Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch in 1996, at a press conference announcing the creation of Fox News. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
Roger Ailes, LEFT, and Rupert Murdoch in 1996, at a press conference announcing the creation of Fox News. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

In an appearance today on “CBS This Morning,” Gabriel Sherman, the unauthorized biographer of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, took aim at a central part of the network boss’s history. The issue concerns a great anecdote from Ailes’s early years as a professional. It was January 1968, and Ailes was executive producer of the Mike Douglas Show. Booked to appear on the Jan. 9 program was then-presidential hopeful Richard Nixon. Ailes ended up face-to-face with Nixon in his office, an encounter that came about via strange circumstances.

Here’s how Ailes described those circumstances in a 2001 interview with Charlie Rose: “So somebody ran into me and said, ‘We’re having former Vice President Nixon come in and we have Little Egypt the belly dancer in the green room with a boa constrictor.’ So I said, ‘Put one of them in my office.’ And they ended up putting Nixon in my office. And I didn’t want to scare the boa constrictor or Nixon so I decided I had to keep them apart. I don’t think Nixon ever knew he was on the same show with a boa constrictor until maybe a week later somebody told him. And a belly dancer, by the way: Little Egypt was a famous belly dancer. Anyway, I went back to my office, there’s Nixon sitting there and he’s grumbling about, you know, it’s too bad a guy has to rely on a gimmick to get elected.”

In his research for “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” Sherman has determined that things didn’t quite go down that way. “There was no belly dancer; there was no snake on the set of the Mike Douglas Show,” Sherman said this morning on CBS. He breaks things down on a just-posted mini-excerpt at New York magazine:

[A]ccording to several of Ailes’s Mike Douglas colleagues who were present, there was no belly dancer named Little Egypt booked that day. Their assertion is backed up by the show’s talent logs, which I viewed. The guests during the Nixon taping, which took place on January 9, were the singer Margaret Whiting, the actress Stella Stevens, the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, and Tony Sandler’s children. According to the talent log for that week’s shoots, the dance duo John Brascia and Tybee Arfa had been scheduled to come into the studio when Nixon was there, but were bumped back a day. Tybee, as she was known, was certainly exotic. But she never performed under the name Little Egypt. And the snake? “No one has any recollection of Tybee ever dancing with a boa,” recalled John Brascia’s daughter, Christina.

On CBS, Sherman said that the story is “a wonderful cocktail party story that shows roger Ailes’s unrivaled ability to be a myth-maker.” The meeting with Nixon, insists Sherman, came in a “formative” period in the life of the then-27-year-old Ailes, who didn’t exactly stumble into a one-on-one with Nixon. “He wanted to work for Nixon. He wanted to become a media strategist,” said Sherman.

This could be fun. Can the Fox News public relations team find any evidence that a snake appeared on the Jan. 9, 1968, edition of The Mike Douglas Show?

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