Eye-opening biography of the would-be political kingmaker and Fox News mastermind.
The subject of New York contributing editor Sherman’s debut book, Roger Ailes, is said to be deeply unhappy with his portrait here—and for good reason. Ailes has said that his foes perceive him as “paranoid, right-wing [and] fat.” Leaving aside the physical, he certainly emerges here as right-wing in the neoconservative, self-interested way of the arriviste as opposed to the old-republic conservative of his small-town Midwestern ideal. By Sherman’s account, Ailes openly feared that his greatest bugaboo, Barack Obama, was going to put him in a prison camp after being re-elected. It seems certain that Ailes is an unpleasant customer, powerful enough to frighten Karl Rove into submission, quick to criticize his bevy of breast-shaking on-screen blondes for not being stunning enough (of one-time Miss America Gretchen Carlson, Sherman writes, Ailes said, “It must not have been a good year”). Sherman lingers on the unpleasant details, to be sure, but he charts the larger picture of the self-made man who is convinced that only he and a narrow number of his allies are worthy of the benefits of the free market and who has mastered the arts of TV and fabulation. Yet, even there, Ailes has not been entirely successful: For all his efforts, he never could make his first big media experiment, Richard Nixon, come off as likable, and the tea party that he helped create has apparently sent his vaunted permanent Republican majority off the rails. Yet Fox continues to hold a large market share and shape the political argument in this country, so for all his missteps (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin et al.), Ailes promises to remain a player on the national scene, even if Sherman suggests that his dominance is coming to an end.
A well-reported, engaging book. A bonus: Bill O’Reilly won’t like it, either. Politics and media junkies, on the other hand, will have a field day.