Television wizard Roger Ailes and his combat-ready army at the Fox News Channel, the cable-news powerhouse he launched in 1996, have spent three years preparing for all-out war over New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman’s forthcoming Ailes biography, The Loudest Voice in the Room.
And now, with the book’s official publication two weeks away, war is finally at hand. After contents of the book leaked on Tuesday, a Fox News spokesperson said Sherman reported falsehoods after receiving zero cooperation from his subject.
That, it appears, is the first volley in what will inevitably become a protracted conflict.
According to a report posted late Tuesday night on The New York Times website, Sherman’s 560-page biography, to be published by Random House, is every bit as harsh as Team Ailes had feared—kind of a literary Pearl Harbor.
In an interview posted today on The Hollywood Reporter’s website, Ailes himself dismissed the biography as nothing to worry about.
“Bette Davis said, I think it was Bette Davis, ‘What other people think of me is none of my business,’” the Fox News chairman said. “Attacking me and Fox News is nothing new—it’s a cottage industry. What’s new is that Random House refused to fact-check the content with me or Fox News—that tells you everything you need to know about this book and its agenda.”
In an email sent by Random House's publicity department, Sherman fired back, "During two and a half years of reporting, I made a dozen requests both in writing and in person to speak with Roger Ailes about every aspect of my book. … A team of two fact-checkers spent more than 2,000 hours vetting the manuscript before publication. Roger Ailes declined every request to discuss the reporting with me."
The Times account, based on the paper’s obtaining an early copy of Sherman’s book, reports that the author asserts that Ailes viciously mocks Fox News stars behind their backs; gloats over backroom victories against corporate opponents (specifically Lachlan Murdoch, elder son of Ailes’s boss Rupert Murdoch, who runs News Corp., Fox News’s parent company); once offered a prospective female employee an extra $100 a week in salary for sex; and flung an anti-Semitic slur during an argument with a rival television executive who happened to be Jewish.
Sherman also claims, according to the Times, that Ailes—who was a celebrated Republican media consultant in his previous life—hoped to use Fox News for his political agenda during the 2012 presidential campaign, telling fellow executives: “I want to elect the next president.”
Fox News’s response: “While we have not read the book, 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.” Random House vigorously defended its author, calling Sherman’s biography “an objective and rigorously reported account of Roger Ailes’s life and his running of Fox News.” The publisher told the Times: “We fully stand by the book. If anyone has issues with it, we will respond with the facts as Gabe Sherman has reported them.”
Of particular concern is Sherman’s rendering of an incident involving Ailes and Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav when they were rival executives at NBC and fighting for power and influence within the company. “Let’s kill the S.O.B.,” Ailes is quoted as telling colleagues at a company dinner, and later following up during a meeting with Zaslav with what the Times described as “a vulgar, anti-Semitic slur.”
According to the Times, Sherman writes that an internal investigation of the incident by a partner from the blue-chip law firm Proskauer Rose concluded that Ailes likely used an obscene phrase containing the words “little” and “Jew.” Sherman reportedly quotes former NBC CEO Robert Wright, a longtime Ailes detractor, as saying, “My conclusion was that he probably said it.”
But Ailes, who has no known history of using such language, emphatically denied, through a spokesperson, Sherman’s account to the Times, as did Zaslav. “We fought with each other and we fought with a lot of other people. But this allegation is false,” Zaslav told the paper, adding that he and Ailes are now friends. The Times writes that Sherman, who relies on internal documents for his reporting, quotes Zaslav’s denial among his more than 100 pages of source notes.
In another anecdote from Sherman’s book, dating back to when Ailes was running CNBC in the 1980s, he allegedly offered female television producer Randi Harrison a $100 weekly bonus “if you agree to have sex with me whenever I want,” the Times reports, adding that Harrison was Sherman’s source for the story—which Team Ailes also dismisses as not credible.
Regarding Sherman's allegations of an anti-Semitic slur and sex for extra pay, a Fox News spokesperson told the Times: “These charges are false.”
The Times cites another anecdote in which Ailes celebrated vanquishing Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s onetime heir apparent who ultimately left the company, by openly gloating to colleagues and commandeering young Murdoch’s chair.
And, in a passage that is likely to prompt internal denials and ego-soothing for Fox News’s on-air talent, Ailes is quoted as privately deriding Bill O’Reilly as “a book salesman with a TV show,” and mocking Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade as “a soccer coach from Long Island.”
Sherman also claims Ailes quietly promoted Republican presidential candidates behind the scenes in 2012, at one point advising Romney’ running mate Paul Ryan to work with a speech coach to improve his on-camera performance. He also lays the blame on Ailes—who denied any involvement at the time—for a controversial four-minute video slamming Obama that was aired during the fall campaign on Fox & Friends.
In what was widely seen as an attempt to steal Sherman’s thunder, Ailes cooperated last year with author Zev Chafets for a sympathetic biography, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, granting Chafets generous access. Apparently the thunder-stealing didn’t quite work.
While potentially damaging if left unanswered, Sherman’s Ailes biography—which takes his subject from a working-class childhood in Ohio to his current lofty perch atop the media-political ziggurat—might not be getting the attention it might otherwise receive because of a blockbuster new memoir by Bob Gates trashing many of his former colleagues in the Obama administration, and criticizing the president. The Gates book was front-page news on Tuesday, so Ailes might consider sending a thank-you note to the former secretary of defense.
Sherman, who writes that he interviewed more than 600 current and former employees and colleagues of the larger-than-life Ailes, didn’t respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Fox News’s broadside. He emailed the Times: “I consider Roger Ailes to be one of the most fascinating, consequential figures in contemporary American life. I wrote this book to shed light on the full scope of his talents and power, which have found their fullest expression at Fox News.”