Fox News campaigns against unflattering Roger Ailes biography

The biography by Gabriel Sherman, titled 'The Loudest Voice in the Room,' will hit shelves on Jan. 21, but has already created a firestorm.

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    Roger Ailes (l.) speaks with Bill O'Reilly.
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A hotly anticipated biography of Roger Ailes contains such unflattering claims about the Fox News CEO – including that he offered an employee a raise if she would have sex with him – that the conservative news network has already launched a campaign against the book and its author – and the bio doesn’t even hit shelves until later this month.

“The Loudest Voice in the Room,” a 560-page biography of the controversial conservative media mogul by New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman, hits shelves Jan. 21.

Publisher Random House is promoting it as an exhaustive journey into Ailes’s life and work, particularly Ailes' reign at Fox News, as explained in this promotional blurb from the book’s website:

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“Sherman chronicles Ailes's rise as a sickly kid from an Ohio factory town, who, through sheer willpower, the flair of a showman, fierce corporate politicking, and a profound understanding of the priorities of middle America, built the most influential news empire of our time.”

The book describes Ailes as bombastic and domineering and recounts several unflattering anecdotes.

In one episode said to have occurred in the 1980s, Ailes allegedly offered NBC TV producer Randi Harrison an additional $100 each week “if you agree to have sex with me whenever I want.”

In another, Ailes is said to have made vulgar, anti-Semitic slurs against David Zaslav, then a high-ranking executive at NBC. (Zaslav is now the chief executive at Discovery.)

And in a scene depicted in the book, Sherman describes Ailes as so keen to influence national politics that in the run-up to the 2012 election, he told colleagues at Fox News, “I want to elect the next president.”

Fox News dismissed the claims made in the book.

“These charges are false,” Fox said in a statement released to the news media. “While we have not read the book, the only reality here is that Gabe was not provided any direct access to Roger Ailes and the book was never fact-checked with Fox News.”

Sherman and publisher Random House have struck back.

“During two and a half years of reporting, I made a dozen requests both in writing and in person to speak with Roger Ailes about every aspect of my book, 'The Loudest Voice in the Room,’” Sherman said in a statement. “A team of two fact-checkers spent more than 2,000 hours vetting the manuscript before publication. Roger Ailes declined every request to discuss the reporting with me.” 

The bio is so contentious, in fact, that it’s sparked a publicity war of sorts between the news network and Sherman.

Fox News has been waging a campaign against Sherman and his book for some time, according to reports.

“Some Fox sources have preemptively worked to dismiss the book, and Ailes even handpicked a journalist to write a very friendly biography after Sherman's was in the works,” reports the Huffington Post. “Ailes fired his top communications executive, Brian Lewis, last year, and some suggest the firing was in part because Ailes suspected the executive leaked information to Sherman.”

Some Fox News employees have struck out against the book and its author, with host Sean Hannity calling Sherman a “phony journalist” on Twitter.

And as Politico has pointed out, Random House has also long anticipated a strong pushback from Ailes and Fox News and in an effort to defend its book it has “created a website that will serve as a source of pushback against misinformation about Sherman and the book.” 

According to reports, Sherman conducted 614 interviews and took more than three years to report and write the 560-page book. More than 100 pages are devoted to source notes and a bibliography.

Theresa Zoro, a spokeswoman for Random House, said in a statement that Mr. Sherman’s book was “an objective and rigorously reported account of Roger Ailes’s life and his running of Fox News. We fully stand by the book. If anyone has issues with it, we will respond with the facts as Gabe Sherman has reported them.”

The controversy – and publicity – will only mount as the book’s Jan. 21 publication date approaches. Whatever the veracity or fallacy of the book’s claims, there’s one thing everyone can agree on. The commotion surrounding its publication, as Sherman has said, throws the spotlight on “one of the most fascinating, consequential figures in contemporary American life.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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