The media is the most powerful and despicable public institution in The Fountainhead. Although Rand published her novel before television became ubiquitous, newspapers and magazines are omnipresent in the novel and reach everybody. Toohey exploits and manipulates the media to its full extent. His mediocrity prevents him from expressing himself through his own art or architecture, but he reaches the public and hurts Roark with his column in the Banner. Because the media shapes opinions and knowledge, Toohey at first hurts Roark simply by failing to write about him and thus keeping him from the public eye. But Toohey must switch strategies after Roark becomes known, and he begins using his newspaper column to launch an attack on Roark’s reputation.
The extent of Toohey’s maliciousness becomes increasingly apparent in these chapters, as he manipulates Stoddard into hiring Roark, letting him begin the building, and then firing and suing him. Characters react to Toohey’s repulsiveness in different ways. Dominique thinks the horrible world deserves Toohey and his collectivist philosophy, and so she does not try to stop him. Stephen Mallory sees Toohey as the embodiment of the world’s brutal irrationality and tries to stop Toohey by shooting him. Howard Roark poses the greatest threat to Toohey and suffers the most at Toohey’s hands, and he reacts with cold indifference to the crazed columnist. When Toohey and Roark meet at Stoddard’s temple, Toohey expects the meeting to be a fiery clash between two powerful enemies. Instead, Toohey finds that Roark does not even think about him. Roark thinks of Toohey not as an equal, but as a distasteful nuisance. Roark’s ability to ignore Toohey confirms the latter’s mediocrity.
Dominique and Keating form an unhappy union that contrasts with the idyllic marriage that earlier seems possible between Katie and Keating. Both Katie and Keating feel that they could make each other happy; Keating could protect Katie from Toohey and Katie could make Keating feel honest and pure. Yet Keating is too weak and greedy to know what is good for him. Dominique and Keating marry not to find happiness, but because Dominique wants to punish herself. She hates living in a world that does not understand Roark, and to fight successfully on Roark’s behalf would mean stooping to the tactics of the world she hates. The marriage frustrates Keating, who enjoys the congratulations of his friends but fears his wife’s cold indifference.
Throughout The Fountainhead Rand illustrates Roark’s individuality and strength on conviction by highlighting his apathy toward or distaste for institutions. He gets expelled from the Stanton Institute of Technology because his designs are too modern and he is unwilling to conform to conventional standards. But this conservative reaction to his work does not faze him, and, wholly uninterested in working at a conventional design firm such as Francon & Heyer, he seeks to work for the individualistic Henry Cameron. Similarly, at the trial, in Chapter 12, Roark makes no attempt to put forth a defense that could actually win him the case. He does not care about the legal system or about triumphing in it; rather, he seeks only to defend the integrity of his work. He shows the same lack of concern for marriage; because he sees it as a meaningless formality, he feels no jealousy toward Keating about his marriage to Dominique and feels no compunction about committing adultery with her. He considers all value systems but his own utterly irrelevant.