Fox News is using its firing of former executive vice president Brian Lewis as an opportunity to again attack a forthcoming biography by New York writer Gabriel Sherman of chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.
The network is attempting to minimize Lewis' importance at Fox while claiming that he is a key Sherman source. But numerous media journalists have reported, contra Fox's current statements, that Lewis was an important and senior figure at the network, claims that are buttressed by Fox's previous comments about the fired executive.
Fox confirmed on August 20 that Lewis, who had been with Fox since its founding in 1996, had been fired, citing “issues relating to financial irregularities, as well as for multiple, material and significant breaches of his employment contract.” In a piece responding to the firing headlined, “Roger Ailes Fired His PR Chief, and Now He's All Alone,” Sherman wrote that Lewis' departure is important because the executive was “a moderating influence on Ailes. Lewis was one of the few senior executives who would vocally challenge Ailes (although he was smart enough to do it privately).” Lewis today gave a statement to TVNewser about his firing.
In response to media reports about Lewis' stature at Fox, an anonymous “senior Fox executive told [Mediaite] that Lewis was not anywhere near being Ailes' number-two” and that “Lewis and Gabriel Sherman are the only two who believe that Lewis was actually the right-hand man to Roger Ailes.” The anonymous Fox executive used these claims in an attempt to undermine Sherman's forthcoming Ailes biography, with Mediaite reporting: “According to the source, Sherman got much of his information by talking to Lewis. 'If Gabe Sherman's book comes from the mind of Brian Lewis, it'll be fiction,' the source asserted."
The senior Fox executive's preemptive strike against Sherman's yet-to-be-published unauthorized Ailes biography is just the latest salvo by Fox News:
- At least ten Fox News personalities took to Twitter today to defend Ailes from Sherman's report on Lewis' firing.
- As Politico noted in March, “Fox News pundits have taken to Twitter to call Sherman 'a [George] Soros puppet,' a 'phony journalist,' a 'stalker' and 'harasser.'"
- Ailes helped Zev Chafets with his favorable biography in an effort to counteract Sherman's book.
- FoxNews.com has promoted or published opposition research-style pieces attacking Sherman.
Ailes, who worked on Republican campaigns, certainly has no problem with coordinated smear efforts. Chafets wrote in his biography that Ailes orchestrated a campaign against Media Matters to counteract the publication of the book The Fox Effect:
In February 2012, Media Matters put out a book of Ailes's horribles, The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine. The book itself didn't concern Ailes much, although he saw to it that friendly websites and some Fox commentators reminded America that the coauthor, David Brock, the head of Media Matters, does not exactly have a sterling reputation for honesty, and that the organization, which was founded with the “help and support” of the obviously partisan Hillary Clinton, is a political group that enjoys a charitable tax status.
While the anonymous Fox News executive diminished Lewis' influence at Fox -- a talking point repeated by Fox News personalities -- Lewis, at least until his falling out with Ailes, was widely reported to have been close with the Fox News head and an influential figure at the network.
For starters, there are Lewis' former titles: “Executive Vice President, Corporate Communications” who “oversees all corporate communications and public relations functions for the television and online divisions of FOX News and FOX Business, as well as the FOX Television Stations, Twentieth Television and MyNetworkTV” ; and “the Senior Advisor to Roger Ailes.”
Media reporters have referred to Lewis as a powerful and top Ailes lieutenant: The Hollywood Reporter's Paul Bond and Matthew Belloni ( “considered the right-hand man to Roger Ailes” ); Jim Romenesko ( “right-hand man” ); Los Angeles Times' Joe Flint ( “A member of Fox News Chairman and Chief Executive Roger Ailes' inner circle for almost two decades ... one of the most powerful executives at the network ... something of a consigliere to Ailes” ); Deadline ( “longtime Roger Ailes confidante ... considered an important player at FNC” ); Politico's Dylan Byers ( “Ailes's guardian for 17 years... often described as his 'right hand.'” ) and The New York Times' Bill Carter ( “one of his longest-serving and closest lieutenants” ).
Fox News itself positioned Lewis high on Fox's influence chart. When Lewis was promoted to executive vice president in 2006, a Fox News press release quoted Ailes stating of Lewis: “Brian is one of the best corporate communications professionals in the business. He has met with unparalleled success in helping to build and maintain the integrity of the Fox News brand from its infancy. I look forward to him doing the same for the Stations Group and Twentieth Television with his newly added responsibilities.” The release credited Lewis with “the public relations strategy for the successful launch and positioning of FNC, which has become the most written about network in television.”