Remember Gabriel Sherman’s book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country? Perhaps neither the author nor the title rings a bell. If so, that’s not a surprise, because Sherman’s book was, in fact, a big dud.
For those who are curious, the book was published exactly two months ago today, on January 14. And it fizzled fast; a look at Amazon.com shows that it’s in the mid-5,000 range in sales ranking, and its Kindle ranking is even lower–deep in the 11,000 zone. As for social media, if one visits topsy.com and types in @GabrielSherman or #loudestvoice, one sees the flattest of flat lines, activity-wise.
The failure of the Sherman book is remarkable because Roger Ailes, the founder and CEO of Fox News, must be regarded as one of the most interesting figures in America today. How he climbed from a gritty blue-collar factory town in Ohio to the pinnacle of the media pyramid–taking time in between to help elect three Republican presidents–is a plenty interesting story. And how he transformed the media landscape, making “Fair & Balanced” coverage not just a slogan but a reality is just as interesting a story.
Yet even with all that good material, Sherman couldn’t tell the tale–or, at least, couldn’t tell it in an interesting and original way. Part of Sherman’s problem was that he came at Ailes from the typical New York City-based liberal point of view–that is to say, obviously hostile to a conservative.
So of course, Sherman couldn’t understand why audiences liked Fox; he simply dismissed Fox as propaganda aimed at rubes and dopes. And thus it was unlikely, bordering on impossible, that he was ever going to have much insight into Ailes. Hostility based on ideology? Yes, plenty of that. Insight based on any sort of empathy? Nope, none of that.
As a result, even liberals, writing for liberal publications, didn’t think much of Sherman’s book. Michael Wolff, writing in Slate.com, described the book as “dour and grudging.” David Zurawik, appearing in The Baltimore Sun, dismissed it as “simplistic, historically and culturally ignorant.”
And that leads us to the biggest problem that Sherman faced, which is that he had no access to Ailes nor to Fox. Ailes refused to grant an interview, which led to Sherman hounding–stalking is not too strong a word–not only Ailes but also his family.
That lack of access, and Sherman’s creepy attempts to gain access, gave his book an off-putting tone of both desperation and falseness, as Sherman padded his work with hundreds of citations from “anonymous sources.” Such sourcing, of course, requires us to trust the writer: Who are the sources? What are their names? Are they even real? We just don’t know.
One book reviewer who picked up on this desperation and falseness was Janet Maslin of The New York Times. She derided Sherman’s tome as “a great wasted opportunity,” zeroing in on his lack of access to Ailes:
Tucked away at the end of Gabriel Sherman’s disingenuous Roger Ailes biography, there is a note on sources that should have opened the book. Mr. Sherman has done a lot of interviewing, but there are so many citations of “author interview with a person familiar with the matter” that “The Loudest Voice in the Room” may set a record for blind items and the untrustworthiness they engender. It would have helped to know right from the get-go why Mr. Sherman found this kind of journalism necessary. What he finally provides, by way of explanation, is a Kafkaesque account of how bizarre his brief Ailes sightings were.
As many observers have noted, Ailes is actually an easy “get” for an interviewer; he is quoted all the time in the MSM–it’s a part of his job. Yet something about Sherman put Ailes off, so Sherman had no access–except, perhaps, for a few disgruntled ex-employees.
So we might ask: What could it have been that made Ailes suspicious of Sherman?
Perhaps the answer is that Sherman was so obviously a liberal heat-seeking missile aimed at detonating Ailes. That is, he had all the needed liberal credentials. First, he had a track record of working for various trendy-left publications, including The New York Observer and The New Republic. From there, he had gained a perch at New York magazine.
Of course, every MSM magazine is fading these days, so Sherman also found a gig as a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation (NAF), a liberal “think tank” funded in part by George Soros. And Soros isn’t just a donor; he’s an active participant in NAF programs. And if NAF can’t get enough of Soros, there’re plenty of other Soros family members involved, too.
And say, Bernard Schwartz–that name rings a bell. Oh yes, that’s the Schwartz who is the CEO of Loral Space and Communications, the guy who gave at least $1.3 million to Bill Clinton in the ’90s, even as his company was transferring tech secrets to the Chinese. Yup, the same Schwartz.
After the Clinton administration, not surprisingly, dragged its heels in policing this security breach, Loral ended up settling the legal case with the feds in 2002, paying a $14 million fine. It was the largest such penalty ever–although, of course, in light of the enormity of the security breach, many observers still thought it was just a slap on the wrist. In any case, as we can see, Schwartz is still on tap to do good work for liberals; in this instance, he helped by financing Sherman as he wrote his anti-Ailes book.
We might further note that thanks to the New America Foundation, both Soros and Schwartz were able to do their bit for the liberal left using tax-deductible money. That is, charitable non-profits are now a central part of the MSM business model; media outfits that can no longer afford to pay their journalists have discovered a neat trick: they can park them at a “think tank” funded by some big donor and still get the benefit of their journalistic output.
In other words, Sherman was ushered into the bosom of the liberal establishment, there to write his book on Ailes. No wonder Ailes wanted nothing to do with him.
Still, it’s an interesting concept: this new style of laundering tax-deductible donations into the MSM. And that’s one reason why Breitbart News has been following the Sherman story for two years now. Back in 2012, Capitol Confidential observed of Sherman, “His career provides a window into the mechanisms of the contemporary left. In particular, we can see how mainstream media journalism–shoddy, gossipy, and liberal, all at the same time–has now combined with tax-deductible foundations to further shape our politics and culture.”
Staying on the story in 2013, we noticed that Sherman had traveled to London, there to meet with one Matthew Freud, a leading Ailes detractor. So as we can see, the life of a foundation-funded journo can be pretty sweet; junkets are part of the tax-deductible package.
Indeed, in the run-up to the January 14 pub date, Sherman seemed to have everything going for him. His publisher, Random House, had put together a fancy website for the book. And someone had even paid for Sherman to have his own media “war room,” staffed by two high-priced Democratic operatives. And affiliated groups, such as David Brock’s lefty Media Matters, were on hand to heavily promote the book.
But for a book to sell in this market, it has actually to be a good book. And as we have seen, the work itself was a big meh. So for all its buzzy buildup, the book was a bomb; as one observer told Capitol Confidential, “Sherman’s book was the biggest buzz-bomb since the V-1.”
Some might argue that the liberal “dream team,” consisting of the New America Foundation, Soros, Schwartz, and Random House, should have foreseen the book’s failure. After all, Sherman was an inexperienced journalist, possessed of no real credentials to cover the media, let alone write a whole book about the media. Moreover, he had been known to cut corners in the past; back in 2010, Donald Graham, then the publisher of The Washington Post, had ripped into Sherman’s reporting as “particularly lazy.”
For young Sherman, the past two months have undoubtedly been painful. The tax-subsidized institutional left had high hopes for his book, but then everything fell flat. Today, no more book tour, no more war room, no more eager awaiting of the next batch of Google Alerts. Even the fancy website is now gone, replaced by a freebie Tumblr site.
Once, not so long ago, Sherman’s world must have seemed bright and beckoning. With his mighty pen, he would slay the dreaded dragon of Ailes. Then the liberal champion would live happily ever after, lionized by the left. But now, those dreams of glory are vanished, like a nighttime phantasm that flits away with the light of dawn.
Sherman, having labored so hard to deliver only a shrivel of a book, must now face a bleak prospect–he might have to go out and get a real job.