folksinger Dar Williams was the gravitational center of this constellation of politically active residents. As the conversations unfolded over several weeks, an idea took shape. The Full Moon Project would launch an online publication to rival the PCN&R. There was even a plan to start a Media Matters–like watchdog group to police right-wing bias in the PCN&R. They called it the Rapid Response Team.

When Ailes got wind of the meetings, he called Stewart and asked him whether he was a member of the “Full Moon conspiracy.” Stewart laughed.

But by the time of the zoning town hall at Haldane in April 2010, Stewart’s benign view of the PCN&R was changing. Under Joe Lindsley’s editorship, Stewart saw undeniable evidence that the paper was taking on a partisan tack. He also heard a string of troubling stories of Ailes threatening locals who stood in his way. “You want to see a Fox News truck parked outside your place? I can have one up here tomorrow,” he said to one.

It struck Stewart how disconnected Ailes’s simplified vision of the town was from the diverse reality Stewart had come to know. “Until Roger showed up, no one much cared what your party affiliation was,” Stewart said. “With 9,000 people, it doesn’t work too well. It’s hard to demonize people for party affiliation when they all know each other. Scaling Rogerism and Foxism down is a disaster.” A canny businessman, Stewart sensed opportunity. The Full Moon meetings had produced a lot of talk, but Stewart was ready for action. He set out in secret to launch a local news website to take on Ailes directly—Putnam’s county’s version of MSNBC.

On Tuesday morning, July 6, 2010, Lindsley was at his desk at the PCN&R working on the coverage of the Independence Day parade, which Roger and Beth had revived in 2009 after a 30-year absence, when he let out a grunt. While searching the Internet, he came across the bylines of two PCN&R writers, Michael Turton and Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong, writing about Putnam County news on a site called Philipstown.info, which he had never heard of before, the proprietor of which was none other than Gordon Stewart. The two had defected, as had Alison Rooney, the copy editor. Lindsley pushed his chair back from his computer and called Ailes. “What does this mean? Are we going to have trouble getting the paper out?” Ailes asked in light of the walkout.


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