Cable’s dueling media programs, CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and Fox News Channel’s “MediaBuzz,” faced one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situations with “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” Gabriel Sherman’s warts-and-all biography of Roger Ailes, who happens to run Fox News.
So CNN’s Brian Stelter covered the book, devoting half his show to an interview with Sherman, at the risk of looking like a hatchet man; and Fox News’ new hire Howard Kurtz completely ignored Sherman’s tome — which seems a lot more “Buzz”-worthy than Dennis Rodman — looking very much like a company man.
Stelter’s position became more awkward after CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker responded to Ailes’ broadside Friday by suggesting the book proved what everyone already knew: That Fox News essentially orchestrates strategy for the Republican Party, while “masquerading as a cable channel.”
Still, Zucker was right when he suggested the book represented a legitimate news story, regardless of the second-guessing CNN would inevitably face for dealing with what Ailes and his supporters are painting as a hit piece by an unscrupulous reporter with “an agenda.” (Just how much CNN covers it might be another matter, and a promo indicated Sherman will also appear on Piers Morgan’s show Monday.)
As for the interview itself, Sherman did a much better job pushing the details in his book than what he characterized as a “revelation” in its central premise — that Fox News exists as a political machine and an extension of Roger Ailes’ worldview.
“What I learned is that Roger Ailes has created a political operation that employs journalists,” Sherman said.
There’s certainly plenty of evidence to support that contention, but anyone who has been paying attention to the channel for the last 17-plus years could easily come away with that insight, without devoting the time to wading through a 560-page biography. Much juicier, based on the advance excerpts, are the specific stories and anecdotes about how Ailes uses his position to control his image and craft a conservative message — proving more Nixonian, as Sherman quotes a source as saying, than Ailes’ old boss, Richard Nixon.
Stelter did provide the necessary disclaimers, including a reference to Zucker’s comments and stating the obvious — that CNN is a rival to Fox News.
Kurtz, meanwhile, steered clear of a book that Ailes and Fox News have sought to discredit and diminish, but it was still noteworthy that he failed to even mention “Loudest Voice in the Room.” Media reporters earn their spurs in part by exhibiting a willingness to bite the hand that feeds them, and even a reference to Sherman — or whether “MediaBuzz” had sought an interview with him — would have helped bolster the perception that Kurtz can be an independent voice, as opposed to just a shill for the boss.
Of course, Stelter got it right when he suggested to Sherman that Fox News fans and apologists would instantly dismiss his book, which doesn’t diminish its significance. The author, however, could probably benefit from toning down the breathless nature of his TV pitch and focusing on the details in his book, as opposed to a big-picture spiel that, frankly, feels a whole lot like yesterday’s news.