“Absolutely not,” Lindsley replied. The lineup was already settled with a Fourth of July recap and Federalist Paper No. 78.
The following day Ailes called Stewart and screamed at him for stealing his people. Stewart returned the bluster. “You’re a big United States Constitution guy,” he said. “The last time I checked, indentured servitude is illegal in the United States. I didn’t steal them. They left. They don’t want to work for you.”
“I can give them all health insurance and they will quit and come back!” Ailes replied.
“Good. At least then I will have reformed your miserable labor practices.”
Stewart’s newsroom, set up across the street from the PCN&R in a former aromatherapy shop, posed a significant problem for Ailes. Despite the small-town stakes, it was a rivalry freighted with larger symbolism: for the first time since launching Fox News, the media business was changing in ways Ailes did not fully understand. The Internet was a wave washing over every corner of the communications industry. Newspapers and magazines had been the first casualties. It was only a matter of time until cable television began to suffer, too. “There was no push to innovate technologically,” a former senior Fox executive said. CNN invested millions in the latest gadgetry such as touch screens and holograms. Fox didn’t. Ailes, the executive added, felt “his core audience of older, white viewers preferred the simplicity of a traditional television newscast.”
Ailes decided to sit down with Stewart in New York to gauge his intentions.
Over the course of a two-and-a-half-hour meal at Fox News, Ailes was surprisingly open about his lack of knowledge of new media. “I don’t know what to do with you,” he told Stewart. “I have the same problem with you that I have at Fox News. I don’t do a lot of web at Fox News.” Ailes indicated if he gave away content for free on the web, his viewers might not pay for cable bills. “I’d be eating my own lunch,” he said. The best Ailes could hope for was a war of attrition. “I’m going to run you out of money,” Ailes assured Stewart. “What he didn’t know is, I don’t have any money,” Stewart later said. “My deal with my wife was, if you want to spend the money you earn on the website, it’s better than a blonde and a red sports car.”
In the days after the reporters defected, a cloud of suspicion enveloped the PCN&R newsroom. “They thought everyone was a traitor,” reporter Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong said. Alison Rooney noticed strange activity on her PCN&R laptop that she had yet to return to the Aileses: her e-mail box had been opened remotely. Later, Roger and Beth accused her of all manner of conspiracies. “It was weird,” one person familiar with the events said. “There was this whole James Bond spy type of stuff, like we were dealing with national security here, but all her e-mails were like, ‘Dammit, I hate my job!’ ” (Rooney declined to comment on the episode).
As a final measure, just in case the reporters did not fully grasp what Roger and Beth thought of their decision to leave, the PCN&R printed a reminder the week after they jumped ship. Tucked between the articles, readers came across a small cartoon of a rat.
Lindsley was a surrogate son—Roger called him Ailes Junior and intimated that he had big plans in store for him. He suggested his protégé could write his memoirs or perhaps become the youngest editor of The Wall Street Journal. Roger introduced him to George H.W. Bush and Rush Limbaugh. Beth joked morbidly about his future. “When Roger dies, you’re going to have some special responsibilities around here,” she said. According to two senior Fox executives, Ailes spoke often about Lindsley at the office. “We thought he would be brought in to run the Fox News newsroom,” one executive said.
“Roger would talk about how great he was, and how he had the best news instinct,” one senior producer recalled. “He talked about these local politicians like it was national news. He said we should be doing more stories like this ourselves, more investigations.”
But Lindsley began to feel smothered by Roger and Beth’s attentions. Instead of letting Lindsley go home to visit his family in North Carolina, Roger invited his sisters for an extended stay at the mountain. When Lindsley said he wanted to go on vacation to visit relatives in Ireland, Roger and Beth said they would go with him. They flew together on News Corp.’s private jet. Some days Lindsley felt that Champ, Roger’s German shepherd, was his only friend.