February 13, 2013

Scott Brown — (Harry Hamburg/The Associated Press)

The news that Scott Brown has been hired as a Fox News contributor is bad news for Gabriel Sherman, now working on a book about Fox News chief Roger Ailes. That’s because Sherman didn’t break the news; Politico reported the discussions and Brian Stelter of the New York Times finished things off today with confirmation from Fox News.

No shame, of course, in losing a scoop or two to such outlets, especially while you’re at work on a book scheduled for publication later this year. Yet earlier this week, a Breitbart.com piece scolded Sherman for this very offense. The piece was titled, “FOX NEWS ‘EXPERT’ LOSING GROUND TO RIVAL REPORTERS” and noted how the New Republic’s (TNR) Eliza Gray had secured an interview with Ailes regarding Fox News’s ambitions for the country’s Latino audience.

The TNR piece carried the sort of Ailes ranting that guarantees a Web-traffic bonanza for anyone who manages to corner him. “The president likes to divide people into groups,” Ailes told Gray. “He’s too busy getting the middle class to hate rich people, blacks to hate whites. He is busy trying to get everybody to hate each other.”

The real significance of the TNR piece, according to the Breitbart.com column, wasn’t so much what it said about cable news and demographics, but what it said about the abilities of Ailes’s unauthorized biographer: “[A]s Sherman tends to his book-writing and editing duties, the reporter who has obsessively covered Fox may be losing ground to others who have been breaking stories missed by the man likely to be dubbed the premier Fox News ‘expert’ by the mainstream media over the coming months.
That trend could have an impact on how his book, ‘The Loudest Voice in the Room: Fox News and the Making of America’ is received more broadly when it is released….”

Among Sherman’s alleged recent failings: Not getting the skinny on the departure of Sarah Palin from Fox News; not getting the skinny on the hiring of Erick Erickson as Fox News contributor; not getting the skinny on Dick Morris’s breakup with the network.

When asked about the Breitbart.com slight, Sherman responds, “I didn’t know that covering Fox News was a race. I’m hard at work finishing my book and am excited for Random House to publish it later this year.”

Now who on earth would have the time and resources to monitor just how consistently some reporter gets beaten on stories?

We don’t know. That’s because the Breitbart.com piece carries the byline “Capitol Confidential.” What does that mean? Take it from John Nolte of Breitbart.com: “Capitol Confidential is exactly that–confidential. Many different people, including combinations of sources and authors known to us, write under Capitol Confidential.”

“Combinations of sources and authors,” huh? Delicious! Could such “sources” be folks who work at a news organization? No word from Nolte on that front just yet.

Scandal isn’t afoot here. The Breitbart.com story has its facts in order. Its judgment is off—namely, that getting scooped while working on a huge book project carries consequences. But it’s far more loony than nasty or harmful.

What is afoot here is high incompetence. Hilarious incompetence. Taken together with this piece (bashing Sherman’s journo-integrity), this piece (a two-parter bashing Sherman), plus this, this and this, it’s clear that there’s someone, somewhere making an effort to discredit Sherman’s book before it surfaces.

That someone has grand mastery of the Fox News-covering press corps and how Fox News issues statements and access.
That someone has a pipeline to Breitbart.com.
And that someone is heading a junior-varsity effort at Internet sliming. (That someone could be plural, too).

Because with each slime-throwing iteration, more attention, more links to Sherman’s book on Ailes pile up. The Erik Wemple Blog is a knowing and quite willing part of this machine: There’s nothing we love more than documenting Web-based, junior-varsity reputation-sullying campaigns, even if the result is hyping someone else’s book. After one of our pieces, former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller tweeted:

 

We promise to keep watching.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.