The Paranoia And Vindictiveness Of Roger Ailes

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 Camerareportedly “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. 

Fox Personality Worried Network Would “Destroy” Them If It Came Out They Were Talking To Sherman

Sherman explains the extent of the culture of fear at the network surrounding cooperation with his book, including worries from sources that Sherman's phones had been bugged and concerns that the network would “destroy” anyone found to be cooperating:

Despite Ailes's concerted efforts at obstruction, many of his closest colleagues, friends, family members, and business rivals did speak to me at length and offered candid accounts of their firsthand experiences with Ailes. A large number of these people spoke on the record. Many others, however, asked to speak with me on a not-for-attribution background basis. I granted sources anonymity in instances where they expressed credible fear for their professional livelihood. It was not an uncommon occurrence for me to hear things from sources like the following remark one prominent Fox personality made: “It would totally destroy my life if it gets out that I'm talking to you. If he even thought I knew you, he'd see it as a personal betrayal.” Other sources expressed concern that Ailes might be having me followed by private investigators and that my phone might be bugged and my computer hacked. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 405-406]

Fox Head Of Programming Pushed Fox Talent To Attack Sherman On Twitter

Sherman reports in the book that top Ailes lieutenant Bill Shine encouraged Fox personalities to attack Sherman online, which they did:

Fox News's head of programming, Bill Shine, encouraged Fox personalities to post derogatory comments about me on Twitter. Andrea Tantaros, co-host of The Five, tweeted that I was a “harasser” and a “Soros puppet.” Sean Hannity called me a “phoney journalist” [sic]. Karl Rove wrote about my “disturbing habit of misinterpreting anything Fox News related.” In a column, Fox political analyst Patrick Caddell called me an “embarrassment to the journalistic trade.” [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 402]

In Exchange For Possible Interview, Ailes Wanted All Potentially “Negative” Background Stories Cut From Sherman's Book

Though Ailes complained in an interview this week that Sherman did not fact check the book with him, Sherman explains in an appendix that he repeatedly attempted to arrange a sit-down with the Fox News chief over the course of two and a half years of reporting, but was consistently rebuffed.

At one point, after Ailes canceled a planned off-the-record sit-down to discuss the book, Sherman writes that he was approached by Brian Lewis with a condition for a possible interview: Sherman must exclude “any background quotes or anecdotes that Ailes could consider 'negative.'” 

In the spring, Lewis presented me with a condition. Before Ailes even agreed to “think” about speaking with me, Lewis said, I must agree to refrain from using any background quotes or anecdotes that Ailes could consider “negative.” I told Lewis that while I agreed that on-the-record sources should be the bedrock of reporting, I could not agree to such a blanket deal, as Ailes might retaliate against people whom he deemed to be disloyal. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 403]

As Sherman's book makes clear, his sources have legitimate fears that criticizing Ailes with attribution would lead to retribution.

Ailes' Lawyer Threatened Legal Action When Approached With Interview Request

Fox analyst Peter Johnson Jr., a man who Sherman reports doubles as both Ailes' attorney and his on-air mouthpiece, reportedly threatened Sherman with legal action after being approached with an interview request:

[Ailes] discouraged sources close to him from speaking with me and went to elaborate lengths to obstruct my reporting. Through surrogates, Ailes attempted to create a counter-narrative about my journalism. “From what I understand, you're preparing a personal dossier on Roger,” his attorney, Peter Johnson Jr., told me in December 2011. When I asked to interview Johnson two months later, he threatened legal action. “What the hell am I going to talk to you about I may wind up suing you, for Christ's sake.” [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 401]

Ailes Told Fox Executives Sherman Was Being Paid By George Soros

Sherman writes:

Around the office, Ailes spread off inaccurate stories about this book, telling his executives for instance, that I was being secretly paid by George Soros to write it. “There's a lot of liberal, George Soros money behind him,” Ailes told his brother, Robert, who relayed the conversation to me. In 2012 I received a fellowship at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., that received .5 percent of its funding from Soros that year. James Pinkerton, a Fox News contributor and former Republican operative, was for years a New America fellow. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 402]

Ailes Policed Leaks “With Ruthless Determination”

Sherman lays out how Ailes had his longtime assistant sit in on every meeting and take down the names of everyone present in the event Ailes said something “controversial.” That way, if someone leaks what Ailes said, “Roger would know who was there”:

Ailes policed leaks, especially those about his political agenda, with ruthless determination. Judy Laterza, Ailes's longtime assistant from his Ailes Communications days, sat in on every meeting, writing detailed notes on yellow legal pads. She developed a system to help Ailes speak freely. “When Roger said something controversial, she just rolled her eyes,” one meeting-goer said. “But then she wrote it down. Then she wrote down everyone else who was in that room. So if it leaked, then Roger would know who was there.”  [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 270]

In a January 12 appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources, Sherman said that his sources say this practice was enacted to intimidate staffers.

Fox Media Relations Team Made Network Feel “Like A Surveillance State”

Sherman lays out the state of fear in the early 2000s that Fox employees lived under thanks to the network's cutthroat public relations team. Ruthless tactics of the department reportedly included using “laptops with untraceable IP addresses to leak embarrassing stories about wayward Fox hosts and executives”:

Ailes's most powerful tool of control was Media Relations. Brian Lewis's department not only had veto power over which guests could appear on Fox shows, but the department made Fox employees feel like the channel was a surveillance state. Lewis and his assistances berated employees for speaking to the press without authorization. They also used laptops with untraceable IP addresses to leak embarrassing stories about wayward Fox hosts and executives (“No fingerprints” was a favorite Lewis-ism). Fox employees worried their conversations were being recorded. After one former producer joked to a friend that he was thinking about writing a book about Fox, he got an accusatory phone call from a senior Fox executive about it. The producer stammered he was only kidding. Lewis became feared for the perceived pleasure he took in trafficking in smears. “Look, I know you can kill me,” an employee said to him once, asking him to hold his fire. “I don't wanna wake up tomorrow to read I'm gay and fucking sheep.” [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 272]

Ailes Believed Climate Change Was A “Conspiracy” By “Foreign Nationals” To Gain Control Of American Resources

Sherman reports that Ailes' paranoia extended to his political views:

He complained to neighbors that Obama refused to call Muslims “terrorists.” He told them that Obama was using the stimulus as a “political tool” in order to buy his reelection in 2012. Obama pushed green energy, when in fact climate change was a “worldwide conspiracy” spun by “foreign nationals” to gain control of America's resources.  [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg xiv]

Ailes Feared Obama Would Jail Him As A Political Prisoner

Sherman writes of Ailes' fears about Obama's reelection:

Ailes even told his advisers that if Obama were reelected, he could be prosecuted and jailed, like a political prisoner. During a forty-five-minute meeting at Bill Clinton's foundation in Harlem, Ailes told the former president that he might emigrate to Ireland, and had explored acquiring an Irish passport. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg xiv]

Ailes Wanted Bombproof Glass To Protect His Office Against “Homosexual Activists”

Sherman writes that Ailes was afraid of “homosexual activists” attacking his office and wanted bombproof glass as protection:

According to Dan Cooper, an early Fox executive, Ailes called him into a meeting one day before the launch and declared he wanted bombproof glass windows installed in his executive suite. When he asked why, Ailes told him that after the launch, “homosexual activists are going to be down there every day protesting. ... And who knows what the hell they'd do.” Rudy Nazath, the architect designing the studios, told Cooper that there was no such thing as “bombproof glass” and suggested using polycarbonate glass, the strongest version of which can stop a .357 bullet. Ailes selected the sturdiest grade for his office. The original windows stayed in place as a weather shield and a layer of bulletproof glass was installed behind it, supported with steel. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 201-202]

Ailes Launched Fake Blog To Attack Rivals, Praise Fox

Sherman reports that Ailes set up an anonymous blog called The Cable Game to “take shots at his rivals,” including anti-gay attacks on CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and Media Matters founder David Brock:

Shut out of the partisan cage match, CNN flailed, and Ailes pressed his advantage. He set up an anonymous blog called The Cable Game that took shots at his rivals. Ailes assigned Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton to write the entries. "The Cable Game was Roger's creation," one person close to Ailes said. “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.” CNN chief Jon Klein saw Ailes's hand behind the articles. He called Ailes and blamed Fox for posting anonymous online gossip that outed the sexual orientation of CNN's prime-time anchor, Anderson Cooper. Ailes denied any role. (Cooper wouldn't announce he was gay until July 2012.) [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 339-340]

Ailes Feared Chinese Investors Would “Set Up A Missile Silo Right Across From West Point”

Sherman writes that Ailes wanted to purchase land near his home in New York state because he feared that “Chinese investors” would buy it and “set up a missile silo right across from West Point”:

As the conversation wound down, Ailes told the men that he would spend millions if necessary to keep dangerous elements out of the town. To that end, he was thinking about buying Mystery Point, a 129-acre plot of land with a nineteenth-century brick mansion that overlooks the Hudson, to turn into a corporate retreat for Fox. “That's up for sale,” Ailes said. “I could buy it in a heartbeat. You know why I'm interested?”

The men stared back at him.

“I hear a group of Chinese investors are looking. I'm not going to have some Chinese investors set up a missile silo right across from West Point.” [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 358]