The race is on to win the support of Fox News ahead of the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Republican Senator Rand Paul, often listed among likely 2016 presidential contenders, is apparently trying to court News Corp. executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, hosting the media mogul at this weekend's Kentucky Derby.
The New York Times quotes Paul saying he "thought it would be fun to have [Murdoch] come down," and Murdoch explained his presence by clarifying he had never been to the Derby and offering that he finds Paul to be a "very interesting man." But as the Times explains, the context for the day at the track is much grander than the two men's mutual interest in the event: the looming 2016 presidential race and Paul's desire to win the support of "arguably the most powerful broker in Republican politics."
The Times lays out how Paul's "libertarian brand of politics" has prompted some concern among commentators at the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel. Indeed, Murdoch himself has spoken out against Paul's views on foreign policy, telling Fortune magazine [subscription required] last month, "I agree with [Paul] on a great number of things but disagree strongly on some things -- too strongly perhaps to vote for him." According to the Times, the day at the Derby was "part getting-to-know-you and part political audition, and marked a potential turn in the race for president."
Murdoch and Paul's Kentucky Derby hangout isn't their first meeting, either. Paul reportedly met with Murdoch and Fox News chief Roger Ailes last November -- according to Politico, that meeting was similarly part of Paul's effort to "smooth concerns among Republicans and influencers about whether he shares his famous libertarian father's views on issues like national security."
Winning the support of Murdoch and his sprawling media empire -- particularly Fox News -- has been a top priority for Republican candidates for the past decade, and with good reason.
In response to Media Matters' documentation that a group pushing climate change denial has also rejected the known health impacts of tobacco and secondhand smoke, Fox News is suggesting that secondhand smoke is not dangerous.
On the April 9 edition of Special Report, Fox News correspondent Doug McKelway pointed to a report by the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which was written in an attempt to debunk the United Nations' recent consensus report, to claim that "a torrent of new data is poking very large holes" in climate science. In an accompanying article at FoxNews.com, McKelway responded to a Media Matters blog post documenting that the group behind the report, the Heartland Institute, has previously denied the health impacts of tobacco, by claiming that the "Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study":
The NIPCC ["Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change"] report was immediately assailed by administration supporters. The website Media Matters reported that the NIPCC study was published by the conservative Heartland Institute, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke. (In fact, Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which found "no statistically significant relationship between lung cancer and exposure to passive smoke.")
Media Matters had actually pointed out that the Heartland Institute once claimed that smoking "fewer than seven cigarettes a day" -- not just secondhand smoke -- was not bad for you, while simultaneously being funded by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. Regardless, secondhand smoke is unequivocally dangerous and causally linked to cancers including lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, the American Lung Association, and the Centers for Disease Control. McKelway cherry-picked one study that found no statistically significant link between secondhand smoke and cancer but did find a trend of "borderline statistical significance" among women who had lived with a smoker for 30 years or more. Meta-analyses have previously found that the "abundance of evidence ... overwhelmingly support the existence of a causal relationship between passive smoking and lung cancer." The Environmental Protection Agency states that it does not claim that "minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk," but that nonetheless secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in U.S. nonsmokers:
The evidence is clear and consistent: secondhand smoke is a cause of lung cancer in adults who don't smoke. EPA has never claimed that minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk. Even though the lung cancer risk from secondhand smoke is relatively small compared to the risk from direct smoking, unlike a smoker who chooses to smoke, the nonsmoker's risk is often involuntary. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke varies tremendously among exposed individuals. For those who must live or work in close proximity to one or more smokers, the risk would certainly be greater than for those less exposed.
EPA estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers in the U.S.; of these, the estimate is 800 from exposure to secondhand smoke at home and 2,200 from exposure in work or social situations.
Clinging to persecution fantasies that seem to grow darker each year, conservative voices continue to hype doomsday scenarios in which President Obama is scheming to confiscate firearms, socialize American medicine, silence his critics through brute political force, and wage violent class warfare. Allegedly under siege at every turn as their freedoms are stripped away, conservatives embrace an imagined status as perennial victims.
The result? Wallowing in self-pity and convinced of the dark forces moving against them, conservatives launch attack after attack, insisting they're fighting forces at home akin to Hitler's Nazi storm troops. They complain louder and louder that America has become like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler when 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Nazi analogies aren't new and conservatives didn't trademark them. But the cries have become far more frequent during Obama's sixth year in office.
Four years ago, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes accused the management of National Public Radio of having "a kind of Nazi attitude" for firing commentator Juan Williams. Former Fox host Glenn Beck frequently immersed himself in offensive Hitler rhetoric during Obama's first years in office, while the then-burgeoning Tea Party movement did the same. And so did Rush Limbaugh, who obsessed over Obama-Nazi comparisons in 2009: "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."
In 2009, the Anti-Defamation League, led by Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman, documented the Tea Party's growing reliance on "Nazi comparisons" as a way to express its anti-Obama rage. Yet today the Nazi claims arrive effortlessly and on a depressingly regular basis as conservatives line up to compare this president, his allies, and this country to one of the worst chapters in civilized history.
The thoughtless rhetoric not only captures how detached Obama's critics have become from reality (not to mention the blanket insensitivity involved), but it also reveals the bizarre view conservatives have of their alleged political strife.
Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson recently claimed America is now "very much like Nazi Germany" in that it has a government "using its tools to intimidate the population." Carson defended the insulting comparison by suggesting American conservatives are being targeted and intimidated by the government: "Maybe if I don't say anything, I won't be audited, people won't call me a name."
Audited? Name-calling? Historical note: Those were certainly among the least painful afflictions Jews suffered during the Nazi reign of terror. "I know you're not supposed to say 'Nazi Germany,'" said Carson. "But I don't care about political correctness."
In his new biography of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman lays out how Fox hired journalist Peter Boyer after Boyer published an Ailes-friendly profile in The New Yorker.
According to Sherman, Ailes "was pleased" with the profile, while neighbors in Ailes' New York hometown -- who were feuding with the Fox head -- "felt Boyer got spun." A year and a half later, after a stint at Newsweek, Boyer was snapped up by Fox News and added to their investigative reporting team.
Boyer's role in Sherman's book was highlighted earlier this week by Gawker, which took aim at New York Times book critic Janet Maslin's "inexplicably hostile takedown" of the Ailes biography. According to Gawker, Maslin has "maintained a 30-year friendship with" Boyer, a fact they contend should have been disclosed in her review, given Boyer's role in Sherman's narrative. (The Times responded that Maslin's relationship with Boyer was "completely irrelevant".)
So who is Peter Boyer? While he carried an impressive resume to Fox News (18 years at the New Yorker, stints for PBS, NPR, the NY Times and others), he also has a history of friendly treatment of prominent conservatives.
From the January 16 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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Despite Fox News' best efforts to hamper it, Gabriel Sherman's new biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes has been the focus of widespread media attention this week.
Sherman's The Loudest Voice In The Room paints an in-depth look at Ailes as someone who operates Fox News more as a political entity than a journalistic one.
In a wide-raging interview Tuesday with Media Matters, Sherman discussed his quest to "show all sides" of Ailes; how Fox News has morphed into "Ailes' personal megaphone"; how the network has "become damaging to the Republican brand"; the "political campaign" Fox has waged to distract people from the book; and the Fox chief's place in history as "one of the great American hucksters."
Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
You said on Reliable Sources that Fox News is a political operation that employs journalists. I think that's an interesting description. How have you seen that hurt its credibility, and can it really operate that way?
Well I think that over time things have changed. In the early years of Fox, the blueprint was more tabloid and populist than baldly conservative but as Ailes has amassed more power, the true nature of the organization he was building has come into clearer view and it's become harder and harder for the network to maintain the fiction of "fair and balanced." And the model, the idea for Fox was always to have the culture of a political campaign. Ailes runs it like a political campaign. There's a secret organization, a secret group of executives inside the network called the G8, which is a riff off of the G6, which was from the George H.W. Bush campaign. So you see how Ailes has brought the culture of a political campaign into the news business. And now, in the Obama years, the last -- since 2008, we've seen Fox has sort of come into full bloom. And it's revealed itself for what it is, which is that it's Roger Ailes' personal megaphone.
And did that hurt its efforts to complete its mission, or did that not really affect it for the people that watch Fox?
Well the audience is very -- it's still the most dominant cable network. The audience is loyal. There's been some dips, especially after the 2012 election. I think one of the most important developments is that as Fox has fully evolved and emerged as Ailes' megaphone, it has hurt Fox's ability to win national elections. From 2000 til 2008, Fox was able to really cheerlead and be a platform for the Bush White House. But as the network has become more extreme, it's become harder and harder to resonate -- it's become damaging to the Republican brand. And that's where you see the limits of Ailes' power. 2012 was a very revealing moment of that.
The Republican Party has leadership problems. Aside from Chris Christie, just in general, losing the last two presidential elections and the other Republican Party problems, how much do they hurt Ailes and Fox, and their effectiveness? Or how much did Ailes and Fox hurt the Republican Party and its efforts, as you said, to win elections?
I would put the responsibility on Ailes and the network he runs because what makes the best television is the most conflict, some of the most extreme voices are the ones that break through on Fox and as his network has effectively become the brand of the Republican Party, you know I said that it has surpassed the Republican Party. So the brand of Fox has become the brand of the Republican Party and that has hurt the party on issues from immigration, on issues of marriage equality, on issues of climate change, and spending.
The idea that in one meeting Ailes said that Obama hates capitalism. Now you could have a lot of -- there can be a debate about the economic policy of this administration, but the notion that they hate capitalism just doesn't -- it's just not supported by the observable reality. I mean Obama has sort of governed as a pretty conventional Democrat, down the middle Democrat with some liberal views. But the idea that he is -- if you believe that Obama, that Ailes defines, is this extreme, statist, you know, radical politician, and that brand is too extreme for the Republican Party to win national majorities.
Right now, Fox News is Chris Christie's best friend.
As New Jersey's Republican governor struggles to regain his political footing in the wake of the George Washington Bridge dirty tricks scandal, Fox News has been one of the few places to mount any kind of sustained defense on his behalf. That defense has alternately come in the form of downplaying the scandal at first, invoking Benghazi as often as possible, blaming a "feminized atmosphere" for the governor's troubles, and championing Christie's alleged brand of "leadership" in response to the scandal.
The strategy might be scattershot but at least Fox is coming to Christie's side at a time when many conservative voices are not.
Which leads to the question: is Fox chairman Roger Ailes once again advising Christie? It's worth asking given that Fox is now acting as Christie's de facto War Room, stressing the governor's talking points and doing its best to deflect attention away from the growing questions about why so many of his senior aides knew about the four-day scheme to choke off Fort Lee, N.J. with nightmarish traffic, yet Christie, he says, remained clueless.
And if Ailes is pitching in, it wouldn't be the first time he sat down with Christie in the role of an informal political advisor.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) claimed that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes favors immigration reform and that Fox News has been balanced in its coverage, which contradicts reports of Ailes' hostile stance towards immigrants and the network's ongoing demagoguery of the issue. Graham has previously noted the influence that the Ailes-run Fox exerts over conservative voters, and is facing a race this year with several primary challengers to his right where the support of Fox viewers could be key.
Last year, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik revealed in his book on Rupert Murdoch that the Fox News PR department created an elaborate series of fake commenter accounts to write "pro-Fox rants" in the comments sections of articles other outlets published about the network.
According to a new biography of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, the network's online subterfuge went even further.
In The Loudest Voice in the Room, New York magazine journalist Gabriel Sherman reports that Roger Ailes was behind the creation of a blog called "The Cable Game" (TCG), which was used to attack Fox rivals like CNN and critics like Media Matters founder David Brock. According to Sherman, Ailes tapped Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton -- who worked with Ailes on the 1988 George H.W. Bush presidential campaign and was later chosen to co-author Ailes' now-abandoned autobiography -- to help write the posts.
A Media Matters review of TCG -- which became defunct more than a year ago but is still partially available through the Internet Archive -- finds laughably over-the-top praise of Ailes and other Fox personalities alongside vicious, often petty attacks on Fox rivals and perceived enemies. The blog's criticism frequently echoed Fox's own public attacks.
TCG regularly featured inside baseball content about the media that went far beyond what the casual media observer would know, much less care about. The blog cited sources inside Fox News, which it used to rebut criticism of the network. TCG was written under the pseudonym "The Cable Gamer," and posts claimed the author was a woman.
The site was promoted on Fox News in at least four separate instances: three times by Pinkerton and once by Bill O'Reilly. Pinkerton gratuitously promoted the site on Fox News Watch on July 16, 2005 -- a major promotion for an anonymous blog that had launched less than two weeks prior (July 8, 2005, with a post that asked, "is anyone cooler than Brit Hume?").
From the January 13 edition of CNN's Piers Morgan Live:
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2012's The Fox Effect by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt also documented Ailes' abrasive personality. Sherman reported Ailes was "obsessed" with The Fox Effect and retaliated against it by airing segments "claiming Brock was mentally unstable."
The New York Times Book Review has run an advertisement for a biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes during each of the past two weekends.
The ads seem to be an attempt to counter the Sherman book, stating that Chafets' book is "based on the only exclusive interview with Ailes" and that "Chafets book captures the real ROGER AILES and the true inside story of FOX News."
It's unclear who is behind the ads. But the ads were reportedly placed by Ailes' "personal PR consultant."
The ads are somewhat unusual in that they do not mention the publisher, Penguin Book's conservative imprint Sentinel, and are vague about who paid for the placement. A Times spokesperson revealed that the ads were placed, not by Penguin, but by the Dilenschneider Group, a public relations firm, as Huffington Post's Michael Calderone previously reported.
As Calderone notes, the firm's founder, Robert Dilenschneider, is described in Sherman's book as Ailes' "personal PR consultant."
The Dilenschneider Group has so far failed to respond to inquiries about the ads, while Chafets' publicist at Penguin declined to comment on it, stating via email, "I won't be commenting on the ad to anyone. I'm sorry I'm not more helpful."
Another unusual element of the story is that both books are published by divisions of the same company, Penguin Random House, formed when the two prominent publishers merged last year. Sherman's book is published through Random House, while Chafets' is a project of the Penguin/Sentinel division.
For one division to run a high-profile ad indirectly attacking another division's book on the same subject right before that book's release seems odd.
In addition, while there is no ad in the Book Review for Sherman's book, there is a lengthy review of Sherman's biography in the weekly book section.
The entwined history of the Chafets and Sherman biographies, as well as the firm that placed them, may present clues as to the source of the ads.
Ailes reportedly agreed to cooperate with Chafets as a way of pre-empting Sherman's biography; his network gave the relentlessly positive result heavy coverage following its release.
The network reportedly fired its top PR executive who they were worried was leaking information to Sherman; Fox personalities publicly attacked the New York reporter, allegedly at a top network executive's behest; and the network threw roadblocks in the way of Sherman's attempts to speak with Fox employees and even threatened to sue him.
Fox News did not respond to inquiries about any involvement by Ailes or the network in the Chafets ad. Chafets did not respond to requests for comment.
Gabriel Sherman's forthcoming biography of Roger Ailes reveals a pattern of misogyny and sexism from the Fox News CEO. The Loudest Voice in the Room documents numerous examples from Ailes during his years working in television, both on Fox and elsewhere.
Media Matters and others have noted that Fox News' on-air programming has a long history of sexism which mirrors a culture at Fox News and its parent company (previously News Corporation, now 21st Century Fox).
Sherman's reporting confirms Ailes' obsession with displaying his female anchors' legs on Fox programs. The topic of the dress code and makeup of Fox News' female personalities has long been the subject of scrutiny among writers. Fox News host Gretchen Carlson recently admitted that "pants were not allowed on Fox & Friends."
In addition to the allegation that Ailes once offered to increase a female producer's salary in exchange for sex, Sherman's book features several examples of Ailes' sexism.
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.
In his new biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman reports that Ailes unsuccessfully tried to recruit Rush Limbaugh to host a show on the network.
Sherman explains that when Fox's ratings dominance started to show signs of slipping in 2006 surrounding the GOP's drubbing in that year's midterm elections, Ailes reportedly tried to convince Limbaugh to start his own Fox show:
For almost a decade, Ailes had played a role in driving the news; now he was captive to it, with few apparent options to reverse the ratings trend, and at Fox there were incipient signs of panic. "We had the concern that the slide could turn into a freefall," a producer said. Ailes's plans to turn the ship around were running aground. He made an aggressive bid to convince his old friend Rush Limbaugh to come to Fox. Limbaugh turned him down flat. "Rush was kind of laughing at the whole thing," a Limbaugh friend who spoke with him during the talks recalled. "He said, 'Roger is really trying to get me to come back.' And Rush was like, 'Why would I do this?'" [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 312]
Ailes had previously served as the executive producer of Limbaugh's syndicated TV show in the 90s.
According to Sherman, Fox wasn't the only network to pursue Limbaugh in a desperate bid to save flagging ratings. Sherman writes that in 2001, concerned with Fox's ascendancy, then-CNN chief Walter Isaacson tried to tack the network to the right, including by courting Limbaugh:
Both CNN and MSNBC were under pressure from their corporate parents to catch up to Fox. An obvious strategy was to become more conservative. In the summer of 2001, CNN chief Walter Isaacon courted Republicans. He traveled to Washington for private meetings with Senate majority leader Trent Lott and House speaker Dennis Hastert. He also wooed Rush Limbaugh and offered him a show. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 276-277]