From the January 16 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
Loading the player reg...
Despite Fox News' best efforts to hamper it, Gabriel Sherman's new biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes has been the focus of widespread media attention this week.
Sherman's The Loudest Voice In The Room paints an in-depth look at Ailes as someone who operates Fox News more as a political entity than a journalistic one.
In a wide-raging interview Tuesday with Media Matters, Sherman discussed his quest to "show all sides" of Ailes; how Fox News has morphed into "Ailes' personal megaphone"; how the network has "become damaging to the Republican brand"; the "political campaign" Fox has waged to distract people from the book; and the Fox chief's place in history as "one of the great American hucksters."
Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
You said on Reliable Sources that Fox News is a political operation that employs journalists. I think that's an interesting description. How have you seen that hurt its credibility, and can it really operate that way?
Well I think that over time things have changed. In the early years of Fox, the blueprint was more tabloid and populist than baldly conservative but as Ailes has amassed more power, the true nature of the organization he was building has come into clearer view and it's become harder and harder for the network to maintain the fiction of "fair and balanced." And the model, the idea for Fox was always to have the culture of a political campaign. Ailes runs it like a political campaign. There's a secret organization, a secret group of executives inside the network called the G8, which is a riff off of the G6, which was from the George H.W. Bush campaign. So you see how Ailes has brought the culture of a political campaign into the news business. And now, in the Obama years, the last -- since 2008, we've seen Fox has sort of come into full bloom. And it's revealed itself for what it is, which is that it's Roger Ailes' personal megaphone.
And did that hurt its efforts to complete its mission, or did that not really affect it for the people that watch Fox?
Well the audience is very -- it's still the most dominant cable network. The audience is loyal. There's been some dips, especially after the 2012 election. I think one of the most important developments is that as Fox has fully evolved and emerged as Ailes' megaphone, it has hurt Fox's ability to win national elections. From 2000 til 2008, Fox was able to really cheerlead and be a platform for the Bush White House. But as the network has become more extreme, it's become harder and harder to resonate -- it's become damaging to the Republican brand. And that's where you see the limits of Ailes' power. 2012 was a very revealing moment of that.
The Republican Party has leadership problems. Aside from Chris Christie, just in general, losing the last two presidential elections and the other Republican Party problems, how much do they hurt Ailes and Fox, and their effectiveness? Or how much did Ailes and Fox hurt the Republican Party and its efforts, as you said, to win elections?
I would put the responsibility on Ailes and the network he runs because what makes the best television is the most conflict, some of the most extreme voices are the ones that break through on Fox and as his network has effectively become the brand of the Republican Party, you know I said that it has surpassed the Republican Party. So the brand of Fox has become the brand of the Republican Party and that has hurt the party on issues from immigration, on issues of marriage equality, on issues of climate change, and spending.
The idea that in one meeting Ailes said that Obama hates capitalism. Now you could have a lot of -- there can be a debate about the economic policy of this administration, but the notion that they hate capitalism just doesn't -- it's just not supported by the observable reality. I mean Obama has sort of governed as a pretty conventional Democrat, down the middle Democrat with some liberal views. But the idea that he is -- if you believe that Obama, that Ailes defines, is this extreme, statist, you know, radical politician, and that brand is too extreme for the Republican Party to win national majorities.
Right now, Fox News is Chris Christie's best friend.
As New Jersey's Republican governor struggles to regain his political footing in the wake of the George Washington Bridge dirty tricks scandal, Fox News has been one of the few places to mount any kind of sustained defense on his behalf. That defense has alternately come in the form of downplaying the scandal at first, invoking Benghazi as often as possible, blaming a "feminized atmosphere" for the governor's troubles, and championing Christie's alleged brand of "leadership" in response to the scandal.
The strategy might be scattershot but at least Fox is coming to Christie's side at a time when many conservative voices are not.
Which leads to the question: is Fox chairman Roger Ailes once again advising Christie? It's worth asking given that Fox is now acting as Christie's de facto War Room, stressing the governor's talking points and doing its best to deflect attention away from the growing questions about why so many of his senior aides knew about the four-day scheme to choke off Fort Lee, N.J. with nightmarish traffic, yet Christie, he says, remained clueless.
And if Ailes is pitching in, it wouldn't be the first time he sat down with Christie in the role of an informal political advisor.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) claimed that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes favors immigration reform and that Fox News has been balanced in its coverage, which contradicts reports of Ailes' hostile stance towards immigrants and the network's ongoing demagoguery of the issue. Graham has previously noted the influence that the Ailes-run Fox exerts over conservative voters, and is facing a race this year with several primary challengers to his right where the support of Fox viewers could be key.
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?").
From the January 13 edition of CNN's Piers Morgan Live:
Loading the player reg...
2012's The Fox Effect by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt also documented Ailes' abrasive personality. Sherman reported Ailes was "obsessed" with The Fox Effect and retaliated against it by airing segments "claiming Brock was mentally unstable."
The New York Times Book Review has run an advertisement for a biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes during each of the past two weekends.
The ads seem to be an attempt to counter the Sherman book, stating that Chafets' book is "based on the only exclusive interview with Ailes" and that "Chafets book captures the real ROGER AILES and the true inside story of FOX News."
It's unclear who is behind the ads. But the ads were reportedly placed by Ailes' "personal PR consultant."
The ads are somewhat unusual in that they do not mention the publisher, Penguin Book's conservative imprint Sentinel, and are vague about who paid for the placement. A Times spokesperson revealed that the ads were placed, not by Penguin, but by the Dilenschneider Group, a public relations firm, as Huffington Post's Michael Calderone previously reported.
As Calderone notes, the firm's founder, Robert Dilenschneider, is described in Sherman's book as Ailes' "personal PR consultant."
The Dilenschneider Group has so far failed to respond to inquiries about the ads, while Chafets' publicist at Penguin declined to comment on it, stating via email, "I won't be commenting on the ad to anyone. I'm sorry I'm not more helpful."
Another unusual element of the story is that both books are published by divisions of the same company, Penguin Random House, formed when the two prominent publishers merged last year. Sherman's book is published through Random House, while Chafets' is a project of the Penguin/Sentinel division.
For one division to run a high-profile ad indirectly attacking another division's book on the same subject right before that book's release seems odd.
In addition, while there is no ad in the Book Review for Sherman's book, there is a lengthy review of Sherman's biography in the weekly book section.
The entwined history of the Chafets and Sherman biographies, as well as the firm that placed them, may present clues as to the source of the ads.
Ailes reportedly agreed to cooperate with Chafets as a way of pre-empting Sherman's biography; his network gave the relentlessly positive result heavy coverage following its release.
The network reportedly fired its top PR executive who they were worried was leaking information to Sherman; Fox personalities publicly attacked the New York reporter, allegedly at a top network executive's behest; and the network threw roadblocks in the way of Sherman's attempts to speak with Fox employees and even threatened to sue him.
Fox News did not respond to inquiries about any involvement by Ailes or the network in the Chafets ad. Chafets did not respond to requests for comment.
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.
CNN media critic Brian Stelter questioned Fox News' minimal coverage of the political retribution scandal surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that Fox executive Roger Ailes' role as a "Republican kingmaker" and his support of a Christie presidential campaign may be a reason the network initially ignored the breaking story.
On January 8, news broke that Christie's administration may have deliberately created gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ by ordering the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge as retribution for the town mayor's refusal to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid. Christie has publicly denied the swirling allegations of his involvement for months, but newly released emails show his deputy chief of staff seemingly requesting the lane closures.
As Media Matters reported, both CNN and MSNBC quickly reported on the new revelation -- but it took Fox News nearly six hours from the time the story broke to mention it on air.
The next day, CNN's New Day highlighted Fox's minimal discussion of the story, and senior media correspondent and Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter wondered if political motivations were to blame. Stelter pointed to Fox News chairman Roger Ailes' reputation as a "Republican kingmaker" and noted that Ailes "has in the past tried to enlist Chris Christie to run for president" and "has been said to be a big fan of Chris Christie."
Stelter said the coverage made him "wonder is Fox avoiding the story to help Chris Christie," particularly given the 2016 presidential race:
STELTER: With 2016 on the horizon, Fox News is an important place for Republicans or for conservatives to hear about these candidates. And if they don't hear a lot about this scandal, they may not take it as seriously.
Indeed, a January 9 New York Times article on the upcoming biography of Ailes highlights his focus on influencing national politics -- particularly the presidential election -- and how he uses Fox News in pursuit of that goal:
Roger Ailes was so eager to influence national politics that in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, he told fellow Fox News executives point-blank: "I want to elect the next president."
The book describes in detail Mr. Ailes's professional ambition, his desire to influence American politics through a conservative prism, and his status as a visionary who possessed an intuitive understanding of the power of television to shape public opinion. Before entering the corporate world, Mr. Ailes was a political consultant, and Mr. Sherman's book credits him with being a pioneer in using television during election campaigns.
For years, Fox personalities showered Christie with praise, declaring their "love" for the "national sensation." According to New York magazine, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and personally lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.