Documentary Offers the Other Side of Roger Ailes’ Story

WARREN – The city of Warren proudly claims Dave Grohl as one of its own.

Roger Ailes? Not so much.

Maybe in time the stance against Ailes will soften, although in today’s political climate, it won’t be any time soon.

But in any event, it cannot be denied that Ailes is one of the most influential men who ever came out of Warren.

Grohl, of course, is one of the planet’s biggest rock stars. There is an alley named for him in downtown Warren with a metal sculpture of him playing the drums. Plans call for adding an LED light installation there.

But there is nothing for Ailes, who was a television pioneer.

Ailes’ connection to the city is as firm as it gets; he spent the first 18 years of his life in Warren and graduated from Harding High School in 1958.

Grohl spent a lot of time visiting Warren while growing up and has fond memories of the city. But he lived in Warren for only a few years when he was a small child, before moving with his mother to Maryland. He never attended school in Warren.

Of course, how much time Grohl spent in Warren is not an issue. He is rightfully recognized and revered in the city of his birth. But Ailes, the son of a Packard plant worker, is the truer product of this factory town. He also donated large sums of money to projects in the city, including the Trumbull County veterans memorial and the installation of an elevator at Packard Music Hall.

After he graduated from Ohio University, Ailes went on to become a political kingmaker with an uncanny knowledge of politics and television and how to combine the two for maximum effect.

He created Fox News, a counterweight in the television landscape that gave conservatives a major media home and whose presence permanently changed the political discourse.

Ailes resigned from Fox News in 2016 amid a scandal over claims of sexual harassment brought by several female employees.

He vehemently denied the charges, but was cast as a lecher, a black eye that remains to this day.

A hemophiliac since birth, Ailes’ health was always fragile and he died in 2018 at age 77.

His family and colleagues say he didn’t get a fair shake at the end. If anyone knew that Hollywood would never be interested in telling his side of the story, it was Ailes.

The 2019 feature film “Bombshell” painted a very unflattering picture of Ailes and how he ran Fox News.

A new documentary film, “Man in the Arena,” however, paints a different – and more complete-picture, from his childhood to his final days. It shows the whole story of his life and career. It is empathetic and, many will assert, biased.

Whatever you believe, one thing that cannot be denied is that the brilliant Ailes left a huge legacy, that he is among the most important people to ever call Warren home.

In creating Fox News in 1996, Ailes identified the half of the country who felt overlooked by the media. The conservative channel quickly rose to the top of the ratings.

“Man in the Arena,” which clocks in at 1:55, is a thorough and fascinating profile that subtly makes the argument that Ailes deserves to be remembered for more than his salacious end.

Not just because he was a tireless visionary. He was also generous, a
supporter of the underdog, and a
family man with a blue-collar work ethic.

Ailes was polarizing, to be sure, reviled and loved, but always respected.

The film, written and directed by Michael Barnes, begins with a long segment on his days in Warren, with lots of black and white photos and newspaper clippings.

Barnes uses Ailes’ own voice, drawn from his private tape recordings, to help narrate the film. “I loved Warren deeply,” Ailes says, “where I was from the wrong side of the tracks.”

News footage and behind-the-scenes video of key moments further propel the film, as well as interviews with Ailes’ widow, Elizabeth, his son, Zachary, and his brother, Robert, plus political insiders in his circle: Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Rudy Giuliani, Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich and Lara Logan among them. Jon Voight serves as narrator.

The film traces Ailes’ well-known career. There are photos and footage of how the quick-witted political consultant worked his magic to put Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan in the White House.

“I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” the elderly Reagan famously quipped about Walter Mondale during a 1984 debate. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” That was Ailes’ idea and the election was as good as over from that point.

Another line from the film stands out, this one a narrator’s description of Ailes’ beliefs in the 1960s that informed his entire career: “Politically, he wasn’t pro-war. He aligned himself with the politicians who said, ‘Dissent is fine but don’t tear the whole country down.’ ”

In his press notes, the director, Barnes, says, “The release of ‘Man in the Arena’ is timely as our society debates the meaning of free speech and whether the search for truth is advanced by listening to other points of view. My own perspective and bias is that truth emerges when multiple points of view are aired, and my aim with the film is to present Roger Ailes accurately and in context, to give viewers a deeper understanding of the high price that champions of free speech can pay, and to fascinate them with the incredible and unlikely story of a poor kid named Roger Ailes and the obstacles he continually overcame to succeed in many fields.”

For all of these reasons, Warren residents – regardless of their politics – should check out this documentary about their native son. It can only add to your perspective.

“Man in the Arena” can be viewed on several major streaming platforms; go to

Pictured: Roger Ailes, third from left, is seen in the White House with President Nixon in 1969. He was hired in 1967 as the president’s television consultant.