Condemnation of Gabriel Sherman's Roger Ailes Biography Mounts

Roger Ailes
Roger Ailes / AP
January 20, 2014

The latest Roger Ailes biography, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—and Divided a Country, has been savaged by critics in numerous prestigious outlets.

Media Matters said in a blog post that "Fox News was right to be scared" of the book, but many reviewers are saying it falls flat. Some criticize author Gabriel Sherman’s writing abilities while others simply say the book makes claims without providing evidence.

Many reviewers were confused by the book's structure. Sherman includes quotes from Ailes throughout but waits until the end of the book to admit that Ailes never agreed to speak to him directly.

Conservatives and liberals alike agreed on a CNN panel that the book was not likely to change anyone’s mind about Fox News.

The Washington Free Beacon has compiled some of the critiques of the book.

The Washington Post found the book’s title misleading:

In its subtitle, "The Loudest Voice in the Room" promises an account of how Ailes has "divided a country." This promise goes unfulfilled. … When he was asked in a TV interview Friday just how the subject of his book had divided the United States, Sherman looked almost stunned by the inquiry: "Because of his ability to drive a message: He has an unrivaled ability to know what resonates with a certain audience."

The New York Times called Sherman’s book "disingenuous" and said it makes false claims with no evidence:

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. …

The upshot [of Ailes’ Fox News coverage], as Mr. Sherman sees it, is that Mr. Ailes may have cost his party the election and has been left in a weakened state because of it. But the book provides no real evidence of either assertion. And it ends, ridiculously, with the image of a dying Judy Garland performing her swan song. If Mr. Sherman proves nothing else, it is that Mr. Ailes’s story warranted a more thoughtful telling than he has given it, or it is likely to get again anytime soon. Consider this a great wasted opportunity.

The Baltimore Sun also attacked the lack of evidence in Sherman’s book:

Sherman blames Ailes for the "extreme polarization of American life today," the "loss of civility of democracy," the "nastiness of political discourse," and "widespread criticism" of Barack Obama, according to the Sun, but the author provides little evidence for any of those claims.

If that kind of simplistic, historically and culturally ignorant explanation of contemporary American media and life works for you, then you will probably like this highly publicized biography from Random House just fine.

On the other hand, if you have had the pleasure of reading a meticulously researched, clearly written, scrupulously documented, even-handed and enlightening biography — like, say, the one Robert A. Caro is writing on Lyndon Johnson — Sherman’s book is going to be a major disappointment.

Slate had some harsh words for the author’s writing ability:

Sherman is not a very good writer. In a peculiar afterword, he comes oddly close to admitting this, lavishing thanks on all those who supplied him remedial help. (He calls the book a collaboration). This help is not enough to overcome his relentless, flattened newsmagazine sentence structure (bad enough in short magazine bites, murder in a whole book).

Slate also adds that Sherman’s book "hardly bring[s] anything meaningfully new to this story."