At the Fox News Chrismas party the year the network overtook arch-rival CNN in the cable ratings, tipsy employees were herded down to the basement of a midtown bar in New York. As they gathered around a television mounted high on the wall, an image flashed to life, glowing bright in the darkened tavern: the MSNBC logo. A chorus of boos erupted among the Fox faithful. The CNN logo followed, and the catcalls multiplied. Then a third slide appeared, with a telling twist. In place of the logo for Fox News was a beneficent visage: the face of the network's founder. The man known to his fiercest loyalists simply as "the Chairman" – Roger Ailes.
"It was as though we were looking at Mao," recalls Charlie Reina, a former Fox News producer. The Foxistas went wild. They let the dogs out. Woof! Woof! Woof! Even those who disliked the way Ailes runs his network joined in the display of fealty, given the culture of intimidation at Fox News. "It's like the Soviet Union or China: People are always looking over their shoulders," says a former executive with the network's parent, News Corp. "There are people who turn people in."
The key to decoding Fox News isn't hosts Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. It isn't even News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch. To understand what drives Fox News, and what its true purpose is, you must first understand Chairman Ailes. "He is Fox News," says Jane Hall, a Fox commentator for 10 years, who defected over Ailes's embrace of the fear-mongering Glenn Beck. "It's his vision. It's a reflection of him."