Dylan Byers of Politico posted an article yesterday that dug into the literary battle between two competing biographies of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. One of the bios is by an independent reporter, Gabriel Sherman, who has demonstrated his ability to break stories from within the Fox bubble. The other is by a hack, Zev Chafets, who previously penned a gushing homage to Rush Limbaugh and who has the blessing of Ailes – including access to the subject, his family, friends, and colleagues.
Byers noted that Sherman has already been targeted by Ailes’ defenders on the Fox News payroll. He has been assailed as a “phony journalist,” a “stalker,” a “harasser,” and when all else fails, as “a [George] Soros puppet.” [Sherman is presently a fellow of the New America Foundation to which Soros has donated a miniscule sum. Conservative and Fox News pundit Jim Pinkerton also has a fellowship]. Despite this full-court bad press assault, Byers is not convinced that there is any coordinated effort to malign Sherman. He writes…
“To date, no evidence has emerged that Ailes ordered his employees to stir up the attacks on Sherman — which have gone beyond the usual confines of professional critiques and into the realm of personal insult and innuendo.”
If Byers is looking for evidence, he might examine the track record at Fox when they decide that they are under fire from an ideological enemy. When David Brock of Media Matters was preparing the release of his book “The Fox Effect,” the Ailes team fired up a preemptive blitzkrieg of slander and character assassination. They labeled Brock everything from mentally unstable to a drug user to a self-hating megalomaniac. They also mounted a campaign to get Fox viewers to file complaints with the IRS to get Media Matters’ tax exemption as a charitable organization revoked. All of this because Brock had a book that was about to come out.
This is all consistent with the Ailes business plan. He sits atop an enterprise that engages in scorched earth assaults against perceived enemies, driven by his own well-known paranoia. So it is not particularly surprising that, after hearing about an unauthorized (and perhaps unfriendly) biography in the works, he would solicit his own biographer whom he could be certain would canonize him and then attempt to discredit the opposing author before any truth inadvertently slipped out.
Sherman recently certified his reporting skills, and the reliability of his sources within Fox, by exposing a couple of incidents that revealed some of the inner workings of the network. In one case he found that shortly after the massacre in Newtown, CT, Fox producers had been given instructions “not to talk about gun-control policy on air.” In the other case, just after the election results that Fox had so badly botched, Sherman discovered that Ailes had sent out orders “mandating that producers must get permission before booking [Karl] Rove or [Dick] Morris,” two of the more notoriously flawed Fox analysts.
Sherman’s book is expected to be released in a few months. If his prior reporting is any indication, it should be an interesting read. The same cannot be said for the book by Chafets, unless you happen to be partial to sycophantic hero-worship based on fantastical diversions from reality. But because of the timing, neither book is likely to record how Ailes unethically deploys his “news” staff to smack down independent reporting that he is afraid might be too honest and probing – especially when it is about himself. It is easy to predict that, as the publish date for Sherman’s book approaches, Sherman will become increasingly under attack by the Ailes machine. It may be a withering onslaught of defamation, but it will also be an affirmation that he is doing his job.
[Update] An excerpt of the Ailes-approved Chafets book was published in Vanity Fair. Aside from the expected adulatory tone, Chafets revealed how juvenile Ailes can be when criticizing those he dislikes. He called Newt Gingrich “a prick.” He said VP Joe Biden is “dumb as an ashtray.” He mocked CNN’s Soledad O’Brien as the anchor “named after a prison” (actually, she was named after the Virgin Mary). He went after his own son-in-law saying that he “needed to see a psychiatrist.” And he sunk to racist dog-whistling by calling President Obama “lazy.” Based on these excerpts, this is one book that should hit the bargain bins pretty fast.