By Jules Lavallee
Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 3/12/2021 – First-time Writer and Director, Michael Barnes erects Hollywood billboard to promote awards consideration for Roger Ailes Documentary. The billboard is located at 7056 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90038.
Tell us about MAN IN THE ARENA.
MAN IN THE ARENA is a fairly straightforward biographical documentary on the life of Roger Ailes—autobiographical, really—since much of it is in his own words, drawn from primary sources. What makes the film come alive is how his personal story is interwoven into the cultural and political fabric of each decade, and one is surprised to learn how Roger was involved in many iconic moments and movements.
What intrigued you about his story?
Mainly, that Roger’s not what he might seem on the surface, and definitely he’s not the person he’s been portrayed to be. He was motivated by a fairly simple set of values, which have for decades been synonymous with American values. He was always curious and always driven to find the truth in things. He was also highly motivated to succeed, driven by homespun Midwestern values and a desire to punch above the weight of his childhood illness. In our current times where censorship and de-platforming are actively debated, Roger’s belief in “hearing both sides” is as relevant as ever.
What does the title of the film MAN IN THE ARENA mean? What did it mean to Ailes?
Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 speech, “Man in the Arena,” states that the man who actually does things should be more highly regarded than those whose only role is to comment on and criticize those deeds. The man of action outranks the critic. I think that ethic defined Roger Ailes’ life and attitude. Roger narrates the film, and I think he summed up his view of Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” with his words, “What they called me is opinion; what I’ve done is on the record.”
I think songwriter Warren Zevon best updated Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” idea when he wrote, “If you can’t take the punches, it don’t mean a thing…the name of the game is be hit and hit back.” Roger knew that if he inserted himself into the arenas of political contests and journalism, that he’d have to take punches. He was willing to do that, particularly in politics. And once he started and succeeded with FOX News, the punches got harder. Roger took the punches. And he hit back just as hard. That’s what made him a winner.
You bought a billboard to promote awards consideration for the controversial Roger Ailes Documentary.
As a very dark horse in the awards race, I felt I ought to try something more than do a sanctioned mailing to [Academy] members. I did those mailings, and one to Film Independent members as well. There were over 200 Oscar contenders this year, and I was gratified that a pretty significant number of people viewed the film after those mailings. I thought the billboard was a bolder, slightly less conventional approach. Something Roger Ailes would have done.
“Making this film about a First Amendment warrior like Roger Ailes…finish the sentence.
…I’ve learned that standing up for hearing all sides means that you’ll be unpopular with the cheerleaders of the status quo.”
What were you surprised to know about Roger Ailes?
I knew Roger Ailes and met with him a few times in the last years of his life. After he passed away, I did some research and I was surprised by things that I didn’t know about him. The extent of his influence and accomplishments over decades was remarkable. That triggered my interest to look even deeper.
Roger Ailes was so clearly a dominant winner, time and again, yet to me the writers of the first drafts of history seemed hellbent on not giving him credit. And there seemed to be agendas driving that – political and ideological reasons mostly, but also envy, bruised egos and the like.
So I wanted to tell the story of an American icon without the spin and bias that seemed to be the backbone of most stories about Roger Ailes.
I’ll use a sports analogy. Imagine someone in Chicago who likes a Detroit sports team. Your local Chicago sports page would probably give you lots and lots of biased stories against your team in Detroit, especially if Detroit kept beating Chicago.
What do you view as Ailes’ biggest accomplishment (s)?
He was a key force behind the election of three Presidents – Nixon, Bush and Reagan. He launched three cable news networks and rescued a fourth. Without fanfare, he created and continually expanded the most successful minority opportunity program in the media business. Others talked the talk, but Roger walked the walk.
But most of all, more than anyone else as the 20th century arrived, Roger Ailes kept Freedom of the Press alive. It was Roger Ailes’ launch and success with Fox News, that single-handedly kept American news from becoming a mere mouthpiece of the ruling party.