New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani reviewed Tuesday a new biography by Zev Chafets of Fox News president Roger Ailes under the headline, "A Soft-Focus Look at Fox's Tough-Talking Tough Guy." Kakutani faulted it for relying on familiar stories and of course, for Fox's conservatism: "There is little cogent analysis in these pages about how Fox News frames its reports from a conservative point of view, or the effect that this has had on the national conversation."
Yet Kakutani provided no analysis, cogent or otherwise, on how the Times frames its reports from a liberal point of view, and has been doing so for far longer than Fox News.
Mr. Ailes used his populism, his showbiz savvy and his political strategist’s canny understanding of creating narratives to build Fox News (started in 1996) into a huge profit machine for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, while helping to steer the country’s conversation to the right.
In doing so Mr. Ailes has become one of the most powerful -- and debated -- figures in media and politics: an evil genius in the eyes of the many liberals who regard Fox News as a megaphone for Republican propaganda, and a prophetic hero to the many conservatives who applaud him for providing balance to what they see as the liberal mainstream news media. Like his channel -- with its aggressive, in-your-face commentary --Mr. Ailes pulls few punches. He is famous for his combative swagger, his tough-guy tough talk, his reputation as the sort of hard-boiled guy who once smashed a hole into the wall of a control room.
The overall book, however, reads like a long, soft-focus, poorly edited magazine article. For the most part Mr. Chafets serves as little more than a plastic funnel for Mr. Ailes’s observations -- much as he did for Rush Limbaugh in his 2010 book “Rush Limbaugh: Army of One.” Although Mr. Chafets supplies a tiny bit of context here and there, he doesn’t ask his subject many tough questions about Fox News’s incestuous relationship with the Republican Party, its role in accelerating partisanship in our increasingly polarized society or the consequences of its often tabloidy blurring of the lines between news and entertainment.
There is little cogent analysis in these pages about how Fox News frames its reports from a conservative point of view, or the effect that this has had on the national conversation. And while Mr. Chafets suggests that Mr. Ailes’s “impulse to present himself to the world as a nasty, ruthless leg breaker” might have roots in his childhood (even though he has hemophilia and nearly bled to death at least once, his tough-guy father expected him to be tough), there is equally little analysis of how this “master image maker” has shaped his own image over the years or shaped a network that mirrors his own pugnacious style.
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site.