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Roger Ailes biography: The “fact-checking” bogosity

In a PR spat that could go on for weeks, Fox News has settled on a central rebuttal point against the now-emerging biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes by journalist Gabriel Sherman. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Ailes has what sounds like a serious objection to this piece of work:

You’re the subject of an unauthorized book, for which you declined to participate. Are you doing anything to counteract any negative elements?
Bette Davis said — I think it was Bette Davis — “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Attacking me and Fox News is nothing new — it’s a cottage industry. What’s new is that Random House refused to fact-check the content with me or Fox News; that tells you everything you need to know about this book and its agenda.

That brief exchange highlights Ailes in all of his shimmering, PR-spinning brilliance. He combines wit with certainty and edge, almost every time he opens his mouth. And on the surface, this sounds compelling. How could Sherman refuse to fact-check? What author worth his salt fails to take this important step?

Like many of Ailes’s arguments, however, this one falls apart upon closer inspection. What Ailes appears to be proposing in his response to the Hollywood Reporter is a form of cooperation with Sherman, a signal that Fox News and its top executive were committed to assisting the author with his work. Now square that contention with this statement from Fox News:

These charges are false. While we have not read the book, the only reality here is that Gabe was not provided any direct access to Roger Ailes and the book was never fact-checked with Fox News.

Though Fox News’s PR operation may be used to getting its way with news outlets, that statement has internal contradictions that render it into smithereens. You cannot boast about blocking access to a subject while complaining in the same sentence that the author didn’t cooperate with you. It just doesn’t work that way.

Now compare the Fox News statement with one from Sherman: “During two and a half years of reporting, I made a dozen requests both in writing and in person to speak with Roger Ailes about every aspect of my book, The Loudest Voice in the Room. A team of two fact-checkers spent more than 2,000 hours vetting the manuscript before publication. Roger Ailes declined every request to discuss the reporting with me.”

Now: From the sound of Sherman’s statement, he did not, like, send a comprehensive list of his findings to Fox News after he wrapped up his reporting. (The Erik Wemple Blog has sent an inquiry to Sherman’s people requesting clarification on this point.) Instead, he requested an audience with Ailes.

That makes nothing but sense.

Via David Folkenflik’s recent book “Murdoch’s World,” we know that Fox News’s PR operation will stop at nothing to stymie stories it doesn’t like. Accordingly, reporters such as Sherman must be careful about what they disclose to Fox News prior to publication. Tip them off to your findings, and they’re likely to take all necessary measures to blow up your reporting. After spending three years reporting about Fox News, Sherman knows better than anyone else how to approach Fox News: Very, very carefully.

Folkenflik told the Erik Wemple Blog, “It would be foolhardy to expect that they’d simply receive information, fact-check it, offer insight into the one or two items with which they took exception and then politely await the book’s arrival on the shelves.”