Review: The Loudest Voice In The Room…

The problem with being late to the party is that you won’t be the one to set the tone for the evening. I mention this because of Gabriel Sherman’s Roger Ailes biography and the position it holds in the cottage industry of Ailes/Fox News mythology chroniclers. Late is the term that best describes Sherman’s Ailes bio. The Loudest Voice in the Room comes well after David Brock’s The Fox Effect, after Joe Muto’s An Atheist in the Fox Hole, a decade after Scott Collins’ Crazy Like a Fox, and…most importantly…well after Jeff Cohen’s Cable News Confidential and Ze’ev Chaffets’ authorized Roger Ailes biography.

The problem for Sherman in documenting Ailes and Fox has gone on for so long is there’s not a lot of narrative left out there that’s fresh.

Thus the quandary for Sherman: How do you tell a story that’s basically been told several times already?

His solution: Research the hell out of it and interview a bazillion people.

Well, ok…not a bazillion but several hundred mostly anonymous people. Some will no doubt chafe at the lack of on the record sourcing in the book. I look at it this way…the fact that so few chose to not go on the record is an indicator of just how powerful Roger Ailes and the Rupert Murdoch led “News Corp. empire” are. Most of the people who did go on the record did so because they could afford to do so…former NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright being one of the more notable examples.

But even heavy research and lots of interviews have their limits for most of the reading public. Let’s be clear…I am not a member of that group. I’m a member of the media wonk group and we are a different breed. We like minutiae if that minutiae adds new color to a story that’s already out there and has been reported before many times. In other words we are not the group Random House hopes to ensnare with this book because we are too few to make the book a financial success. Take for example the Judith Regan lawsuit. Already well reported and reported well enough for normal people not invested. Not a subject that most people would care about but we wonks care about. And for us Sherman delivers by confirming what I first speculated upon years ago: that the letter News Corp. said it had from Regan was a result of the settlement deal between the two. So if we are scoring this part of the book it would read: Silly wonks with an inexhaustible thirst for information: 1, General reading public: 0. It is a scenario that repeatedly plays itself out in Sherman’s book. Because of all this, for me Sherman’s book starts getting interesting when Ailes’ stint at CNBC begins. That inside baseball behind closed doors stuff I can never get enough of.

This gets to the central issue for me. Sherman would have been better served if he hadn’t made the book an all encompassing book on the life and times of Roger Ailes and instead concentrated on how he changed cable news. The Cold Spring stuff is interesting but not really necessary. Others have gone into detail about his days in the Nixon administration and the Mike Douglas Show before that. Sherman didn’t need to devote half the book to subjects that are already well trodden. It’s obvious from the book that Sherman had the sources to really take down the nearly impenetrable shield guarding what goes on inside the News Corp. building. But instead of getting the near definitive expose of FNC/FBN operations we could have gotten, we only get our appetites whetted.

Case in point: Homicide bombers. Sherman never touches this uniquely Fox-ian terminology. It has been doggedly used practically in isolation for over a decade. Even media that some would consider FNC’s home team pooh pooed its use. More than once. This subject would be ripe for Sherman’s magnifying glass to see how much of this editorial statement is widely bought into at FNC. But we never get it.

Many reviewers have seized upon the books title “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country” is a conclusion searching in vain for supporting evidence. There is truth to this. Did Roger Ailes really divide the country or did he merely shine a floodlight on divisions that already existed and have always existed? I think the latter is the more plausible scenario. But the book never goes far enough to establish either as possibility.

Does Sherman tip his hand on how he looks at Ailes? Maybe. He certainly tips his hand at how he looks at FNC. More than once Sherman would quote something an FNC talent on the air by adding a leading adjective to the tone of the quote. Megyn Kelly would “giddily” say (insert telltale quote here). But was it really giddy? I doubt it. That comes across like Sherman editorializing to me.

What we are ultimately left with is a book that is maddening for retracing history that is already well known while giving short shrift (at least as far as we silly wonks are concerned) to how Fox News, and Roger Ailes’ stewardship of it, impacts the media and the national debate.

19 Responses to “Review: The Loudest Voice In The Room…”

  1. short version of all reviews

    The problem with the book is that it is another version that didn’t put a dent in Ailes let alone do what was hoped: destroy him.

    There is always hope the next book will reveal the damning truths we all know are hidden just out of public view. Pehaps Roger has another brother?

  2. Nixon - niila niihpikiiookwa meentwasiaani Says:

    Or, better yet, Roger is his other brother.

  3. “how Fox News, and Roger Ailes’ stewardship of it, impacts the media and the national debate.”

    ^^We don’t need a book to tell us how FNC and Ailes “impacts the media and the national debate”.

    Liberals, Democrats and MSNBC fans like me think it has a serious effect on everything from elections and government policy to what wars we take part in.

    Conservatives, Republicans, the right wing press and the FNC PR flacks commenting on blogs like this one think any criticism of Fox News and its leader is part of a giant a left wing conspiracy to take over the country.

    Personally I don’t plan on reading the book so I won’t be debating whether or not its a hatchet job or a fine piece of journalism. Rational discussion is hard to find when minds are made up long before the book is published let alone read.

  4. ^you won’t be reading the book because you can’t find a rational discussion to have about it? That’s a pretty odd reason if you think the book might have merit and you could learn something from it.

    “the FNC PR flacks commenting on blogs like this one think any criticism”

    Oh God, tell me Fritz isn’t accusing someone here of being a plant? If so, let him name a name. Say it ain’t so, Fritzie.

  5. Nixon - niila niihpikiiookwa meentwasiaani Says:

    Oh God, tell me Fritz isn’t accusing someone here of being a plant? If so, let him name a name.

    Arthur is the plant.

  6. Larry, Spud himself has stated that FNC PR plants have come on here in the past and spammed comment sections with comments defending the mothership. He says he has documented evidence of it. I believe him.

  7. Perhaps before I came on board? That’s been over three years.

  8. Why are you so adamant on defending yourself?

  9. Nixon - niila niihpikiiookwa meentwasiaani Says:

    Why are you so adamant on defending yourself?

    Innocent people do that, Andy.

  10. Nixon - niila niihpikiiookwa meentwasiaani Says:

    Why are you so adamant on defending yourself?

    Innocent people do that, Andy.

    And, there is one particular person here who has been accusing him of that frequently. Did me as well, when I first started. Even accused me of being an existing poster using another name. There is no place here for that kind of goading. And I am absolutely sure that Spud would agree with me.

  11. What if I were to call you a “sock puppet”, Andy? I’m sure you wouldn’t like it. I use my full real name because I’m making a point of being a real person. I suppose if one is going to take umbrage at anything, being called a “plant” is a good choice. I get in enough trouble just being me.

  12. The whole “homicide bomber” language? I can’t remember any time FNC used that language. That being said I do not watch TV all day, nor do I exclusively watch Fox. Just would like the most recent use of that term on Fox, the date it was used and who used it. If the wonk could supply me with that information that would be much appreciated since the links you provide go back to 2003 and 2005 respectively. In my mind that is ancient history.

  13. motownman Says:

    IIRC, the whole homicide bomber thing started after W had a news conference about Iraq in which he said: “We shouldn’t call them suicide bombers. we should call them homicide bombers.” Fox ran with it, but of course, the term is incorrect. Timothy McVey was a homicide bomber. Suicide bombers blow themselves up, too.

  14. If you are the mother of the boy the bomb killed, it damn well was a homicide bomber.

  15. Who’s goading, Nix? Fritz’s comment didn’t accuse you or Larry of being an FNC PR flak. You guys just came in and felt the need to defend yourself from an attack that wasn’t made and then, in typical Palinesque fashion, act as though you’re the victims of some persecution. Give me a break.

  16. Bush didn’t like the term “Suicide bomber” but, oh well. It tells the story.

    “Today, a homicide bomber targeted a Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.”

    Um, no.

  17. I remember in Economics 101 the saying the “Demand creates supply but supply can create demand.”

    Ailes and Fox News did and do both and it appears that Sherman apparently misses half of that aphorism. Fox News didn’t simply create a market for their product; they responded to demands from a not small segment of the country that believed, rightly or not, that they were being ignored. That is, the stories that they thought about, the issues they worried about, the matters they deemed important were not being covered or reported on.

    So along comes Ailes to tap into that demand.

    Sure, sometimes the product that Fox News offers is creating a new demand. They offer stories that feed that disgruntled segment of the nation. They create products first and then the demand follows.

    Sherman apparently doesn’t think about the larger issues here that transcend the specifics of Ailes and Fox News. Fox News was the logical outcome of a lot of larger issues and simply didn’t emerge full blown from Ailes’ head.

    Admittedly, I’m basing all of this on the reviews, Sherman’s appearances and the snippets from the book.

  18. Nixon - niila niihpikiiookwa meentwasiaani Says:

    Who’s goading, Nix? Fritz’s comment didn’t accuse you or Larry of being an FNC PR flak. You guys just came in and felt the need to defend yourself from an attack that wasn’t made and then, in typical Palinesque fashion, act as though you’re the victims of some persecution. Give me a break.

    It wasn’t Fritz, Ice, or you. But it has been made. Not against me lately, that was last spring and early summer. But Larry got it not long ago.

    And, I assume you are comparing me to Michael Palin, and not the Alaska Flake.

  19. General accusations without specifics are not a goo thing.

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