Roger Ailes’s biographer definitely not ‘authorized’!

March 26, 2013
Roger Ailes (Rob Kim/Getty Images)
Roger Ailes (Rob Kim/Getty Images)

In his new book on Fox News chief Roger Ailes, author Zev Chafets documents, again, that his subject is a loose cannon. Vice President Biden, Ailes says in the book, is “dumb as an ashtray”; President Obama is “lazy”; and so on.

Now Chafets himself is feeling a bit of fallout from Ailes’s tendency to spout off. In an interview with CNN-Newsweek-Daily Download media guy Howard Kurtz, Ailes came right out with this statement: “I picked Zev.”

Chafets has to wish that his subject hadn’t said that. In a post yesterday, the Erik Wemple Blog referred to that statement by Ailes and later received an e-mail from Chafets: “There seems to be a misunderstanding about the origins of the book. Mr. Ailes did not authorize me to write the book. He DID agree to my request for cooperation and access, choosing me from among the many journalists who have made similar requests over the years.”

Ailes says he “picked” Chafets; Chafets said Ailes “chose” him. The difference? Chafets’s version suggests that Ailes didn’t pick him out of the blue and propose that he gin up a big biography.

A rep for Chafets’s publisher, Sentinel, told Politico: “This is not an authorized biography.”

Fine, but just what is an authorized biography? The Erik Wemple Blog bounced around the publishing industry today in an effort to get a firm answer.

“If the subject says it’s an authorized biography, it’s an authorized biography,” says Ellen Geiger, vice president & senior agent at the New York-based Frances Goldin Literary Agency, Inc. “People do say ‘authorized biography,’ and I’ve never even thought it through before.”

Jan Constantine, general counsel of the Authors Guild, proposes a simple rule: “If it’s authorized, it’s authorized,” she says. “Why does Zev have a problem with that? It’s authorized because there is cooperation between the subject of the biography and the author of the book.”

Perhaps this is a matter for Ailes and Chafets to dispute. Kurtz posed his own little test on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” asking Chafets whether he had anything critical to say about Ailes after spending so much time on the guy. Nothing concrete came in response to that one, as Chafets deflected the matter, pointing to a piece in the Daily Beast highlighting revelations from his book.

The author served up the same point to this blog in his e-mail to the Erik Wemple Blog: “The Daily Beast … published a list of sixteen ‘juicy,’ (read: negative) disclosures about Ailes it had gleaned from my book. There have been similar lists in other publications. The excerpts featured in the New York Observer and Vanity Fair also displayed various critical observations and aspects of the portrait of Mr. Ailes.”

Those “juicy” disclosures don’t actually veer into legitimate criticism of Ailes. They either glorify him as a bawdy and courageous soul or show how politically incorrect he is — precisely the image that Ailes himself is eager to promote.

It’s all a bizarre bundle. On the one hand, Chafets wants to insist that there’s nothing so cozy as an authorized biography afoot here. On the other, he refers you to some random “16 Juiciest Bits” when asked for the biting revelations in his book. The lesson is something that the book doesn’t nail down hard enough: Never cross up the Ailes-Fox PR apparatus.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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Erik Wemple | March 26, 2013