FBI Reveals Files on Roger Ailes

Photographed by Wesley Mann
Roger Ailes

The records show the former Fox News chief's gun arrest in 1974 and note an interview after Ronald Reagan's attempted assassination in 1981.

The FBI has released its files on former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes.

Included in the files, which span from 1969 to 1990, is Ailes’ appearance in files connected to the investigation of John Hinckley Jr.’s attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and information about Ailes’ arrest in New York City for possessing an illegal gun in 1974.

In total, the FBI released 114 pages of material, redacting an additional 34 pages.

Ailes was interviewed by the FBI on April 3, 1981, four days after the March 30 attempt on the president’s life, because Hinckley had a pair of tickets to the March 2 taping of The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder, which Ailes produced. Guests that night were comedian Pat Cooper, Mafia expert Ralph Salerno, singer Leo Sayer and gossip columnist Rona Barrett. The FBI reviewed a tape of the episode, paying particular attention to the Salerno segment to see if they could see Hinckley in the audience (they couldn’t). Agents also verified that Jodie Foster and Robert De Niro had never appeared on the show.

Hinckley had tried to kill Reagan to impress Foster, whom he was obsessed with, and he also identified with De Niro’s Taxi Driver character, Travis Bickle. The file suggests that the FBI concluded that the Tomorrow Show tickets were not germane to the investigation.

The file also notes Ailes’ Nov. 10, 1974, arrest for “criminal possession of a weapon bomb/silencer, class D Felony” in midtown Manhattan. Biographer Gabriel Sherman wrote in The Loudest Voice in the Room that Ailes was arrested for possessing a gun shortly after returning from a trip to Kenya with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. On Jan. 16, 1975, Ailes pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge and was sentenced to conditional discharge.

The FBI first investigated Ailes in 1969 because he was up for a staff position in the Nixon White House. Most of the files concern that initial inquiry and include such things as a list of addresses, interviews with college classmates and notes on his relationship with talk show host Mike Douglas, whom Ailes worked for in the 1960s.

Ailes was chairman of Fox News from 1996 to 2016. He resigned in late 2016 when sexual harassment claims from anchors Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson became public. He died on May 18, 2017, at age 77.