In Sunday’s edition of “Playbook,” Politico’s Mike Allen included a massive excerpt of the new biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes by journalist Gabriel Sherman, “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country. Sherman’s book is highly anticipated, not least for its many embarrassing allegations about Ailes, including: at NBC, he once offered to pay a producer extra if she agreed to have sex with him; during his time at CNBC, he once called another executive an anti-Semitic slur; he speaks of women in demeaning ways; his every step is preceded by paranoia. (Fox News has denied the book’s charges and questioned Sherman’s fact-checking; the network didn’t respond to the Erik Wemple Blog’s inquiry).
Somehow those lowlights didn’t make Allen’s highlights reel. He chose far more flattering stuff, like the part about Ailes being “The Most Powerful Man in the World,” about Ailes’s rough childhood, about Ailes winning over Rupert Murdoch, about Ailes winning over employees, about Ailes’s marketing genius, about Politico scoring a presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan library, to Ailes’s dismay. Save for a nod to Fox News’s alleged deception over an infamous anti-Obama video from May 2012, Allen all but “Zevved up” the Sherman book. That is, he made it sound a lot like the very favorable Ailes biography that author Zev Chafets last year published with the network boss’s full cooperation.
That Allen didn’t highlight the Sherman book’s edgiest tidbits surely wouldn’t surprise those who spend their weekends searching the “Playbook” archive for references to Fox News. In the Jan. 6 edition of “Playbook,” for instance, he included this nugget:
— “THE UNBEATABLE ROGER AILES” — USA Today column by Michael Wolff: “Since he took the lead from CNN a few years after he launched the network in 1996, nobody has come close to competing … creating perhaps the single most infuriating circumstance in modern media. Ailes, ever taunting the liberal media establishment, is ever further beyond its reach. … Fox [in 2013] had the top 14 [cable news] shows … The cable audience, for all the attention heaped on it for its theoretical political sway, is not that large. The average Fox prime time audience in 2013 was little more than a million people. MSNBC’s 2013 … prime time viewership was 640,000, CNN’s 568,000.” http://goo.gl/VYs5cr
And this nugget:
BRET BAIER tonight marks five years since taking over from Brit Hume as anchor of Fox News’ “Special Report.” Bret is also chief political anchor and moderated five presidential debates. For Father’s Day, Bret will be out with his first book, “Special Heart: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage & Love,” chronicling his experience with his and Amy’s 6-year-old son, Paul, who suffers from a rare heart condition. Author proceeds will go to pediatric heart research.
–“Special Report with Bret Baier” is consistently in the top five cable news programs, averaging 2 million viewers a night and 350,000 in the demo. The program is up double-digits in both categories vs. last quarter, outpacing CNN and MSNBC combined in the 6 p.m. slot.
There’s verily a trend line when it comes to Allen and Fox News anniversaries. In a December edition, Allen wrote, “CHRIS WALLACE marks 10 years this weekend as host of ‘Fox News Sunday,'” followed by background information. In a June 2013 edition, Allen wrote, “MEDIAWATCH — Fox News Channel’s “The Five” will mark its 500th episode at 5 p.m. today,” followed by background information. In a May edition, Allen wrote, “MEDIAWATCH: Last night, Sean Hannity marked his 1,000th episode of “Hannity” on Fox News,” followed by background information.
September provided a tell-tale instance of Mike Allen’s charity to Fox News. Just as the diplomatic strains with Syria over chemical weapons were gobbling up air time, Allen wrote up the following item on how Fox News had nabbed a big interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:
MEDIAWATCH – Behind the scenes of Fox News’s interview with Assad, on Tuesday at the presidential palace in Damacus, per a statement by Michael Clemente, Fox News executive vice president of news: “On Saturday, Sept. 7, FOX News contributor Dennis Kucinich advised me that he believed he could secure an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he had met on previous occasions. At the time, it appeared that an American military attack on Syria was imminent, and I decided that Kucinich should pursue the interview, on condition that FOX News journalists would also be included. … Over the course of the next 10 days, the situation in Syria changed drastically.
“When our interview with President Assad finally took place, … Russia’s proposal to secure Syrian chemical weapons had, temporarily, reduced the likelihood of an American attack. The interview, shot by agreement by a Syrian camera crew, was conducted with no restrictions on the questions that could be asked. FOX News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Greg Palkot, a veteran of Middle East coverage [based in London], conducted the interview beside Kucinich … I was present in the control room and studio at the Presidential Palace … Kucinich was not there in the capacity of a journalist nor was he representing FOX News in that role.”
Bold text added to highlight strangeness. Just how did Fox News rely on Kucinich to score the interview, then turn around and disavow his participation? Nothing in “Playbook” about that, though we’ll concede that insiderish details on how an interview came about are central to “Playbook.” Allen also wrote up a blog post to make sure that no one missed Fox News’s Assad coup. And the day before that, Allen re-published Fox News’s press release on its new primetime lineup.
In January 2013, Allen came up with a Fox News-oriented “EXCLUSIVE,” reporting that Karl Rove had signed a contract to stay with the No. 1 cable news network through 2016. The piece noted that the deal “assures the ratings-leader cable news network that it will retain one of its most popular commentators, and someone whose views continually make news, especially in the heat of a campaign.” It pulled from Rove’s official bio and commended him for “the handheld whiteboard that he uses when discussing electoral math during presidential races.” It omitted the part about how Rove embarrassed Fox News on election night 2012, when he petulantly disputed the network’s decision to call the race for Obama. Eh, old news.
However, when that news was fresh — in the three days after election night — Allen didn’t mention it in “Playbook.”
More from this one-way street, all from 2013: Allen touted this “EXCLUSIVE”: “Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes to receive 2013 Bradley Prize.” Wonder who tipped him off? He aired a Fox News counterpoint to an allegation in a book by journalist Jonathan Alter that Ailes meddled in real time with a Fox News segment. He promoted a partnership between Bing.com and Fox News. He quoted extensively from a Harper’s Bazaar puff piece on Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. He picked up a New Republic piece on Ailes touting his plans to appeal to Latinos. And more.
Looking for countervailing programming from “Playbook” over the past year or so? In August, the “Playbook” chief did promote a New York Magazine story by Sherman himself about the shakeup at Fox News’s famous PR shop and December 2012 story about Ailes’s warm feelings for Gen. David Petraeus, not to mention a piece about MSNBC’s post-election surge. Outside of that, Allen approaches fairness and balance on Fox News when he acquires a collaborator. For instance, this “Behind the Curtain” column with then-Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeHei, provides Ailes plenty of space to counter author Alter’s critical book but at least includes strong input from Alter himself. And this Allen-VandeHei piece drills in on “The GOP, Fox political purge” following the failed campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney; the story addresses Rove’s issues at Fox News. As for other networks, Allen has thrown MSNBC personalities like Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews their fair share of praise as well, perhaps because he has a regular perch on Scarborough’s show.
Yet all of these links and blurbs and stories are vying for runner-up status in the category of Allen-Ailes hagiography. Because the news story that Allen placed on Politico.com on Oct. 23, 2009, will never be surpassed. It needs its own spot in the Newseum, if only to memorialize how Politico never kills stories. It’s got to be in the trophy case of Roger Ailes. It is as fresh and wonderful today as it was when first posted. It is titled, “FRIENDS PUSH AILES FOR PRESIDENT.”
Copyright considerations prevent the Erik Wemple Blog from dropping the plenary glory of “FRIENDS PUSH AILES FOR PRESIDENT” into this blog post, yet a few excerpts hint at the genius behind its formulation. The lede: “Friends and associates are encouraging Fox News chief Roger Ailes to jump into the political arena for real by running for president in 2012, top sources tell POLITICO.” The flattery: “Ailes, 69, has an aggessive, winning personality that made Fox News a huge success — and a huge target for liberal critics.” The meat: “Talk of an Ailes run, which informed sources said is based on more than mere speculation, could escalate the White House war with Fox war in wildly unpredictable – and fun – ways.”
Breathless, conjectural, based on anonymous sources: Politico!
Now look at how Sherman deals with what appears to be the same set of facts:
Ailes’s executives flattered him with suggestions that he go on camera and deliver the attack lines himself or even run for president. (Michael Clemente had “Ailes 2012” bumper stickers printed and distributed around the second floor.) At some moments, Ailes demurred “Those days are gone,” he told his team. At other moments, he indulged them.
In other words, it was an office joke.
On Saturday morning, the Erik Wemple Blog asked Allen why his “Playbook” editions from last week ignored the Sherman book, even as its excerpts and Fox News reaction were ripping up the web. Everyone in Allen’s sphere was talking about the various revelations. An answer came back that morning from Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris, who noted that Allen’s “preference with books is always to have the book in hand so he can have confidence he has a full and fair take on the author’s work. That’s not always possible but it is his strong preference and in this case he hopes to see Gabe’s book soon.” In the next day’s “Playbook,” Allen announced he’d scored the book and published his excerpts.
Based on Harris’s comment, it’s tempting to conclude that Allen doesn’t like to deal with excerpts and other shortcuts. Except that he did so with books by Jake Tapper; Peter Baker (“a few notes from early readers”); Richard Wolffe; Mark Leibovich; Bob Woodward; Daniel Klaidman.
CLICK DU JOUR — Vanityfair.com posts an exclusive adaptation of “Roger Ailes: Off Camera – An inside look at the founder and head of Fox News,” by Zev Chafetz [sic]….
And from the March 18, 2013, edition:
MEDIA MATTERS obtained a copy of “Roger Ailes Off Camera,” by Zev Chafetz [sic], out tomorrow: “‘I’ve been kicked out of every damn church I’ve ever belonged to,’ says Roger Ailes….
In both cases, Allen quoted extensively from the pieces. The Chafets book had the full cooperation of Ailes and depicted him as a brash, lovable, swashbuckling genius. At least one person in Ailes’s orbit is still trying to remind people of it:
‘Off Camera’ was one of my 2013 favorites. Read my recap here: http://t.co/PWVJvLwmpj
— Karl Rove (@KarlRove) January 8, 2014
For quite some time now, most Politico reporters have promulgated their punditry largely outside of the Fox News airwaves. BuzzFeed’s Dorsey Shaw last year documented the apparent freeze-out, compiling a chart showing how many Politico reporters had appeared on the network from April 1 to Aug. 1 of 2013 (none). In a piece last year on FishbowlDC, Eddie Scarry took a whack at tracing Politico’s so-called “lifetime ban” from Fox News. Getting sidelined from Fox News cannot please Politico higher-ups, for two reasons: 1) It opens them up to allegations that they’re a liberal media outlet, based on their lopsided presence on progressive MSNBC; and 2) It limits the promotion of their stories and reporters, an area in which Politico has walloped the competition from the day it launched.
And yet former Fox News PR ace Brian Lewis told Jim Romenesko in 2012, “We do not have a do-not-deal-with-Politico policy. We deal with Mike Allen.” As they should.