Last year, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik revealed in his book on Rupert Murdoch that the Fox News PR department created an elaborate series of fake commenter accounts to write "pro-Fox rants" in the comments sections of articles other outlets published about the network.
According to a new biography of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, the network's online subterfuge went even further.
In The Loudest Voice in the Room, New York magazine journalist Gabriel Sherman reports that Roger Ailes was behind the creation of a blog called "The Cable Game" (TCG), which was used to attack Fox rivals like CNN and critics like Media Matters founder David Brock. According to Sherman, Ailes tapped Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton -- who worked with Ailes on the 1988 George H.W. Bush presidential campaign and was later chosen to co-author Ailes' now-abandoned autobiography -- to help write the posts.
A Media Matters review of TCG -- which became defunct more than a year ago but is still partially available through the Internet Archive -- finds laughably over-the-top praise of Ailes and other Fox personalities alongside vicious, often petty attacks on Fox rivals and perceived enemies. The blog's criticism frequently echoed Fox's own public attacks.
TCG regularly featured inside baseball content about the media that went far beyond what the casual media observer would know, much less care about. The blog cited sources inside Fox News, which it used to rebut criticism of the network. TCG was written under the pseudonym "The Cable Gamer," and posts claimed the author was a woman.
The site was promoted on Fox News in at least four separate instances: three times by Pinkerton and once by Bill O'Reilly. Pinkerton gratuitously promoted the site on Fox News Watch on July 16, 2005 -- a major promotion for an anonymous blog that had launched less than two weeks prior (July 8, 2005, with a post that asked, "is anyone cooler than Brit Hume?").
Gabriel Sherman's forthcoming biography of Roger Ailes reveals a pattern of misogyny and sexism from the Fox News CEO. The Loudest Voice in the Room documents numerous examples from Ailes during his years working in television, both on Fox and elsewhere.
Media Matters and others have noted that Fox News' on-air programming has a long history of sexism which mirrors a culture at Fox News and its parent company (previously News Corporation, now 21st Century Fox).
Sherman's reporting confirms Ailes' obsession with displaying his female anchors' legs on Fox programs. The topic of the dress code and makeup of Fox News' female personalities has long been the subject of scrutiny among writers. Fox News host Gretchen Carlson recently admitted that "pants were not allowed on Fox & Friends."
In addition to the allegation that Ailes once offered to increase a female producer's salary in exchange for sex, Sherman's book features several examples of Ailes' sexism.
A new book depicts Fox News CEO Roger Ailes as deeply paranoid about a new biography, his Fox News employees, his rivals, and of course President Obama.
The revelations come in New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman's forthcoming book The Loudest Voice in the Room, which Media Matters obtained in advance of its Tuesday release.
Fox and Ailes have been doing their best to hamstring Sherman's book for years. After Sherman's biography was first announced in 2011, Ailes initially moved to preempt it by writing his memoir with help from Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton. When the project failed to materialize, he instead cooperated with conservative journalist Zev Chafets' 2013 book Roger Ailes, Off Camera, reportedly "because he was eager to preempt Sherman's version with a more favorable and hopefully sympathetic account of his legacy." The final product was widely derided as a hagiography intended to undermine Sherman's own biography, but numerous Fox News personalities praised the book, and Chafets was afforded ample airtime on Fox properties.
As the book's publication approached, Fox News fired Brian Lewis, the network's top communications executive and reportedly a close Ailes confidante. At the time, the network claimed the dismissal was due to "financial irregularities" involving Lewis, but Gawker later quoted a separate executive calling those claims "complete bullshit" and explaining that Fox was worried Lewis had been leaking information to Sherman. Lewis features prominently in the book's narrative.
Meanwhile, Fox personalities have kept up a steady stream of invective against Sherman, describing him as a "phoney journalist" and an "embarrassment."
Sherman provides new details on Fox's war on his book, explaining how Ailes "discouraged sources close to him from speaking with me and went to elaborate lengths to obstruct my reporting" and that the network created such a culture of fear around cooperating with the book that employees worried they would be "destroy[ed]" if Fox found out they were involved with it.
Aside from fostering fear about Sherman's biography, Ailes' rampant paranoia manifests itself in many other ways in The Loudest Voice in the Room. Ailes reportedly used to have an employee sit in meetings and write down the names of everyone present to intimidate any potential leakers; thought that he might be jailed if President Obama was re-elected; believes climate change is a "conspiracy" by "foreign nationals"; and wanted bombproof glass set up in his office to protect him from "homosexual activists."
The book is rife with examples of Ailes' paranoia and vindictiveness. Some of the lowlights are below.
In his new biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman reports that Ailes unsuccessfully tried to recruit Rush Limbaugh to host a show on the network.
Sherman explains that when Fox's ratings dominance started to show signs of slipping in 2006 surrounding the GOP's drubbing in that year's midterm elections, Ailes reportedly tried to convince Limbaugh to start his own Fox show:
For almost a decade, Ailes had played a role in driving the news; now he was captive to it, with few apparent options to reverse the ratings trend, and at Fox there were incipient signs of panic. "We had the concern that the slide could turn into a freefall," a producer said. Ailes's plans to turn the ship around were running aground. He made an aggressive bid to convince his old friend Rush Limbaugh to come to Fox. Limbaugh turned him down flat. "Rush was kind of laughing at the whole thing," a Limbaugh friend who spoke with him during the talks recalled. "He said, 'Roger is really trying to get me to come back.' And Rush was like, 'Why would I do this?'" [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 312]
Ailes had previously served as the executive producer of Limbaugh's syndicated TV show in the 90s.
According to Sherman, Fox wasn't the only network to pursue Limbaugh in a desperate bid to save flagging ratings. Sherman writes that in 2001, concerned with Fox's ascendancy, then-CNN chief Walter Isaacson tried to tack the network to the right, including by courting Limbaugh:
Both CNN and MSNBC were under pressure from their corporate parents to catch up to Fox. An obvious strategy was to become more conservative. In the summer of 2001, CNN chief Walter Isaacon courted Republicans. He traveled to Washington for private meetings with Senate majority leader Trent Lott and House speaker Dennis Hastert. He also wooed Rush Limbaugh and offered him a show. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 276-277]
A new book reveals that Fox News president Roger Ailes was paralyzed by a book coauthored by Media Matters founder David Brock that documented Fox News' role as a Republican propaganda outlet. Fox reportedly retaliated against the book by airing segments "claiming Brock was mentally unstable."
The Loudest Voice in the Room, New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman's upcoming biography of Ailes, describes how the Fox chief and his network ruthlessly targets critics. Media Matters obtained the book in advance of its January 14 publication date.
Sherman explains what happened when Media Matters became Ailes' top critic. In February 2012, Media Matters released The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine. Sherman reports that Ailes was "obsessed" with the book, lamenting that he couldn't "do anything" until it was published. As retaliation, Fox subsequently "aired segments claiming Brock was mentally unstable":
Later that month, Ailes's old nemesis David Brock coauthored a new book, The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine, which synthesized the most damaging research that Media Matters had published over the past decade on its website. "He was obsessed with Brock's book," one Fox contributor recalled. In one meeting, Ailes said he couldn't "do anything" until it was published. Highlighting leaked emails from Fox executives, which expressed overt right-ring bias, and detailing wild on-air claims about Obama's religion, background, and policies, the text provided Fox's detractors with rounds of ammunition to deploy in their battle to define Ailes as a master propagandist. In retaliation, Fox aired segments claiming Brock was mentally unstable. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 380]
In one such segment, Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow, who often appears on Fox's airwaves to offer anti-LGBT pop psychology, suggested that Brock is "a dangerous man" in part because he was adopted.
Sherman also reports that Ailes "set up an anonymous blog called The Cable Game that took shots at his rivals"and "assigned Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton to write the entries." Sherman writes of one such post targeting Brock:
"Is CNN on the Side of the Killers and Terrorists in Iraq?" one headline read. "David Brock Gets Caught! (Although Secretly, He Probably Loves Being Naughty and Nasty)," blared another. The item's text was accompanied by a photo of Brock posing in a skin-tight tank top with Congressman Barney Frank. "Media Matters, of course, is the notoriously left-wing hit group, founded by that flamboyantly self-hating conservative apostate, David Brock," it said. "Brock has that rare distinction of being accused of being dishonest by both liberals and conservatives alike. But don't take my word for it: Here's what you get if you type 'David Brock liar' on Google: 168,000 hits." [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 339]
In an effort to pre-empt Sherman's biography following its 2011 announcement, Ailes selected Pinkerton to coauthor his autobiography. Pinkerton previously served in the Reagan and Bush White Houses and worked with the Fox chief on President George H.W. Bush's 1988 campaign before joining the network in 2006. Ailes eventually decided to shelve his own book and instead cooperate with conservative journalist Zev Chafets' 2013 biography, which was widely derided as overly sympathetic.
For more than a year, Fox News has waged an intense campaign to discredit Gabriel Sherman's forthcoming biography of network CEO Roger Ailes. A review of the book, which Media Matters obtained in advance of its Tuesday release, reveals that the network was right to be worried.
Among other revelations, Sherman reports that Ailes agreed with Glenn Beck's infamous remark that President Obama has "a deep-seated hatred for white people"; Ailes thinks Navy SEALs should "have to personally kill an illegal immigrant" as part of their certification; Ailes allegedly offered an employee a salary increase if she would have sex with him on demand; and Ailes once called a rival executive "a little fucking Jew prick."
The first details from Sherman's The Loudest Voice in the Room generated serious press attention this week, including the news that Ailes tried to gear Fox's 2012 coverage to "elect the next president."
Sherman has been the target of attacks on his credibility from both Fox personalities -- who have labeled him a "phoney journalist" and an "embarrassment" -- and Ailes himself. The attacks on Sherman will likely intensify around the book's release, given Fox's notoriously merciless public relations team.
Why so much effort by the network to suppress a book? Because Sherman's The Loudest Voice in the Room is filled with revelations about Ailes that would never be reported in hagiographies like Zev Chafets' Ailes-sanctioned bio that was published last year (a book that Ailes reportedly cooperated with as a way to preempt Sherman's book).
Sherman paints an unflattering portrait of Ailes as a vindictive, paranoid partisan who has risen to become possibly the most important conservative in the country by using his top-rated cable news network as a clearinghouse for Republican propaganda.
The day a major scandal broke involving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Fox News devoted scant coverage to the developing story. On January 8, Fox devoted less than 15 minutes to the New Jersey bridge closure scandal, compared to more than two hours each on CNN and MSNBC.
Fox News and its allies have ramped up their efforts in recent days to counteract an upcoming biography of network CEO Roger Ailes.
Gabriel Sherman, a New York magazine reporter, is set to release The Loudest Voice in the Room later this month. The first details from the book have started to leak out, including that Ailes reportedly was the mastermind of a heavily criticized campaign-style anti-Obama video that aired on Fox and that he told Fox News executives before the 2012 election that he "want[s] to elect the next president."
The network has sought to discredit Sherman for more than a year, with Fox personalities attacking Sherman as a "phoney journalist" and an "embarrassment." According to Politico, Ailes cooperated with a biography published last year by author Zev Chafets "because he was eager to preempt Sherman's version with a more favorable and hopefully sympathetic account of his legacy."
As publicity for Sherman's book heats up, Fox's campaign to destroy it is also gathering steam.
In an interview with Hollywood Reporter that ran today, Ailes attacks Sherman's book, claiming that publisher Random House "refused to fact check the content with me or Fox News; that tells you everything you need to know about this book and its agenda." (In a statement to Politico's Dylan Byers, Sherman responds that Ailes turned down "a dozen" requests to speak about the book, and says that a " team of two fact-checkers spent more than 2,000 hours vetting the manuscript before publication.")
Howard Kurtz highlighted the Hollywood Reporter interview in a piece for FoxNews.com, and noted that it "comes as Random House is preparing to publish a book about Ailes by New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman."
Republican Governor Chris Christie is embroiled in a serious scandal involving corruption and petty political retribution. How Fox News handles the story should provide a benchmark for the network's relationship with Christie and its commitment to continuing to bolster his career.
For months, allegations have been simmering that the Christie administration was involved in the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge in order to create gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ. As The New York Times explains, officials in Fort Lee have alleged that the closures, which "turned the town into a parking lot on the first day of school," were retribution against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid.
New Jersey paper The Record reports today that despite public denials by Christie that the closure may have been politically-motivated, documents obtained by the paper suggest that "one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision":
The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee's mayor, who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election and they chronicle how they tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000 which sits in the shadow of the bridge, the world's busiest.
The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough's access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta--a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
Among the email exchanges highlighted by The Record is one in which senior Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly contacted David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie's whom the governor appointed to an executive position at the Port Authority. In an email sent on August 13, 2013, roughly three weeks before Wildstein ordered the lane closures, Kelly wrote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein replied, "Got it." (Wildstein resigned in December.)
In a separate exchange, Wildstein responded to a text message from an unidentified person saying that they "feel badly about the kids, I guess," by saying, "They are the children of Buono voters." (Barbara Buono was Christie's opponent in the November 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election.)
With Christie widely considered a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Fox News' treatment of the scandal could provide a glimpse into the state of the network's relationship with the New Jersey governor, which has seemingly cooled off recently.
On a rainy morning in October, Fox News reporter Doug McKelway sat in the passenger seat of a car cruising around the Washington, D.C., Beltway, delivering a live update to Fox & Friends.
McKelway was there to report on the arrival of what was supposed to be thousands of truckers protesting the Obama administration, an event that Fox and other conservative outlets had already given a significant publicity boost.
"What are you seeing there? Are there truckers all over the place, Doug?" asked Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Struggling against a janky satellite connection, McKelway explained, somewhat awkwardly, "We had expected to see literally dozens if not hundreds of trucks preparing for this protest. Instead, we saw maybe two, maybe three."
"So far, it's a light turnout ... but you never know. It could surge," co-host Brian Kilmeade reassured viewers.
It never did.
While the failed "Truckers Ride for the Constitution" was portrayed by conservative outlets like Fox as a gathering of Americans with reasoned objections to the Obama administration, it was actually co-organized by a fringe conspiracy theorist who apparently believes, among other things, that President Obama and Osama bin Laden are literally the same person.
That the rally had become mainstream news in the first place despite the outlandish views of its organizers -- to the extent that Fox News had a reporter driving around attempting to offer live reports on it -- was emblematic of the way fringe figures and conspiracy theories permeated the media in 2013.