At the end of his new book, journalist Gabriel Sherman writes about the difficulties of pursuing an unauthorized biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes. “He discouraged sources close to him from speaking with me and went to elaborate lengths to obstruct my reporting,” writes Sherman in “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — and Divided a Country.”
Such obstruction, however, didn’t prevent Sherman from scoring at least one very notable and on-the-record journalistic coup: Robert Ailes Jr., the brother of the Fox News boss. Testimony from Robert Ailes pops up throughout the 500-page volume, starting with the brothers’ childhood days in Warren, Ohio. In reference to their mother, Donna, Robert Ailes tells Sherman that her attempts to pry academic excellence from young Roger didn’t work. “The more she’d hound him the less he would do,” recalled Robert Ailes. This source helps out on other topics, too, giving Sherman a window into Roger Ailes’s programming instincts: “Roger said, ‘Let me think, 90 percent of the people like Christmas, so CBS, CNN, and MSNBC, you can take the other percent, we’ll say, “Merry Christmas,” and we’ll make all the money.’” That quote comes from Robert Ailes. And to advance the mushrooming story of Roger Ailes’s paranoia, Robert Ailes sort-of talks about a terrorism-proof bunker underneath the Ailes mansion in Garrison, N.Y. “I’m not allowed to talk about it. I think the proper term is a ‘panic room.’”
The Erik Wemple Blog today reached Robert Ailes by phone and asked him how he came to cooperate with Sherman, given his brother’s opposition to the book. “Well, I was caught off guard, to tell you the truth. I didn’t know Gabriel Sherman from George Washington.” Robert Ailes says he hasn’t read the book, nor does he know how he’s quoted in it.
The brother’s claim to have known nothing of Sherman is hard to square with the book itself. After all, Sherman claims that Robert Ailes had told him that Roger Ailes said that Sherman was working with the aid of left-wing supporters. “There’s a lot of liberal, George Soros money behind him,” said Roger Ailes by his brother’s account.
According to Sherman, he interviewed Robert Ailes seven times between December 2011 and March 2013.
Robert Ailes is an ideal candidate to clear up one of the mysteries that surfaces in the book. Gawker yesterday poked holes in a story that Ailes has told about a formative experience in his youth. As he has told the tale, he was standing on the top bunk in his bedroom one day, and his father encouraged him to jump into his arms. Once he did, his father stepped back, letting him fall to the floor — a lesson that he should never trust anyone. That anecdote shows up in Sherman’s book, as recounted by a man who worked for a consulting company of Ailes’s back in the 1970s. That source reported that Ailes had told the top-bunk story “on several occasions.” Yet J.K. Trotter of Gawker notes that the pops-trust-jump story is a “very well-known trope” and cites another version told by Ailes that’s different from the one that surfaces in Sherman’s book
So what’s the deal with this, Robert Ailes? “I can’t comment on that because either a yes or no gets me in trouble,” he said, before rushing off the phone.