By Patrick & Kathleen
Gabriel Sherman's new book "The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News - and Divided a Country" has been highly praised by many reviewers, and rightly so: Never before have we seen a book which so convincingly provides a detailed account of the rise of the right-wing propaganda machine, a network called "Fox News." At the centre of this organization stands Roger Ailes, who was hired by Rupert Murdoch to create the network in 1996 and has been the boss of Fox News ever since. His personality is carefully explored in Gabriel Sherman's book, and it is fascinating to discover how this man achieved his aims by determination, hard work, bullying, smears, threats and manipulation.
However, this book by Gabriel Sherman is much more than a just biography about Roger Ailes. It provides comprehensive background information about the history of Fox News, of other media personalities who became famous through Fox News, and about the people who pull strings in the background, for example Karl Rove and the right-wing billionaires like the Koch Brothers. Ultimately, the subject matter is also the GOP itself - with Fox News as its very own "media wing."
The book is extremely carefully sourced and documented. Gabriel Sherman uses more than 100 pages just for notes about his sources. This is something we would have liked to see in previous books about various other political topics as well. Such extensive documentation significantly increases the credibility of any book which deals with controversial subjects.
Gabriel Sherman's writing is excellent. In our opinion his book provides much higher quality information than for example a successful book like "Game Change."
Among the many incredibly interesting facts which are revealed in Sherman's book is also the rather surprising revelation that Roger Ailes himself was at some point an "anonymous blogger" - he secretly was the mastermind behind a mysterious blog called "The Cable Game" in which enemies of Fox News were being attacked.
From the reviews of Gabriel Sherman's book - "The Globe and Mail" wrote:
Remarkably, The Loudest Voice In The Room doesn’t resort to this same level of cynicism. It’s not the nastiest book about Ailes – that’d be 2012’s The Fox Effect, by David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt of media watchdog Media Matters. But Sherman’s book distinguishes itself in its diligent characterization of Ailes as something more than just some political P.T. Barnum.
Despite the book’s backhandedly praiseful subtitle and constant references to its subject’s “bluster,” Sherman develops an image of Ailes as something more than a showman. Scarier, and more importantly, The Loudest Voice in the Room posits Ailes as a real-deal ideologue: someone who actually believes all the stuff Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck (“Fox News’s id made visible”) spout on his network. (Or most of it, anyway.) This is a man who called the president of Fox-owned cable channel FX and told him not to air a movie about the Pentagon Papers because “It’s bad for America.”
By the 1980s, though, Ailes had settled into the role of "the most successful political consultant of his generation," Sherman writes. "Between 1980 and 1986, Ailes propelled thirteen GOP senators and eight congressmen into office." In dealing with clients, his counsel was wide-ranging and often very specific. Ailes, Sherman writes, had particular concerns about George H.W. Bush's clothes, telling the presidential candidate, "Don't ever wear that shirt again! You look like a f- clerk!"
Ailes has presided over Fox News since its inception in 1996. The Clinton-Lewinsky saga, the 2000 court fight over hanging chads and butterfly ballots, the rise of the Tea Party - Sherman carefully chronicles the network's role in shaping these and other developments, but inevitably some of this material reads like a rehash.
On the other hand, his behind-the-scenes anecdotes are enlightening and entertaining. Sherman's Ailes is a gifted media operator who's alternately menacing, catty and suspicious.
One episode concerns a Wall Street Journal staffer who wrote a story that angered Ailes. When they subsequently met at a social function, Sherman reports, Ailes threatened her: "You've had your chance. ... Now I have the rest of my life to get back at you."
Interesting insights are also provided by the review of the book in "The New York Times".
The book provides a lot of facts which are rather alarming, as it is quite terrifying to see how efficiently the American public is being manipulated by Fox News on a daily basis. However, the book also raises an interesting question: Has Roger Ailes and Fox News actually done more harm than good for the Republicans? Before Fox News had been created, when there was only the "mainstream media", Republican candidates were far more successful in presidential elections than they are today.
It is very possible that Fox News, while successfully preaching to the base, was also unwillingly quite successful in driving people away from the Republican Party. More and more US citizens realize that they are being manipulated, and citizens also witness on a daily basis how the GOP becomes more and more extreme - a development which again was supported by Fox News by giving a voice to characters from the "fringe" like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and of course Sarah Palin.
Therefore, let's turn our attention to Sarah Palin, whose rise and fall we have watched so closely over the years. Today, Sarah Palin does not get much air time on Fox News any longer, and when she does, "accidents" can easily happen, like her crazed and widely ridiculed word-salad on Megyn Kelly's show from October 2013. The quitter from Alaska also gets quite a lot of attention in Gabriel Sherman's well-researched book. Sherman also benefited from the fact that he already published a major expose about Sarah Palin in April 2010 in "New York Magazine", with the headline "The Revolution Will Be Commercialized - Sarah Palin is already president of right-wing America—and it’s a position with a very big salary" (click HERE for the full PDF-version of the original print article in "New York Magazine").
However, times have changed. Today Sarah Palin surely isn't the "president of right-wing America" any more. These days, her publicity stunts and her trademark moronic remarks and word-salads only continue to damage the GOP, a party which so badly wants to get rid of "stupid party" label.
The new revelations in Sherman's book about Sarah Palin reveal just why the ex-Governor ultimately became a liability - and why she joined Fox News in the first place.
First, the most hilarious revelation. It will come as no surprise to anyone who followed the career of Sarah and her business associate/husband Todd closely, that some producers at Fox News created their very own nicknames for the illustrious couple from Alaska: "The Bitch" and "The Eskimo".
Excerpt from pages 342 and 343:
In the control room, the Palins entertained producers with their private reality show. Fox staffers, chuckled watching Sarah and husband Todd on the video link Fox had installed in her Wasilla office. “On the internal feed you see everything. Someone should tell her that. Todd does the camerawork. She barks at him big time. ‘Todd, what are you doing!’. It’s embarrassing,” one person explained. Fox producers came up with names for their characters: “The Bitch” and “The Eskimo”.
A very interesting new revelation is also the fact that Sarah Palin rejected the idea to appear in front of a live-audience. Again, not too surprising for anyone who followed the career of the mentally ill, bipolar Sarah Palin, who has the constant need to control the potentially hostile environment around her.
Excerpt from page 342:
Fox was on track to generate a billion dollar profit. (...) But Ailes's biggest stars - Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin - were burning hot – too hot – which posed new problems.
Palin also ruffled Fox executives’ feathers. In the winter of 2010, tensions between Palin’s camp and Fox arose over a prime-time special that the network wanted her to star in. Nancy Duffy, a senior Fox producer wanted Palin to host the show in front of a live studio audience. Duffy hoped to call the programme Sarah Palin’s Real American Stories. Palin hated the idea. She complained to her advisors that she didn’t want to be a talk show host. She wanted to just do voice overs. More important, she didn’t want Fox to promote her name in the title of the program. Not that it mattered: Palin’s ratings were starting to disappoint Ailes anyway. Fox did not schedule any additional specials.
Already quite well-know from other reports is the reason why Roger Ailes started to distance himself from Sarah Palin - the infamous "blood-libel" response which she published against his advice - from page 343:
Ailes began to doubt Palin’s political instincts. He thought that she was getting bad advice from her kitchen cabinet and saw her erratic behaviour as signs that she was a “loose cannon.” A turning point in their relationship came in the midst of the national debate over the Tucson shooting massacre.
Palin ignored Ailes's advice and went ahead and released her controversial "blood libel" video the morning Obama traveled to Tucson. For Ailes, her decision was further evidence that she was flailing around off-message. "Why did you call me for advice?" he wondered aloud to colleagues. "He thinks Palin is an idiot", a Republican close to Ailes said. "He thinks she's stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven't elevated the conservative movement."
Gabriel Sherman's book also provides a very detailed description how Sarah Palin and Fox News got in touch in the first place - and confirms that Greta Van Susteren's husband John Coale was instrumental in kick-starting Palin's "post-2008-election" career.
From pages 340 and 341:
For Sarah Palin, the months since Election Day had been a letdown even bigger let down than the loss to Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Being governor, she found, was drudgery compared to her media stardom. “Her life was terrible” one advisor said. “She was never home, her (Juneau) office was four hours from her home. You gotta drive an hour from Wasilla to Anchorage. And she was going broke.“ Her sky high approval rating in Alaska – which had topped 80 per cent before McCain picked her – had withered to the low 50s. She faced a hostile legislature, a barrage of ethics complaints, and frothing local bloggers who reveled in her misfortune. All this for a salary of only $125,000? The worst was that she had racked up $500,000 in legal bills to fend off allegations that she had dismissed Alaska’s public safety commissioner because he refused to fire a state trooper who was her ex-brother-in-law. She needed money and worried about it constantly.
Partly because her embarrassing campaign interview with Katie Couric, and partly because of her outlandish family life and moose shooting habits, Palin was a massive American celebrity. In November 2008, John Coale, tagged along with his wife, Greta Van Susteren, on a trip to Alaska to tape an interview with Palin for Fox News. Later, the Fox camera crew, Van Susteren, and Coale, gathered around the Palin’s kitchen table for some moose chili. After dinner Coale and Palin retreated to the pantry and sat on stacks of boxes and talked for the next hour about her Troopergate dilemma. Palin confessed that she didn’t know what to do about her legal bills. Coale assured Palin he would figure something out.
Whatever one thought of her intelligence she was more than shrewd enough to see that there was money to be made from her newfound national profile, and she hadn’t been the one making it. Planning quickly got under way for a book. Conservative pundit Mary Matlin introduced Palin to Washington superlawyer Robert Barnett, who helped Palin land a reported $7 million book contract with HarperCollins. Two former Palin campaign aides were hired to plan a book tour with all the trappings of a national political campaign. But there was a hitch: with Alaska’s strict ethics rules, Palin worried that her day job would get in the way. In March, she petitioned the Alaska attorney general’s office, which responded with a lengthy list of conditions. “There was no way she could go on a book tour while being Governor,” is how one member of her Alaska staff put it.
On the morning of July 3rd, 2009, in front of a throng of national reporters, Palin announced that she was stepping down as governor. To many, it seemed a mysterious move, defying the logic of a potential presidential candidate, and possibly reflecting some hidden scandal – but in fact the choice may have been as simple as balancing a checkbook.
Once she resigned from the governorship in July, the race was on to sign her up on television. Producers had already put out feelers. Weeks after the 2008 election, Mark Burnett, the creator of Survivor, called Palin and pitched her on starring in her own show. Then, in September 2009, Ailes arranged for Palin to fly on a private jet when she needed to travel between San Diego and New York to meet with her editors at HarperCollins. During the visit, Murdoch met Palin at a charity dinner hosted by his wife, Wendi, at Cipriani 42nd street, and that only increased the network appetite. Ailes deputized Bill Shine to land her.
Negotiations dragged out over the next six months. Palin made it clear to fox that she wouldn’t be willing to move to New York or to Washington. Fox offered to build a remote camera hookup in her Wasilla home. Palin also told Fox that she didn’t want producers hounding her for interviews. She wanted all her interviews to have to go through Shine personally. In January, 2010, Palin finally had her $1 million-a-year deal. Shine was responsible for making sure that the various Fox personalities got equal booking time, to maximise her ratings appeal across the network. “Obviously there needs to be a sense of fairness” Shine explained.
Karl Rove, who is no fool, soon realized that a person like Sarah Palin doesn't help the Republicans. From page 343:
"Why are you letting Palin have the profile?" Karl Rove said to Ailes in one meeting. "Why are you letting her go on your network and say the things she's saying? And Glenn Beck? These are alternative people who will never be elected, and they'll kill us."
Another interesting revelation is the fact that Shushanna Walshe, in 2008 a young producer at Fox News, was sidelined by Roger Ailes after the criticized the Palin-team during the 2008 campaign. From pages 324 and 325:
On September 3, a day after confronting Murdoch, Ailes, watching the Republican convention, was riveted by the appearance of an exotic political creature, Sarah Palin. “She hit a home run,” he told executives the next day. Her gleeful establishment bashing made her a perfect heroine for a new Ailes story line – and Fox’s ratings soared to a cable news record. During Palin’s speech, Fox attracted more than nine million viewers, eclipsing every other news network, cable or broadcast. “At least people care now,” Ailes told his team.
He was intensely interested in the Alaska governor. Palin had some how managed to graft the old western myth of the self-reliant frontiersman onto a beauty pageant face and a counterpunching, don’t tread on me verbal style – a new kind of character, and a remarkably compelling one. A few weeks after her convention speech, Ailes secretly met with Palin during her swing through New York, when she toured the U.N. and had a photo op with Henry Kissinger. That afternoon, Shushannah Walshe, a young Fox producer who was covering Palin's campaign for the network, had gone on-air and criticized McCain's staff, which had prevented reporters from asking Palin questions during her U.N. visit. “There's not one chance that Governor Palin would have to answer a question,” Walshe said on camera. “They're eliminating even the chance of any kind of interaction with the candidate – its just unprecedented.”
Ailes didn't know Walshe, but he was angry when he heard her comments. Liberal media outlets like The Huffington Post were using her words to make it appear that Fox was turning on Palin. He called Suzanne Scott and demanded Walshe be taken off the air. “It's not fair-and-balanced coverage,” an executive later told Walshe. Walshe was allowed to continue covering Palin but was barred from future on-camera appearances. She soon left Fox.
Shushannah Walshe afterwards wrote her own book about Sarah Palin's campaign, titled "Sarah from Alaska."
Finally, quite unexpectedly, in the "Note on Sources" at the end of his book, Gabriel Sherman has another revelation which Sarah Palin and her fans surely won't appreciate very much. On page 404 of his book, Sherman reports about a personal meeting with Roger Ailes, an encounter from April 11, 2012, which took place during a party hosted by The Hollywood Reporter at a restaurant in Manhattan.
Gabriel Sherman quotes from a verbal exchange between him and Roger Ailes which happened during this evening, an exchange which can hardly be disputed by anyone, because as Gabriel Sherman explains, CBS president David Rhodes was present and also took part in this conversation.
Gabriel Sherman writes:
Rhodes's stab at humour did not lift Ailes's mood. Ailes took a step back. It was unclear now who he was addressing. "Let's look at this for a minute: Sarah Palin? She couldn't get elected to anything. Huckabee? He says to me, 'I couldn't raise a nickel.' Santorum? When we hired him, no one, I mean no one, knew who this guy was. And Gingrich has been working here for a long time. So the idea that I'm somehow propping up these candidates is just absurd."
Yes, that's very true. Sarah Palin couldn't get elected to anything indeed. That's why she hasn't been elected to anything since 2006, and why her career now mainly revolves around a pre-taped TV-show at a third rate sports channel. Apart from that, she continues to damage the GOP-brand through public appearances like her upcoming speech at CPAC 2014. Which suits us just fine. Sarah Palin once was a serious political contender, which is almost hard to believe, but due to her own blunders, she has been reduced to a running joke.
Gabriel Sherman's book surely will play a role in how Sarah Palin will be remembered in the future, but other chapters of "Palin history" still have to be written. But there's a lot time left for this - and time does not favour Sarah Palin.