Politico’s ‘Dukakis and the Tank’ flashback writes Roger Ailes out of history

Vince Coglianese Editorial Director
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Politico Magazine revisited “the worst campaign photo op ever” earlier this week, explaining how Democrat Michael Dukakis ended up wearing an oversized battle helmet and a goofy grin while riding in an M1A1 tank in 1988.

That photo “would go down as one of the worst campaign backfires in history” Josh King — once a Dukakis campaign operative — wrote for Politico.

But King’s treatment of the Dukakis incident seems to rewrite a bit of well-known history involving Roger Ailes, now the head of the Fox News Channel. In 1988, Ailes ran the media team for Dukakis’ Republican opponent, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

King delivers a supposed recap of the night Dukakis’ tank ride flashed across the evening news and Bush’s crew saw their opportunity to pounce:

Sig Rogich had just returned to his apartment on the evening of Sept. 13 when he turned on his television and saw news footage of the ride in Sterling Heights. “I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe they put him in that position,’” Rogich told me. The images gave Rogich, Bush’s director of advertising, an idea for a new spot. He grabbed a yellow pad and began to sketch out a 30-second ad.

But if that “notepad” moment belongs to anyone, The Boston Globe reported in 1988, it’s Roger Ailes. In an October 26, 1988 piece entitled, “The Brains Of The Bush Offensive Strategist Roger Ailes Remade The Candidate,” the Globe wrote:

The idea came to Roger Ailes in the middle of the night, an apt moment of inspiration for a media Prince of Darkness. Why not use footage from one of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis’ most maligned campaign photo opportunities in an advertisement for Vice President George Bush?

Thus, the most recent negative television commercial produced by the Bush campaign shows a helmeted Dukakis riding in a tank, looking like Snoopy, as Elizabeth Drew of the New Yorker put it. The ad ends with a tight shot of Dukakis, wearing the helmet and a silly grin, and the words: “Now he wants to be our commander in chief. America can’t afford that risk.”

Ailes laughs with pride when told the ad is brutal in its contempt for Dukakis.

Politico’s piece only mentions Ailes in passing, correctly noting that he oversaw the ad’s development. “The [Bush ad] team was headed by Roger Ailes, Bush’s media adviser, now the head of Fox News,” King writes.

For its part, Politico has maintained a long-standing relationship with one of Ailes’ modern-day cable news competitors — MSNBC.


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