May 19, 2024

Media Decoder Blog: The First Strike in the Roger Ailes Book Wars

The Roger Ailes book wars have begun.

On Wednesday Vanity Fair’s Web site published an excerpt from the first of two — or maybe three — books about Mr. Ailes and the network he runs, the Fox News Channel.

The excerpt, from the book “Roger Ailes: Off Camera” by Zev Chafets, revealed little about Fox, but included a number of pointed one-liners uttered by Mr. Ailes, whose conservative politics appeal to many Fox viewers but infuriate his critics.

Mr. Chafets’s book will be published on March 19. It precedes another book about Mr. Ailes, tentatively titled “The Loudest Voice in the Room: Fox News and the Making of America,” by Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine.

Of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Ailes is quoted in the excerpt saying: “I have a soft spot for Joe Biden. I like him. But he’s dumb as an ashtray.” Of Newt Gingrich, a former Fox News analyst and Republican presidential candidate, Mr. Ailes said, “He’s a sore loser and if he had won he would have been a sore winner.” He proceeded to use an obscenity to describe Mr. Gingrich.

It is Mr. Ailes’s comment about President Obama that may garner the most attention. Mr. Ailes has been sharply critical of Mr. Obama in the past; last month he was quoted as saying “The president likes to divide people into groups. He’s too busy getting the middle class to hate rich people, blacks to hate whites. He is busy trying to get everybody to hate each other.”

In the book excerpt in Vanity Fair, Mr. Ailes is shown reacting to a remark during the presidential campaign by a Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen, who said that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life.” Mr. Ailes responded, “Obama’s the one who never worked a day in his life. He never earned a penny that wasn’t public money. How many fund-raisers does he attend every week? How often does he play basketball and golf? I wish I had that kind of time.” Mr. Ailes added, “He’s lazy, but the media won’t report that.”

Mr. Chafets said that when Mr. Ailes noticed his arched eyebrows, Mr. Ailes added, “I didn’t come up with that. Obama said that, to Barbara Walters.”

This is the type of quote that gets partisans on both sides riled up. Mr. Obama brought up laziness when Ms. Walters asked him in a 2011 interview on ABC, “What’s the trait you most deplore in yourself and the trait you most deplore in others?”

When he said laziness, she sounded surprised. He explained, “There is a — deep down, underneath all the work I do, I think there’s a laziness in me.” He chalked it up to his boyhood in sunny Hawaii.

He added, “But when I’m mad at myself, it’s because I’m saying to myself, ‘You know what, you could be doing better; push harder.’ And when I — nothing frustrates me more than when people aren’t doing their jobs.” Mr. Obama then said, to answer the other half of Ms. Walters’ question, that the trait he most dislikes in other people is cruelty. “I can’t stand cruel people,” he said. “And if I see people doing something mean to somebody else just to make themselves feel important, it really gets me mad.”

Mr. Ailes is also quoted in the excerpt on the subject of MSNBC, which has emerged as a less-highly-rated liberal counterweight to Fox News. Mr. Ailes said he warned NBC in the mid-1990s not to name the channel MSNBC because “M.S. is a damn disease.” At the time Mr. Ailes was the head of America’s Talking, the NBC cable channel that was effectively replaced by MSNBC in 1996. He left NBC to create Fox News.

Sometime after Mr. Sherman began working on his book, Mr. Ailes agreed to cooperate with Mr. Chafets, whose previous books include a favorable biography of Rush Limbaugh. Within the television industry, Mr. Chafets’s book is widely seen as an attempt to get out ahead of Mr. Sherman’s book. (Perhaps the better word for it is “prebuttal,” a word political operatives sometimes use).

The publisher of Mr. Chafets’s book, Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Group, told Politico earlier this week that Mr. Ailes “decided to grant our author exclusive interviews for his book, and he told his Fox News colleagues and friends that they were free to talk to Chafets. But Mr. Ailes had no control over the editorial process, which was between us and our author.”

Mr. Sherman’s book, meanwhile, has a May release date, but it is believed to have been delayed. Mr. Sherman wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning that he was struck by the way Mr. Ailes and his boss Rupert Murdoch talk about each other in the excerpt from Mr. Chafets’s book.

Mr. Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corporation, is quoted as saying that he defers to Mr. Ailes: “I have ideas that Roger can accept or not. As long as things are going well. …”

And Mr. Ailes is quoted as saying, “Does Rupert like me? I think so, but it doesn’t matter. When I go up to the magic room in the sky every three months, if my numbers are right, I get to live. If not, I’m killed. Our relationship isn’t about love — it’s about arithmetic. Survival means hitting your numbers. I’ve met or exceeded mine in 56 straight quarters. The reason is: I treat Rupert’s money like it is mine.”

Mr. Ailes is also said to be working on an autobiography — but there’s no release date for it. Perhaps he wants the last word on himself.

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Economix Blog: Nancy Folbre: The Patriarchal Society in America

Nancy Folbre, economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Nancy Folbre is an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She recently edited and contributed to “For Love and Money: Care Provision in the United States.

Many women are rightfully proud of fulfilling responsibilities for family care. At the Republican convention, Ann Romney spoke of the mothers holding our nation together. At the Democratic convention, Michelle Obama referred to herself as “mom in chief.” Both vouched for their husbands as good fathers and good men.

Today’s Economist

Perspectives from expert contributors.

Yet neither woman moved beyond a self-description as wife and mother, perhaps because both feared alienating swing voters if they did so.

It’s easy to find references to patriarchs, patriarchy or patriarchal attitudes in reporting on other countries. Yet these terms seem largely absent from discussions of current economic and political debates in the United States.

Perhaps they are no longer applicable. Or perhaps we mistakenly assume their irrelevance.

Here are some examples of recent usage in The New York Times: Osama Bin Laden was a patriarch. Patriarchal values are discouraging educated women’s labor-force participation in Dubai. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is “committed to upholding traditional and patriarchal values around a woman’s place in society, and many Egyptian women need no convincing.”

Considerable evidence suggests that a significant percentage of Americans are also committed to upholding traditional and patriarchal values around a woman’s place in society and that many American women need no convincing.

In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, declared that a wife should “graciously submit” to her husband’s leadership. In 2000, shortly after the convention declared its opposition to women as pastors, former President Jimmy Carter severed his longstanding ties with the group. Official Southern Baptist doctrine remains largely unchanged today.

The Mormon Church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, holds similar views on wifely submission and imposes even stricter curbs on women’s access to positions of spiritual leadership. The church actively campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment and excommunicated its most visible Mormon spokeswoman.

Not all members of these religious groups agree with official doctrines, and the rise of feminist Mormon bloggers represents a particularly fascinating example of dissent. Southern Baptists and Mormons are not the only two religious groups in the United States that embrace patriarchal values. But their ideological convergence could help explain why most of the Christian Right supports Mitt Romney.

It could also help explain why political allegiances are not as strongly affected by household wealth and income as we might expect. The political analyst and linguist George Lakoff describes Republicans as the Disciplinarian Father party and Democrats as the Nurturing Parent party.

A simpler description, occasionally invoked in this year’s presidential campaign, is the Daddy party versus the Mommy party. This description, related to but distinct from the gender gap, helps explain the relevance of patriarchy or “rule of the fathers.”

Traditional patriarchal systems restrict women’s legal and economic rights. Even in countries like the United States, in which women enjoy virtually equal opportunities outside the home, patriarchal norms assign them primary responsibility for family care.

Such norms continue to exercise a powerful influence. In 2010, the General Social Survey asked a representative sample of Americans whether they agreed that “it is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” About 35 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed.

The sociologists David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman show that levels of agreement with this statement in the General Social Survey diminished steadily between 1977 and 1993 but have changed little since then. Gender differences in likelihood of agreement are smaller than differences based on age and educational attainment.

Many women enjoy new economic opportunities, sometimes gaining the confidence to flout traditional gender norms. But their very success has elicited a cultural reaction and led some to declare the “end of men.”

Maybe we should try to end patriarchal norms instead. We could start by defining family care as a challenging and important achievement for everyone rather than a sacred obligation for women alone.

Easier said than done — but it would help if our presidential candidates spoke out on this issue. I’d like to hear more about their possible differences of opinion.

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