As powerful as he is within the News Corporation, Mr. Ailes remains a spectral presence outside the Fox News offices. National security had long been a preoccupation of Fox News, and it was clear in the interview that the 9/11 attacks had a profound effect on Mr. Ailes. They convinced him that he and his network could be terrorist targets.
On the day of the attacks, Mr. Ailes asked his chief engineer the minimum number of workers needed to keep the channel on the air. The answer: 42. "I am one of them," he said. "I've got a bad leg, I'm a little overweight, so I can't run fast, but I will fight.
"We had 3,000 dead people a couple miles from here. I knew that any communications company could be a target."
His movements now are shadowed by a phalanx of corporate-provided security. He travels to and from work in a miniature convoy of two sport utility vehicles. A camera on his desk displays the comings and goings outside his office, where he usually keeps the blinds drawn.
I'm actually sympathetic to Ailes – to a point. If I were extremely rich and reasonably famous, I'd certainly be worried that there were people who wanted to rob me, or kidnap my kids, or put a bullet through my window. Fox News is a big place, one that no doubt produces its share of disgruntled employees (and judging by what they put on the air, even the gruntled ones aren't all that stable). There are a lot of crazy people out there. I've appeared on plenty of conservative radio and television shows, and those appearances are usually followed by a stream of hate mail, and even the occasional threat. So when Ailes says he gets threats, I don't doubt it.
But what is really silly is the idea that al-Qaeda might send a strike force of commandos to take over Fox News headquarters, and the producers and technicians will have to stop them using only makeshift weapons and their wits. It's not just the idea that Ayman al-Zawahiri is sitting in his cave saying, "We must do something about Fox News! They are the glue that holds the Great Satan together!" that's so ridiculous. When Ailes says "I will fight," he seems to have envisioned himself as Bruce Willis in Die Hard, engaging in furious hand-to-hand combat with kaffiyah-wearing operatives before he cracks their necks one by one, then finally finishes off their team leader by tossing the dastardly terrorist through his office window, watching as his foe is impaled on an American flag 30 stories below. Perhaps he's even thought of the quip he'll toss off.
The vision of al-Qaeda as being capable of doing things like invading Fox News headquarters, or busting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed out of a supermax prison in Illinois, is very romantic for those who imagine themselves personally fighting terrorists, but it's at odds with everything we know about the group. They're not Cobra Command from G.I. Joe, they're not SPECTRE from Dr. No, and they're not KAOS from Get Smart. They don't have billions of dollars, a secret underwater lair, and teams of operatives with mad martial arts skillz and Muslim Heat Vision. They don't have sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads. The best they can come up with at this point is to have a guy put explosives in his underwear.
Whatever other troubles he's got, I think that when it comes to al-Qaeda targeting him for elimination, Roger Ailes can sleep soundly.