On Friday's CBS This Morning, Charlie Rose and Norah O'Donnell refreshingly departed from their usual softball treatment of liberal guests, and pursued New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman about his new biography of Fox News's Roger Ailes. O'Donnell spotlighted how "critics...[are] saying...you're a younger, liberal-leaning journalist."
Both anchors also hounded Sherman for a political accusation in the very title of the bio – The Loudest Voice in the Room: How The Brilliant Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided A Country: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]
NORAH O'DONNELL: ...[Y]ou say he's divided a country.
GABRIEL SHERMAN, AUTHOR, "THE LOUDEST VOICE IN THE ROOM": Yes, he has.
SHERMAN: Because his ability to drive a message. He has an unrivaled ability to know what resonates with a certain audience. You know, he comes from a blue collar, factory town in Ohio. He speaks to-
CHARLIE ROSE: So, what's the message that divides the country?
SHERMAN: He speaks to that part of America that feels left behind by the culture. You know, it's the old Nixon 'silent majority,' which is what was his formative experience.
Moments into the segment, Rose wondered, "What makes Roger Ailes Roger Ailes?" The author hinted at his left-of-center bias in his answer:
SHERMAN: You know, Charlie, he is an American icon....He is the most unexplored subject – the most powerful man in America that most Americans don't know, but they should. You know, he controls the American news agenda....He is like 'Citizen Kane' meets P.T. Barnum. He's a larger-than-life character. He controls the most powerful cable news network that's ratings surpass its rivals combined. And when he puts something on air, it drives the agenda.
Sherman gave more hints of his political slant when O'Donnell asked about another claim from his book
O'DONNELL: He is a brilliant television executive, whether you're – whatever your political affiliation....you write about his desire to influence national politics. You quote him telling Fox executives in 2010, 'I want to elect the next president.' So, what did he do to try and make that happen?
SHERMAN: Well, Roger Ailes has been influencing politics for three decades...and he knows how to program television to drive a message. Now, in the 2012 cycle, with Mitt Romney, his strategy was – rather than trying to build Romney up, it was an attack strategy against President Barack Obama, because he knew Romney...had a lukewarm support amongst the conservative base – but Obama was, obviously, a very ripe target.
And if you look at Fox's programming throughout the last election cycle, Ailes was driving that message through the Fast and Furious scandal, through Benghazi; through the green energy scandals. You know, every day, Fox was driving that message, which kept the base animated and ready to turn out for Romney.
Rose then brought up a criticism of the biography from the Fox News Channel executive himself – that "he [Ailes] has expressed some concern over – delving into his son – his only son – and his family and his wife." It should be pointed out that the veteran PBS host didn't specify that Ailes's son, Zachary, is 13 years old. However, the question put Sherman on the defensive:
SHERMAN: Well, Charlie – you know, Roger Ailes is an American icon, and Fox News is an expression of his world view. The entire institution – everything that winds up on the screen starts with Roger Ailes. It is his vision – the entire company revolves around what – how he thinks.
And so, to understand Fox and how it has changed America, you have to understand the man, and he has this incredible story – from growing up in a factory town in Ohio, to rising to the highest corridors of power in America. He was a counselor to presidents, corporate chieftains. He's the most powerful cable news executive. He made $30 million last year. So, this man has changed the country, and my book really makes an attempt to show how he is – how his career has unfolded.
The CBS journalists asked their "liberal-leaning journalist" and "divides the country" near the end of the interview. Neither host raised two other controversial allegations in Sherman's biography – that Ailes supposedly made anti-Semitic and sexist remarks in the past.
Previously, O'Donnell, along with co-anchor Gayle King and substitute host Anthony Mason, surprisingly pressed Rep. Nancy Pelosi during an October 4, 2013 interview. However, during a later interview of Senator Marco Rubio in December 2013, the former NBC correspondent, along with Rose, stayed true to their usual form and berated the Florida politician for his opposition to a budget proposal from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray.