Monday, January 13, 2014


The Loudest Voice in the Room, the new Roger Ailes biography by Gabriel Sherman, is getting pretty good press, but a couple of early readers agree on one criticism. Jill Lepore in The New Yorker:
Sherman sees Ailes as a kingmaker, which isn't entirely convincing.... Between 1952 and 1988, an era marked by the Fairness Doctrine (and, according to conservatives, a liberal media), Republicans won seven out of ten Presidential elections. Between 1988 and 2012, during the ascendancy of conservative media, Republicans won only three out of seven Presidential elections. When Mitt Romney lost, Ailes blamed the Party. "The G.O.P. couldn't organize a one-car funeral," he said. Another explanation is that the conservative media drove the Party into a graveyard.
Isaac Chotiner in The New Republic:
Sherman is so awed by Ailes’s skills ... that he ends up overstating his influence, and taking Ailes's own narrative too much for granted. "Roger Ailes has the power, more than any single person in American public life, to define the president," he writes in his prologue.... Ailes has certainly revolutionized television news, but winning audience share is a far cry from winning the White House....

Sherman quotes Ailes saying in 2010, "I want to elect the next president." And: "If there was anyone who could deliver on such a boast, it was Ailes." ... Sherman sticks to this belief, even though the picture his reporting draws doesn't really support it. Ailes couldn’t stand Romney, who didn't have an easy ride on Fox News, but the former Massachusetts governor nevertheless won the Republican nomination in 2012; Ailes tried to convince Chris Christie and David Petraeus to run, to no avail; and the portrait Ailes sketched of Obama for over four years was not nearly entrenched enough to keep the president from handily winning re-election.

Despite liberal paranoia over the effect that Fox News has, ... the rise of Fox has changed the Republican Party: it's more close-minded, more anti-intellectual.

The idea that we live in a country where Roger Ailes -- or any television executive -- can decide who is president is horrifying. Fortunately, we don't. Roger Ailes will go down in history as a disturbed genius who is indeed the loudest voice in the room. But even the loudest voices can be tuned out.
Well, yes, Ailes couldn't elect a president in 2012 or 2008 -- but no, he can't be "tuned out." Ailes doesn't seem capable of electing a president, but he and the rest of the conservative noise machine absolutely seem capable of preventing a Democratic president from governing as a Democrat.

Ailes and his allies have a firm grip on the Overton window, which means that Bill Clinton was looking over his shoulder at the right all through his 1992 campaign. As a candidate, he knew he needed to avoid the mistakes of Michael Dukakis: skepticism about the death penalty, apparent softness on crime. It's no surprise that Governor Clinton ordered Ricky Ray Rector executed despite Rector's severe brain damage -- after all, the 1988 Bush campaign, in which Ailes was a key figure in his pre-Fox days, had hammered away at the Willie Horton case relentlessly, effectively dooming Dukakis. And the persona Barack Obama constructed for himself from his 2004 Senate campaign on was as a potential builder of bridges to, in effect, the Fox News audience. When Obama said, in his 2004 Democratic convention speech, that "We worship an awesome God in the blue states," it was his way of trying to reassure Fox watchers, or at least the less rabid ones, that you could elect Democrats without unleashing the kind of war on Christianity every Fox viewer constantly fears.

Once Bill Clinton was in office, right-wing media outlets spent eight years hobbling him; Fox and the rest of the media right have spent five years doing the same thing to Barack Obama, and being a force multiplier for other conservative forces (the tea party, the Supreme Court, the Congressional Crazy Caucus) engaged in the same task. There's a case to be made that there hasn't been a true Democratic administration in decades, because so many Clinton and Obama initiatives have been blocked.

So Ailes and his allies may not make kings -- but they can break kings.


Anonymous said...

Ideological advocates for a cause will invariably do more harm than good for it in the end. The problem with true believers is what do you do when you win? Activist individuals are often fighting internal demons. Once they've defeated their actual foes they end up inventing imaginary enemies or going or purity crusades, because if they stopped for just a moment they'd have to confront the gaping hole in their souls that drove them to the fight in the first place.

In the end, they don't know how to exist outside of the fight.

This is a problem a good portion of the current GOP seems to have. They've won, and now the only enemy left to fight is themselves and the voices in their heads.

Victor said...

They don't care anymore if the can effectively yell, "STOP!!!", at progress!

All they care about is speed-bumps that slow progress.

Slow it down, until something they can take advantage of, politically, stops it.

aimai said...

I couldn't agree more. Ailes may want to be a kingmaker --among other things because being an important man to the president and a successful republican party is way, way, more fun than just being a spoiler at the democratic party--but he will settle for spoiler. And fox news, its paranoia, its ugly ayn randianism, it sexism and its militarism have more than set the tone for the entire country since it began. Its edged out all other forms of journalism as well, and pretty much singlehandedly destroyed the image of the TV journalist (even if it was only image) as dispassionate observer a la walter cronkite.

Luigi said...

Being the only contributor to this blog who has actually met and been interviewed by Roger Ailes for a job at his ill-fated "America's Talking" (and who, by the way, was asked to interview and was shepherded through the process by the lady who became the next Mrs. Roger Ailes), Roger is not a nice guy or a very professional one, in my opinion.

Needless to say, we disagreed on most political views. The New Yorker Review was pretty tepid, by the way. The reporter acted like TNY had been stung before, presumably about the article they ran on the Missus' new newspaper, and they don't even address the fact that Fox News is not in fact news until the third to the last paragraph.

Talk about your independent liberal press.