The Daily Beast‘s Lloyd Grove calls it, in predictably Grovian fashion, “a literary Pearl Harbor.” But this was no sneak attack; the target of it has known for years what was coming and a defensive stance was taken in preparation, with every weapon in that target’s formidable arsenal brought to bear.
Roger Ailes probably always figured Gabriel Sherman’s unauthorized biography of him, The Loudest Man in the Room, would be potent but it’s anyone guess whether he knew just how potent it would be. The details of the book have now begun to leak out two weeks ahead of its release, and they allege, among other things, that Ailes once offered a prospective female employee a hundred bucks a week tacked onto her salary if she’d agree to have sex with him; that he regularly mocks Fox News talent behind their backs; that he often aligns himself against the management of Fox News’s parent company and gloats over any victory against it; that he once attacked a rival TV executive with an anti-Semitic slur; that he knew and approved of a four-minute-long, pre-produced hit piece on Barack Obama that ran on Fox and Friends last May and which Fox News claimed was a mistake; and that he always planned to use his network as a tool for Republican presidential king-making.
In other words, there are no major surprises here. True, Ailes may be lashing out against the accusations and fighting back by means of a coordinated effort among Fox News’s hosts and reporters to discredit Sherman and his work, but really, why? Why bother? Sherman’s book is going to have absolutely zero impact on Fox News’s viewership or bottom line and Ailes has proven throughout his lengthy career that he doesn’t care one bit what tenets of respectable journalism he violates or what his enemies think of him, so why pitch a fit? Unless it’s a case of his ego being so easily wounded that he has to decimate anyone he feels gets the better of him — which is entirely possible — there’s no reason for Ailes or his minions to even acknowledge Sherman’s book, much less assail it.
And yet here he is, aligning his entire network at both the executive and talent levels against Gabriel Sherman. Fox News has already fired and pissed on the memory of its former PR attack dog, Brian Lewis, after allegations emerged that Lewis may have leaked information to Sherman. Now the smear unit he used to run with such ruthless efficiency is complaining that Sherman’s biggest sin is that when writing his book he “never fact-checked with Fox News.” Because as you know, a) Fox News is always cooperative with nosy reporters, b) the network isn’t at all prone to lying, and c) a piece of investigative journalism should always be “fact-checked” by the subject of the investigation. Just for shits and giggles, though, Sherman does say that he attempted to contact Fox News and Ailes several times during the writing of the book and was, not surprisingly, rebuffed at every turn.
Which again raises the question, why does Ailes even care? He had to have known in some capacity that what was going to come out would be damning, but he also very likely understood that it wouldn’t be damaging. Sure, revelations like the ones we’ve seen so far — and will likely continue to see — are ugly, but Ailes doesn’t play by everyone else’s rules so he therefore isn’t subject to punishment for violating them. And as long as Fox continues to dominate the cable news numbers by constructing a bubble around its audience — a bubble that word of an explosive biography wouldn’t be able to penetrate anyway — it’s not like there’s anyone above Ailes who’s going to read Sherman’s exposé, be shocked by it, and throw Roger the Hutt out on his ass. Fox News is his fiefdom and will be until he finally either decides to retire or kicks off.
The Ailes biography may set off a minor tremor where the shock center of your brain should be, but we all know that there’s nothing in it that’s going to truly surprise anyone. Anybody who doesn’t like Fox News already thinks Ailes is a despicable, unethical prick. Anyone who does isn’t going to believe it or isn’t going to care; it’ll be dismissed as another politically motivated hit job. And in the end, nothing will change for Ailes or at Fox News.
It would be great if this were Roger Ailes’s Pearl Harbor. But in the end it’s likely to be little more than a firecracker exploding in his ear.