Here’s some crazy news from my town. An editor who answers to Roger Ailes, the Fox News president, is accusing my Hudson Valley community of fostering “anti-Christian” feeling against Ailes and his family.
First the back story. Roger Ailes moved to Philipstown, N.Y., six years ago and soon after bought The Putnam County News & Recorder (PCN&R), a weekly that has come out since just after the Civil War. His wife Elizabeth Ailes took over as publisher.
Roger Ailes likes to mix it up in local politics, so the paper has become something of an advocacy rag for conservative causes. But because this is a fairly progressive community, Ailes’s horses have usually lost, and there’s been a lot of local resistance, manifesting itself in the startup of a rival weekly published by a former aide to Jimmy Carter, in a Facebook group, in a memoir by a local shopowner, and in a website that parodies the PCN&R. The New Yorker and New York magazine have both written this story up, and a forthcoming biography of Ailes called The Loudest Voice in the Room is expected to tell the story too.
All healthy signs of democracy in action, right? But according to the PCN&R, the opposition has also resulted in vandalism targeting piles of newspapers outside the PCN&R offices. The PCN&R people put up surveillance cameras, and sought arrests, etc.
This week Douglas Cunningham, editor-in-chief and associate publisher for the Ailes weekly, wrote a column in the full-on paranoid style, titled, “Motives, and The Motives Under The Motives,” attributing the vandalism to a widespread local conspiracy of haters aimed at running the Aileses out of town.
Cunningham says he’s feared for his life, and twice describes the conspirators as anti-Christian. First:
“We have never written about the sick, aggressive, anti-Christian haters who are determined to control all thought and speech in Philipstown.”
The column is a rant. It elides death threats with messages scrawled on paper plates and teenagers on the ramble: “four or five young men… appeared in our windows, at least two them on the front step. It was threatening to our staff in light of the dangerous things going on in the world.” Huh.
The selfless editor is loyal to the Aileses:
“The threats against me and the newspaper pale in comparison to those against our owner and her family.”
Cunningham blames the threats on “dividers” and “an intolerant group of local loons who decided they needed to get ride of the Aileses and/or the PCN&R.”
Here’s his second claim that they’re anti-Christian:
“[The parody website] ridicules the efforts of any number of local residents. It belittles Christians generally and churches specifically. It attacks the Tiny Mites football players…”
Cunningham names only three people: Judith Kepner Rose, “the instigator of the Facebook discussion;” Ann S. Beddingfield, a lawyer; and Shane Scott-Hamblen, an Episcopalian rector. I can’t say where any of these people stand on the Tiny Mites, but I’m told that Scott-Hamblen has drawn the ire of the local Catholic priest because he’s married to a man, and that Ailes’s newspaper gives a lot of press to the Catholic church.
I find Cunningham’s column embarrassing, because this is a good town and I’ve never seen religious prejudice here. In fact, I’ve often gone to the Catholic church for funerals of dear friends. If Cunningham believes that bigotry is here, he should produce his evidence rather than talking about teenagers on the doorstep and greasy paper plates.
Of course I wonder whether the paranoia reflects the boss’s ideas. Roger Ailes is a conservative by temperament. At public meetings here, he has quoted George Washington (not without eloquence). If he thinks his neighbors hate Christians, he should say so.