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Ailes' Biographer Says Fox News Empire is Crumbling

Violence, paranoia, bigotry, and sexual harassment reign at "America's Newsroom," author Gabriel Sherman explains.
 
 
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Gabriel Sherman’s exhaustive, inflammatory biography of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, released days ago by Random House, has already prompted network pushback. “While we have not read the book,” a Fox News spokesperson told the New York Times, “the only reality here is that Gabe was not provided any direct access to Roger Ailes and the book was never fact-checked with Fox News.” Sherman’s 538-page tome,  “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided a Country,” is the product of three years of work and hundreds of interviews. It paints Ailes as a transformative figure in American media and politics – and includes alleged episodes of violence, paranoia, bigotry and sexual harassment.

Sherman, a contributing editor at New York magazine, spoke with Salon Friday about Ailes’ power, his myth-making about his own biography, and Fox’s future. “He is presiding over an empire that has a crumbling foundation,” said Sherman. A condensed and edited version of our conversation follows.

You write that Ailes has been “essentially running the Republican Party …” Why Ailes and not, say, Mitch McConnell, or Jim DeMint, or Rush Limbaugh, or Rubert Murdoch?

I think Ailes has surpassed the Republican Party. Fox is driving the set of stories and the mission in a way that – it’s not that Ailes is doing it to help the Republican Party, Ailes has his own agenda. He is bigger than the Republican Party. He has a meeting, which I report on in the book, and he expresses disdain for the Republican Party — he jokes at one point that the GOP couldn’t organize a one-car funeral. So you know, to your question, why Ailes and not somebody else, I think because there is just a legitimate power vacuum in Republican politics. I mean, the biggest power center on the right in American life right now is Fox News. It is the toll booth that Republican politicians have to go through to speak to Republican primary voters. And Ailes has created an empire that effectively controls the message on the right. That’s why I write about him being the closest thing we have right now in American politics to a party boss.

Let’s take three motives: Winning profit for Fox News, winning elections for Republicans, and winning ideological or policy victories for conservatism. How big a role do each of those play in the way Ailes has run Fox?

I think the way to look at it is that it’s a dance. There are these competing interests and motivations that govern how Ailes runs Fox News; they are all interrelated, and at any given point one of those motives will be higher up than another.

Without the profits and the ratings, Ailes cannot win an election and push his conservative agenda. So at a certain respect, the profits and the ratings are the primary agenda, because this is the engine that allows him to accomplish everything else.

But really since 2002, since Fox News passed CNN and never turned back as the No. 1 cable news network — and now its ratings are double that of CNN and MSNBC combined, and it generates around a billion dollar profit for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire — now that financial success is so assured … Ailes can bank that. He knows that Fox is going to be an ATM machine for him and for Murdoch. So now, his agenda becomes more about advancing Republican fortunes at the polls.

And what my book shows is, most recently, his agenda has become pushing his own agenda. That’s how I see that Ailes has come to a remarkable point in his career, where his agenda — the style of politics that he is pushing, and that his audience wants to hear on Fox — is detrimental to the GOP.

 
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