September 22, 2023

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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Media Decoder Blog: Fox News and Dick Morris Part Ways

The Fox News Channel has declined to renew its contract with Dick Morris, a spokeswoman for the channel confirmed on Tuesday, three months after Mr. Morris was widely derided for predicting a landslide victory for Mitt Romney in the Nov. 6 presidential election.

Mr. Morris is scheduled to appear on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Wednesday. He has yet to comment publicly on his separation from Fox, where he has been a regular guest on programs like “Hannity” for years.

Media Matters, the anti-Fox media monitoring group that has called Mr. Morris “America’s Worst Pundit,” has documented what it calls his “vast array of ethical conflicts,” like the time last year when he auctioned a tour of the Fox News headquarters at a Republican fund-raiser. Mr. Morris was reportedly reprimanded for doing so.

But it was his commentary about the presidential race that gained the most attention last year.

Many pundits made failed predictions about Mr. Romney, but Mr. Morris’s flubs were notorious. While other conservatives hedged, Mr. Morris said the day before the election, “We’re going to win by a landslide. It will be the biggest surprise in recent American political history. It will rekindle a whole question as to why the media played this race as a nail-biter, where in fact I think that Romney is going to win by quite a bit. My own view is that Romney is going to carry 325 electoral votes.”

Mr. Romney won 206 electoral votes; President Obama 332.

Shortly after the election, the New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman reported that Mr. Morris and another prominent pundit on Fox, the former Bush strategist Karl Rove, had been benched. “Inside Fox News, Morris’s Romney boosterism and reality-denying predictions became a punch line,” wrote Mr. Sherman, who is writing a book about Fox.

Last month, Fox renewed Mr. Rove’s contract.

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Media Decoder Blog: More Than 20 Million Viewers Watched Coverage of Inauguration

A total of 20.552 million viewers tuned in on 18 separate television networks to watch coverage of the second inauguration of President Obama, the Nielsen Company reported Wednesday.

The number, which measured the hours between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday, was down sharply from the 37.793 million Nielsen recorded for Mr. Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. That was the second-highest total since Nielsen began its accounting for television viewership of the event in 1969. The highest number was recorded in 1981 for the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan.

Second inaugurations are generally watched by fewer viewers, though Richard Nixon added viewers for his second in 1973, which came as the Watergate scandal was beginning to heat up.

Mr. Obama’s second inauguration fared far better than that of his predecessor, George W. Bush, which drew only 15.536 million viewers, easily the smallest number recorded by Nielsen.

It was, however, slightly lower than the viewing number for the second inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1997, which Nielsen reported at 21.583 million. The audience for this year’s event now stands as the second-lowest on Nielsen’s list for inaugurations since 1969.

The figures do not include viewing that took place over the Internet, which may be a growing factor.

The networks included on the list counted by Nielsen were: ABC, CBS, NBC, Univision, Telemundo, Azteca, MundoFox, PBS, Fox News Channel, CNN Headline News, Fox Business Network, MSNBC, TV One, CNN, Current TV, CNBC, Centric and BET.

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Drilling Down: The Partisan Corners of the News

Almost as many Americans now receive their political campaign news from the Internet as from newspapers, with nearly a quarter getting the bulk of their information on the 2010 midterm elections that way, according to a Pew Internet report.

 Online news tends to be partisan, and 55 percent say they believe that the Internet increases the influence of those with extreme views, compared with 30 percent who think it has mitigated such perspectives by giving “ordinary citizens a chance to be heard.”  Forty-four percent of Republicans usually get political news from online sources that share their point of view, versus 37 percent of Democrats.

 The report also examined changes in television news, which garners similar heavily partisan audiences. Fox News Channel viewership skews 47 percent Republican to 15 percent Democrat, whereas the three major networks and CNN all have at least 50 percent more Democrat viewers than Republican.  Fox News was the only individual outlet to notably increase its share of viewers from 2006 to 2010.

 “In recent years we have noticed a distinct increase in the number of Americans getting online news from sites that share their own political views, particularly among those with strong ideological leanings,” said Aaron Smith, senior research specialist for Pew. TEDDY WAYNE

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