Since its founding in 1996, the Fox News Channel has been the subject of much media scrutiny. Part of this was inevitable given that its creator, Roger Ailes, explicitly designed it to be different than the rest of the national media outlets which lean to the left.
As such, there has been a lot of journalism produced about Fox News. Some of it has been excellent. Much of it has been nonsense, including a hoax “study” purporting to show that Fox News viewers have lower IQs than average and actual real study claiming that people who watched the channel were “misinformed” about political issues. As it turned out, the non-hoax was incredibly shoddy as it basically determined that someone was “informed” if he agreed with the political opinions of Democrats and “uninformed” if he agreed with Republicans.
The dueling narratives about Fox have extended even into the realm of book publishing where two books about Roger Ailes are going to duel it out this year. I’ve already interviewed the author of the first book, Zev Chafets, so I thought it was worth talking a bit about the second Ailes biographer, Gabriel Sherman, currently also a reporter with New York magazine.
We haven’t seen copies of Sherman’s manuscript so it’s not fair to say what kind of a job he’s done in his Ailes biography but it is fair to say that he has made some unforced errors in his previously published work. As Tim Graham noted last year, Sherman incorrectly claimed Fox News execs had issued a ban on discussing gun control after the Newtown, Conn. shooting which was debunked the very next day by a review of Fox programming which showed the topic had been discussed at least 13 separate times on the channel.
Sherman also appears to have overstated some scheduling changes to the Fox pundit lineup following the 2012 election and similarly read too much into the network’s handling of gun-rights pundit John R. Lott.
Now there’s another allegation being lobbed against Sherman, this time by veteran Democratic campaign strategist and current Fox News commentator Pat Caddell (pictured) who claims, in a 2,600-word screed, that Sherman is lazy and incompetent.
According to Caddell, Sherman repeatedly persisted in harassing him for proof about an accusation he had made against a former Carter administration colleague (who also happens to be a big hater of Roger Ailes) in an earlier op-ed on FoxNews.com. In that piece, Caddell slammed his former co-worker for inflating his role in the creation of Jimmy Carter’s infamous “crisis of confidence” speech.
According to Caddell, after the piece was published, Sherman (who was not even referenced in the first piece) called him up and told him “I know that Roger Ailes put you up to it,” an accusation which Caddell explicitly denied.
A few days later, Sherman took to Twitter to criticize Caddell saying that he was unable to find any proof that Caddell’s former colleague had indeed exaggerated. According to Caddell, the next day, Sherman followed up via email once again asking for proof. Both of these actions clearly irritated Caddell who lashed out at Sherman in a second opinion piece:
When I saw those tweets, I couldn’t believe my eyes: Sherman was asking where I got the idea that Stewart had claimed to be the writer--or any kind of major player--in that speech? Really? Seriously? Can Sherman be that obtuse?
Well, once again, for the record, I might have gotten the idea that Stewart was exaggerating his role from Stewart’s own op-ed in The New York Times, dated July 14, 2009. The Times might not be nearly as important as it once was, but it’s still a pretty big paper, and Sherman, a resident of New York City, ought to be more familiar with it, and what’s in it. And if not, there’s always Nexis and Google to help out.
Even if Caddell's allegation is true, it does not mean that Sherman’s book will necessarily be a hit job. On the other hand, it surely does not speak in his favor. I’ve reached out to Sherman and will print any response he gives me as an update to this post.
Just as Fox News has attracted both critics and admirers, it seems that the biographers of FNC's creator are doing the same. We'll keep you up to speed on both Chafets and Sherman here at NB.
Update 12:12. I received an email from Sherman's publisher basically stating that he cannot respond to media inquiries about Fox-related questions as his book about Ailes is under an embargo until its release date.