In The Fountainhead, Gail Wynand is a powerful newspaper publisher and close friend of the novel's protagonist, Howard Roark. The story of Gail Wynand is a tragedy. He is a man with the mind, talent, and initiative to do great things, but he brings disaster on himself by means of his own errors. In his personal life, nobody tells him what to do; and he has a deep appreciation of man's noblest achievements. In his professional life, however, he believes that a man either rules or is ruled, conquers or is conquered. He believes that most human beings are corrupt dolts and that the only way for the few intelligent and competent individuals to survive is by gaining power. In his newspaper, The Banner, he gives the public what it wants, attaining wealth and political influence along the way.
Wynand lives in inner conflict, his commitment to the heroic in man is undercut by his power-seeking and pandering to the public. Eventually, when he attempts to use a corrupt instrument like The Banner to defend a genius like Roark, he is destroyed by the contradiction he has tried to live. Dedication to the noble cannot coexist in the same soul with pandering to the ignoble. Wynand's moral failings do not lead to success, but to its opposite: self-destruction. He discovers that a power-seeker has no power — and that his own life was based on a lie.
The endings of the novel and the 1949 film version differ. In the movie, Gail Wynand kills himself. In the novel, however, Wynand gets the upper hand over villain Ellsworth Toohey and lives.