- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
“I used to say, you pull a .45 on Roger, he’ll have a bazooka trained between your eyes”— Catherine Crier, former Fox News Channel on-air personality, quoted on Page 218 of “The Loudest Voice in the Room”
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I was puzzled about all the controversy surrounding Gabriel Sherman’s exhaustive (and often exhausting) dissection of Roger Ailes: “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country” (Random House, 560 pages, notes, index, no photographs, $28.00).
After all, no matter what you say about Roger Ailes, even his enemies have to admit he’s a programming genius. Otherwise, the canny Australian media supermogul Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t have chosen him in 1996 to start a cable news channel to compete with — and ultimately defeat — CNN and MSNBC.
To put Sherman’s book in context, readers should get their hands on a book I reviewed on this site last Oct. 20, “Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires” by David Folkenflik. Link to my review:http://www.huntingtonnews.net/74991
Ailes’ skills and knowledge of middle America derive from his being a product of same. He was born in 1940 in the once thriving, now rust-belt city of Warren Ohio to a real working class family — not an ersatz one like Bill O’Reilly’s, whose father worked as an accountant in Manhattan. Roger Ailes’ knowledge of what “flyover country” folks want was bred in the bone. I would dispute the part in the book’s subtitle that Ailes “divided a country”: it’s more of a case of Ailes’s instinctively recognizing the divisions that existed in the country, exploiting them to the fullest in his grand design for Fox News.
Regardless of what people think of TV news, my guess is that most viewers want entertainment. If it comes with good-looking women — like Crier, Megyn Kelly, Andrea Tantaros to name just a few — so much the better. If it comes with a bombastic loudmouth from Long Island named Bill O’Reilly, so be it. I regularly look at all three of the cable news channels and it seems that they all have good-looking female and male personalities — and bombastic types, too, like the Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC.
This comprehensive look at Ailes and FNC covers events from the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to the Bush-Gore recount, from the war in Iraq to the Tea Party attack on the Obama presidency. It also covers the allegations of sexual harassment against Bill O’Reilly from producer Andrea Mackris, which don’t seem to me to have any relevance with the arc of the career of Roger Ailes, but which cost O’Reilly a lot of money in a settlement.
Nor does his campaign waged in his home in Garrison, NY, across the Hudson River from West Point, a subject to which I think Sherman devotes an inordinate amount of space to show something we already have learned: That Roger Ailes is a guy who just won’t quit.
Sherman tried and failed to get a sit-down interview with Ailes himself, but his book is based on three years of research, including hundreds of interviews with Fox News insiders past and present. He interviewed disgruntled employees of FNC, but also gruntled ones, to coin a word.
Sherman documents Ailes’s tactical acuity as he battles the press, business rivals, and countless real and perceived enemies inside and outside Fox. Sherman takes us inside the morning meetings in which Ailes and other high-level executives strategize Fox’s presentation of the news to advance Ailes’s political agenda; provides behind-the-scenes details of Ailes’s crucial role as finder and shaper of talent, including his sometimes rocky relationships with Fox News stars such as O’Reilly and Sean Hannity; and probes Ailes’s fraught partnership with his equally brash and mercurial boss, Rupert Murdoch.
OK, did I like the book? I did. As I said, it’s an ideal companion to Folkenflick’s tome. I wish the publishers had included a selection of photographs. “The Loudest Voice in the Room” will appeal largely to devotees of inside-baseball information, but general readers should gain an understanding of Fox News Channel from reading it.
About the author
Gabriel Sherman is a contributing editor at New York Magazine. Currently, Sherman is also a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation. In January 2014, Random House will publish his first book about Roger Ailes and the rise of the Fox News Channel.
At New York, Sherman has reported cover stories on media, politics and business. His 2011 cover story “The Elephant in the Green Room,” about Roger Ailes’s role in shaping the 2012 Republican presidential primary, was a finalist for the Mirror Award for “Best Single Article”. His 2010 cover story “Chasing Fox,” about the travails at CNN and MSNBC, won the Mirror Award in that category. In 2008, his cover story “Testing Horace Mann,” chronicled a Facebook scandal at the prestigious New York City prep school, and was a finalist for the Livingston Award.
At the New Republic, Sherman’s 2010 cover story, “Post Apocalypse,” chronicled the rise and fall of the Washington Post as the legendary paper struggled to adapt to a new media landscape. In December 2008, he wrote a series of investigative articles that uncovered that Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat’s Oprah-hyped memoir was a hoax. His February 2008 article revealed the internal newsroom debate at the New York Times over the paper’s decision to publish a controversial article that alleged that the 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain had had an affair with the telecommunications lobbyist, Vicki Iseman.
Previously, Sherman was the media reporter at the New York Observer, where he reported extensively on the New York Times, including the paper’s flawed coverage of Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction and the decision to delay publishing its NSA wiretapping exclusive for more than a year. He reported on Judith Miller’s standoff with Times editors and reporters, and ultimately sat down for Miller’s first interview on the eve of her resignation from the paper. From 2006-2007, Sherman was a staff writer at Conde Nast Portfolio. Website: www.thehoudestvoiceintheroom,com