The Roger Ailes biography war officially kicked off on Wednesday, as Vanity Fair published a largely positive excerpt from a new book about the Fox News CEO.
The excerpt from Zev Chafets' "Roger Ailes: Off Camera" was posted early Wednesday morning.
Chafets received what his publishers have called "unprecedented" access to Ailes to write the book. The biography has been widely viewed as a response to a rival book being written by New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman, who is famous for his ability to pry juicy gossip from within the heavily guarded Fox News fortress. (Sherman has been harassed and even reported being sent death threats during his writing of the book.) It was also predicted that Chafets — who wrote a sympathetic biography of Rush Limbaugh — would paint a more flattering picture of Ailes than Sherman.
The excerpt largely seems to conform to that theory. The media titan comes off as deliberately provocative, but largely harmless — a gruff but loving grandfather. Readers get a glimpse of Ailes as a parent (he has a 12-year-old son, and is clearly concerned with what will happen to him after he passes away) and of his battle with hemophilia.
There are also just enough sprinkles of media gossip to make industry observers interested. Ailes told Chafets he doesn't know if Rupert Murdoch really likes him as much as Murdoch says. He also had some choice words for Newt Gingrich, his former employee, after Gingrich accused Fox News of favoring Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primary. "Newt's a prick," he told network spokesman Brian Lewis.
And there is an account of Ailes' meeting with then-Senator Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. Obama, Chafets writes, complained specifically about Sean Hannity's constant attacks on him. Ailes told him not to worry, since no Hannity viewers would have voted for him anyway. Oh, and he thinks Joe Biden is as "dumb as an ashtray," and that Obama has "never worked a day in his life":
“Obama’s the one who never worked a day in his life. He never earned a penny that wasn’t public money. How many fund-raisers does he attend every week? How often does he play basketball and golf? I wish I had that kind of time. He’s lazy, but the media won’t report that.” He noticed my arched eyebrows and added, “I didn’t come up with that. Obama said that, to Barbara Walters.” (What Obama said was that he feels a laziness in himself that he attributes to his laid-back upbringing in Hawaii.)