A new book depicts Fox News CEO Roger Ailes as deeply paranoid about a new biography, his Fox News employees, his rivals, and of course President Obama.
The revelations come in New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman's forthcoming book The Loudest Voice in the Room, which Media Matters obtained in advance of its Tuesday release.
Fox and Ailes have been doing their best to hamstring Sherman's book for years. After Sherman's biography was first announced in 2011, Ailes initially moved to preempt it by writing his memoir with help from Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton. When the project failed to materialize, he instead cooperated with conservative journalist Zev Chafets' 2013 book Roger Ailes, Off Camera, reportedly "because he was eager to preempt Sherman's version with a more favorable and hopefully sympathetic account of his legacy." The final product was widely derided as a hagiography intended to undermine Sherman's own biography, but numerous Fox News personalities praised the book, and Chafets was afforded ample airtime on Fox properties.
As the book's publication approached, Fox News fired Brian Lewis, the network's top communications executive and reportedly a close Ailes confidante. At the time, the network claimed the dismissal was due to "financial irregularities" involving Lewis, but Gawker later quoted a separate executive calling those claims "complete bullshit" and explaining that Fox was worried Lewis had been leaking information to Sherman. Lewis features prominently in the book's narrative.
Meanwhile, Fox personalities have kept up a steady stream of invective against Sherman, describing him as a "phoney journalist" and an "embarrassment."
Sherman provides new details on Fox's war on his book, explaining how Ailes "discouraged sources close to him from speaking with me and went to elaborate lengths to obstruct my reporting" and that the network created such a culture of fear around cooperating with the book that employees worried they would be "destroy[ed]" if Fox found out they were involved with it.
Aside from fostering fear about Sherman's biography, Ailes' rampant paranoia manifests itself in many other ways in The Loudest Voice in the Room. Ailes reportedly used to have an employee sit in meetings and write down the names of everyone present to intimidate any potential leakers; thought that he might be jailed if President Obama was re-elected; believes climate change is a "conspiracy" by "foreign nationals"; and wanted bombproof glass set up in his office to protect him from "homosexual activists."
The book is rife with examples of Ailes' paranoia and vindictiveness. Some of the lowlights are below.
A new book reveals that Fox News president Roger Ailes was paralyzed by a book coauthored by Media Matters founder David Brock that documented Fox News' role as a Republican propaganda outlet. Fox reportedly retaliated against the book by airing segments "claiming Brock was mentally unstable."
The Loudest Voice in the Room, New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman's upcoming biography of Ailes, describes how the Fox chief and his network ruthlessly targets critics. Media Matters obtained the book in advance of its January 14 publication date.
Sherman explains what happened when Media Matters became Ailes' top critic. In February 2012, Media Matters released The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine. Sherman reports that Ailes was "obsessed" with the book, lamenting that he couldn't "do anything" until it was published. As retaliation, Fox subsequently "aired segments claiming Brock was mentally unstable":
Later that month, Ailes's old nemesis David Brock coauthored a new book, The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine, which synthesized the most damaging research that Media Matters had published over the past decade on its website. "He was obsessed with Brock's book," one Fox contributor recalled. In one meeting, Ailes said he couldn't "do anything" until it was published. Highlighting leaked emails from Fox executives, which expressed overt right-ring bias, and detailing wild on-air claims about Obama's religion, background, and policies, the text provided Fox's detractors with rounds of ammunition to deploy in their battle to define Ailes as a master propagandist. In retaliation, Fox aired segments claiming Brock was mentally unstable. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 380]
In one such segment, Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow, who often appears on Fox's airwaves to offer anti-LGBT pop psychology, suggested that Brock is "a dangerous man" in part because he was adopted.
Sherman also reports that Ailes "set up an anonymous blog called The Cable Game that took shots at his rivals"and "assigned Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton to write the entries." Sherman writes of one such post targeting Brock:
"Is CNN on the Side of the Killers and Terrorists in Iraq?" one headline read. "David Brock Gets Caught! (Although Secretly, He Probably Loves Being Naughty and Nasty)," blared another. The item's text was accompanied by a photo of Brock posing in a skin-tight tank top with Congressman Barney Frank. "Media Matters, of course, is the notoriously left-wing hit group, founded by that flamboyantly self-hating conservative apostate, David Brock," it said. "Brock has that rare distinction of being accused of being dishonest by both liberals and conservatives alike. But don't take my word for it: Here's what you get if you type 'David Brock liar' on Google: 168,000 hits." [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 339]
In an effort to pre-empt Sherman's biography following its 2011 announcement, Ailes selected Pinkerton to coauthor his autobiography. Pinkerton previously served in the Reagan and Bush White Houses and worked with the Fox chief on President George H.W. Bush's 1988 campaign before joining the network in 2006. Ailes eventually decided to shelve his own book and instead cooperate with conservative journalist Zev Chafets' 2013 biography, which was widely derided as overly sympathetic.
Conservatives in the media are deceitfully seeking political gain from Gov. Chris Christie's bridge scandal, contrasting his response favorably with President Obama's handling of the 2013 IRS scandal. But that comparison is flawed.
Christie apologized during a January 9 press conference following the revelation that his aides had conspired to close traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as political retaliation, saying he had not known of their actions and that they had been fired. Conservatives are contrasting his actions favorably to President Obama's response to the allegations raised in May 2013 that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative groups who sought nonprofit status for additional scrutiny.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote in a January 9 piece that Christie's "contrition contrasts so sharply with President Obama's handling of the tax agency's abuse of political opponents and his reluctance to fire anyone other than a military general for anything." They added, "We raise this mostly because our media friends have been complicit in dismissing the IRS abuses, and for that matter every other legal abuse during the Obama years."
The talking point has also been regularly featured on Fox News, raised by hosts or commentators on America's Newsroom, Fox & Friends, Hannity, The O'Reilly Factor, The Five, and Happening Now, as the network turns from ignoring the story to using it as a weapon to attack the Obama administration.
But the conservatives' comparison doesn't make sense. Both President Obama and Chris Christie have said they did not know about alleged misuse of power, but Christie's scandal involves his top political aides, while Obama's does not involve his own staff. Moreover, the claim that Obama did not seek accountability in the IRS scandal is inaccurate.
Much of the media is adopting Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's description of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' forthcoming memoir as a damning critique of President Obama -- a narrative undermined by Woodward's own description of the book's contents.
Gates' memoir, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, will be released January 14. On January 7, both The Washington Post and The New York Times reported on the contents of the book based on copies they had received prior to publication. Those articles have been the source for a firestorm of coverage on cable and broadcast television, with much of the media adopting Woodward's portrayal of the book as a harsh and nearly unprecedented attack on the president.
According to the anecdotes relayed by the Times and the Post, Gates details his frustration with the White House's civilian national security staff, which he believes took on responsibility that should have been the prerogative of the Defense Department and the military. And he at times offers specific criticisms of President Obama's actions. But Woodward's portrayal of the book, which has been adopted by the rest of the media, depicting it as a bombshell attack on the president simply does not follow from the facts at hand.
Under the headline "Robert Gates, former defense secretary, offers harsh critique of Obama's leadership in 'Duty,'" Woodward begins his article by writing that Gates "unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama's leadership" and offers "one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat":
In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama's leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president "doesn't believe in his own strategy, and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's all about getting out."
Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was "skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail," Gates writes in "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War."
Woodward also writes that "It is rare for a former Cabinet member, let alone a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command, to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president."
Cable and network news programs - whose reporters apparently have not read the book themselves -- are adopting Woodward's frame of the book as an attack on the president.
But elsewhere in his article, Woodward undermines this narrative by pointing out that Gates writes that all of Obama's Afghanistan decisions were correct, as The New Republic's Isaac Chotiner notes. Rather than consider the possibility that he is wrong to present Gates' book as a "harsh critique" of Obama, Woodward suggests that Gates is contradicting himself:
Gates's severe criticism is even more surprising -- some might say contradictory -- because toward the end of "Duty," he says of Obama's chief Afghanistan policies, "I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions." That particular view is not a universal one; like much of the debate about the best path to take in Afghanistan, there is disagreement on how well the surge strategy worked, including among military officials.
Woodward also writes that Gates "writes about Obama with an ambivalence that he does not resolve, praising him as 'a man of personal integrity' even as he faults his leadership."
Days after he wrote a column endorsing the assassination of President Obama, Fox hosted Michael Scheuer to accuse Hillary Clinton of effectively murdering the Americans who died during the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Scheuer, a former CIA officer with a long history of extreme rhetoric, has appeared on Fox News and Fox Business dozens of times over the years.
Scheuer endorsed the assassinations of both Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron in his December 23 column, as The Daily Beast's David Frum noted. Concluding a piece criticizing their handling of "the Islamists' war on America," Scheuer wrote (emphasis added):
As they head further down the road of losing wars and wrecking Anglo-American liberties, Messrs Obama and Cameron and their supporters in all parties would do well to read the words of the great 17th century English republican Algernon Sidney, a man who was revered on both sides of the Atlantic, who greatly influenced America's founders, and who was executed by the British Crown for what it described as sedition. "There must therefore be a right," Sidney wrote,
"of proceeding judicially or extra-judicially against all persons who transgress the laws; or else those laws, and the societies that should subsist by them, cannot stand; and the ends for which governments are constituted, together with the governments themselves, must be overthrown. ... If he [a political leader] be justly accounted an enemy of all, who injures all; he above all must be the publick enemy of a nation, who by usurping power over them, does the greatest and most publick injury that a people can suffer. For which reason, by an established law among the most virtuous nations, every man might kill a tyrant; and no names are recorded in history with more honor, than of those who did it."
The former CIA official appeared on Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight only ten days after that column's publication. During his January 2 interview, Scheuer accused The New York Times of publishing a series on the Benghazi attacks in order to protect Hillary Clinton, who he claimed "has blood on her arms up to her elbows for not being willing to protect the people who are representing us in Libya" and thus "killed those Americans and [the Times editors] have to kill that story or it is going to become mainstream for 2016." Dobbs responded, "Strong words from Michael Scheuer."
In previous Fox interviews on the Benghazi attacks, Scheuer has said that "Democrats are very good at watching Americans die"; accused Clinton of having "blood on her hands"; and suggested that Obama forced CIA director David Petraeus to resign because he wouldn't take responsibility for the attack. In 2009, he claimed that "The only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States because it's going to take a grassroots, bottom up pressure because these politicians prize their office, prize the praise of the media and the Europeans."
On September 11, 2012, terrorists killed four Americans during attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Conservatives immediately sought to use those tragic killings for political benefit.
By January 1, with conservatives having failed to prevent President Obama's re-election, but succeeding in using the issue to torpedo Susan Rice's bid for Secretary of State, Media Matters had some reason to hope that this effort would subside.
We were wrong.
Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media doubled down, spending much of the year trying to turn Benghazi into Obama's Watergate (or Iran-Contra, or both) and try to end any potential presidential run by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before it can begin. And some mainstream outlets, more eager to win over a conservative audience than to check their facts, ran their own misleading, sketchily-sourced Benghazi exposés.
Much of the discussion has centered around two "unanswered questions" that in reality were answered long ago.
Right-wing media outlets (and mainstream outlets seeking to attract their audience) have been obsessed with asking why the Obama administration initially linked the attacks with an anti-Islam YouTube video that spurred violent protests across the Middle East in mid-September, even after it became clear that the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis had believed there was a connection between the two.
They've also taken every opportunity to question why help wasn't sent to aid U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. Reporters have continued asking this "lingering question" even as a long line of national security experts, from both inside and outside of the administration, have explained that while the Defense Department quickly deployed Special Forces teams to the region, due to logistical issues they were unable to reach the scene until long after the attacks had concluded.
To comprehensively debunk these claims and many more about the attacks, in October 2013 Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt released the ebook The Benghazi Hoax.
Here are seven of the worst media reports and conspiracies from the last year on the Benghazi hoax:
Tonight CNN will air an hour-long interview its employee S.E. Cupp did with Glenn Beck, who is also her boss at Beck's own news network. CNN failed to disclose this conflict of interest while promoting the special in an interview with Cupp.
CNN will air the interview on the December 20 edition of Piers Morgan Live. Cupp, a co-host on CNN's Crossfire, is also a contributor on TheBlaze TV, the conservative news network Beck founded and heads.
CNN's New Day gave Cupp a platform to promote the special without mentioning the conflict of interest during a December 20 interview on New Day. At no point during that segment did Cupp or hosts Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan note that Cupp also works for Blaze TV, that Beck is her boss, or the inherent ethical conflict in having her interview Beck over the CNN airwaves.
On New Day, Cupp said that her boss is "funny, he says it how he means it," which is "why people love Glenn." She also acknowledged that Beck has said some "controversial things," and concluded that the fact that he supposedly "abstains from the political process ... makes him a very honest critic but for those of us who work within the political process and would like to make it better that's a little frustrating."
Media Matters has previously suggested some questions that a credible interview between Cupp and Beck would include.
A Fox News host has debunked the claim that A&E suspending a Duck Dynasty star over racist and homophobic comments had anything to do with the First Amendment. That claim had previously been advanced by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has urged the GOP to "stop being the stupid party."
On December 18, A&E announced that they had placed Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson on indefinite hiatus following a firestorm over racist and homophobic comments he made in a recently published GQ article. Conservatives in the media and in public office rushed to Robertson's defense, including Jindal, who said in a statement:
"I don't agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment."
Fox News contributor Sarah Palin similarly commented that "Free speech is an endangered species."
But Fox News' Steve Doocy repudiated this line of criticism. On the December 20 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade read a statement from a Robertson critic who said that "this is not a free speech issue," and commented, "I don't think that's true at all." Doocy replied, "It's not free speech because A&E as a private company can do anything they want. And they did."
On the same day reports circulated that the reporters behind a fatally flawed, retracted 60 Minutes story may return to CBS News' airwaves as soon as early January, the program again faced criticism for a report that critics are calling a "puff piece" and an "infomercial."
On December 15, 60 Minutes aired a report on the National Security Agency based on unprecedented access to its headquarters and interviews with Agency staff, including its chief, Keith Alexander, who discussed the concerns many Americans have about its operations since the disclosures by Edward Snowden.
The segment opened with reporter John Miller's acknowledgement that he had once worked at another federal intelligence agency. It featured no critics of the NSA. Miller explained his thoughts on the story in an interview with CBS News, saying that the NSA's view is "really the side of the story that has been mined only in the most superficial ways. We've heard plenty from the critics. We've heard a lot from Edward Snowden. Where there's been a distinctive shortage is, putting the NSA to the test and saying not just 'We called for comment today' but to get into the conversation and say that sounds a lot like spying on Americans, and then say, 'Well, explain that.'"
Miller's report was immediately ripped apart by NSA critics and veteran journalists. Some have called the veracity of CBS News' reporting into question. Others termed the segment a "puff piece" and an "embarrassing" "infomercial," saying that it filmed was under guidelines that overwhelmingly favored the agency and proved the effectiveness of the NSA's communications staff.
The NSA report is only the latest of several heavily criticized 60 Minutes stories. Most notably, the network was forced to retract and remove from the airwaves the reporters responsible for a segment based on a supposed eyewitness to the 2012 Benghazi attacks who apparently fabricated his story. The day after the NSA story ran and less than three weeks after the leaves of absence were announced, Politico reported that those journalists, Lara Logan and Max McClellan, have "started booking camera crews for news packages" and could return to 60 Minutes as early as January. In recent weeks the program has also been criticized for reports on Social Security disability benefits and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos.
This series of debacles was noted by former CBS News correspondent Marvin Kalb, who was at one time the moderator of NBC's Meet the Press, who wrote that a program that "used to be the gold standard of network magazine programs" is increasingly "under fire." He concluded:
What's clear from this episode is that 60 Minutes is not facing another Lara Logan embarrassment. Miller did not get his facts wrong; he just did a story on 60 Minutes that should never have been on 60 Minutes. It was a promotional piece, almost by his own admission. In addition, the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley did a story on the 60 Minutes Miller piece to help promote it, as though it were an exceptional exclusive, which it was not.
In a funny way, all of this fresh criticism can be seen as a compliment. People expect 60 Minutes to be a place on the dial for tough questioning and rigorous reporting. When it does anything less than that, it opens itself to snap judgments that may be unfair but should not be surprising. It should, though, suggest strongly that CBS has further need for continuing self-examination.
Politico's Dylan Byers similarly opined that 60 Minutes has had "a terrible year" and that the program "is desperately in need of a news package that earns it praise rather than criticism.It needs to put up a hard-hitting investigation, fact-checked to the teeth, that doesn't come off as a promotional puff-piece. Because its reputation as the gold standard of television journalism has taken some serious hits of late."
Miller referred questions from Media Matters about the segment to a CBS News spokesperson who declined to comment on the record.
Several Catholic organizations have criticized Rush Limbaugh for attacking Pope Francis' agenda as "pure Marxism." But one group is standing by him: the Catholic League and its anti-gay leader, Bill Donohue.
In late November Pope Francis released Evangelii Gaudium, an apostolic exhortation which included criticisms of the "idolatry of money" and global wealth inequality. Right-wing media responded by attacking the Pope, with Limbaugh describing the Pope's writings as having "gone beyond Catholicism" and into "pure Marxism," and that "somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him." Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the National Coalition of American Nuns denounced Limbaugh's comments.
But the Catholic League is not joining their criticism of Limbaugh. "Catholic League has never, ever, ever been after anybody for criticizing the pope or priest or a bishop. We get involved when you hit below the belt, when you start becoming insulting," said Donohue in a December 11 interview with Newsmax TV. "He didn't like the pope's views on economics. Rush Limbaugh is entitled to that." Asked if Rush's criticism had been "below the belt," Donogue replied, "No, of course not."
Donohue also lashed out at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good as a "bogus Catholic entity."
In a July interview, Donohue urged Pope Francis to oust "the gay lobby" supposedly at work in the Vatican.