The Loudest Voice in the Room: How Roger Ailes and Fox News Remade American Politics (Book Review)

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Let’s get something out of the way: I hate Fox News. What’s that you say, Robert? A 20-something year old liberal from the Northeast doesn’t like Fox News? Please tell me more. It’s true, I am your stereotypical person who would not like Fox News and in fact reject everything it stands for completely. So it should come as no surprise that I also don’t consider myself a fan of Roger Ailes, and actually dislike him as a person even more so after reading this book. Fox News’s success has allowed him to not only peddle extreme right-wing views in the guise of freedom down America’s collective throats but also has killed off whatever was left of journalism in mainstream media since both CNN and MSNBC similarly pan for viewers in what is quickly becoming a dying medium. So, yeah, Roger Ailes isn’t making my Christmas card list and I’m probably not making his either. But I’ve accepted that.

The Loudest Voice in the Room: How Roger Ailes and Fox News Remade American Politics is slightly misleading as a book. Fox News doesn’t actually enter the book until almost halfway through, instead the book is more of a biography about Ailes’s life. His beginnings in Ohio with an extremely conservative father in a upper middle class area are covered here. As is his time in television with The Mike Douglas show and in theater. The real meat of the book of course is Ailes’s involvement in American politics beginning in 1968 with the Nixon campaign and going through the years until the creation of Fox News. The rest of the book is covering Fox News’s terrible reporting for events like the Clinton impeachment, 9/11, the Iraq War, and ignoring reality in order to be a cheerleader for the Bush Administration. The book also covers Fox News’s role with the Tea Party, the 2008 election, and examines some of its actions during the Obama Administration alongside examining personalities like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck.

My biggest problem with this book is that the author (Gabriel Sherman) overplays the importance of Ailes in political campaigns and later to a point with Fox News. Ailes wasn’t really a significant factor in the ’68 campaign, instead being more of a student as the author admits. Ailes was a complete non-factor in the ’72 election, and wasn’t a huge power player during the Reagan years. His time with the first Bush Administration is largely defined by the Willie Horton ad, which blew up in his face and cost him races later on. Ailes was certainly in the back scenes during many of these Presidential races but his contributions ultimately didn’t amount too much. Meanwhile, it seems almost skimmed over just how many races Ailes actually lost for his candidates.

There’s not much about Fox News that I can say in this review that hasn’t been said in this book or in a review here on Goodreads. Putting it bluntly, Fox News is a vile company. Ailes certainly deserves a lot of credit for the rise of Fox News but he also deserves a great deal of blame for the House of Cards that Fox News has become. Recently numbers show that Fox News’s ratings have gone down 20% compared to last year and as Fox’s older audience (as surveys will attest to) dies off, Fox News will quickly find itself in trouble. The book somewhat glosses over Ailes’s failure to be an effective leader in terms of management, as the amount of turnover at Fox News over the years will attest to. There’s also the issues with Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, the latter of which drove him off the Network because he became “larger than the brand”.

Fox News has certainly remade American journalism and news in its own Frankenstein Monster’s sort of way. However, their impact on politics (outside of increased mudslinging through the usage of media) is questionable. The first year of their existence, Bob Dole got trounced. George W. Bush won barely in 2000 and by a slightly larger figure in 2004. Barack Obama won handily in 2008, and won by a slightly less amount in 2012. However, considering the fact that Ailes made it his mission to elect a Republican President for 4 years and failed speaks volumes. It further speaks volumes that despite being some figure that all politicians must visit, the eventual Republican nominee, Mitt Romney was the anti-Fox News candidate. Romney and Jon Huntsman were the only two serious contenders running in ’12 that didn’t have a show on Fox News or were involved with the network in some way. Of course, one has to question the validity of any so-called independent news network that has a entire lineup of characters from one party running and only employs Democrats who also moonlight as pinatas.

My other problem with this book is that the author talks about Fox News’s success but fails to look at the invention of the Internet in the grand scheme of things. Liberals (who tend to be younger) tend to receive their news more often now from online sources, not television. I can’t even tell you the last time I watched MSNBC and I’m Liberal as the day is long. Meanwhile, Fox News’s audience is Conservative and therefore tends to stick to more traditional media such as television due to their age. Which can be reflected in the average age of a Fox News viewer, which is a couple years higher than MSNBC and CNN. So Fox News’s success is ultimately not very surprising due to demographics.

Of course, the author does make one overarching conclusion that I completely agree with, Fox News as a network is just an extension of the entertainment shows that Ailes put on when he was younger. Or even an extension of the theater shows he always wanted (Glenn Beck being a good example) and it just so happens this has one of the longest runs of any show.

Overall, The Loudest Voice in the Room is definitely worth reading. It paints a very interesting picture of the man behind Fox News and the network that it has become. I would certainly be interested in reading a sequel book down the road.

Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie #1 (Review)

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The following review contains spoilers.

Every so often there’s a comic that comes along that makes you go “Wait, what?” and Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie (or G.I. Zombie) is that comic. Coming from the creative minds of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (All-Star Western, Batwing, The Ray) comes the story of Jared, a man who just wants to serve his country as a soldier but who also happens to be a zombie. I have to imagine that he can skip the required physical.

The first issue finds us in Nowhere, Mississippi (literally, the place is called Nowhere, Mississippi) as we meet Tiff, a young blond who seems like she has a story behind her. Palmiotti and Gray quickly establish her as a character, she’s confident in her abilities and not afraid to show it. If there’s something I’ve always appreciated about Palmiotti and Gray’s work, it’s the ability to consistently give the reader some strong female characters, something often lacking in comics.

We also get to meet Duke and his motorcycle gang, not exactly a group of people who you would see volunteering down at your local soup kitchen. Unfortunately for “J. Edgar”, the fed who was caught spying, he took the wrong night to find himself meeting Tiff and Duke. The book quickly establishes it has no problem showing some violence, certainly not surprising considering the authors previous work with All-Star Western.

Arguably one of the best things about the first issue and an example of good storytelling is the misdirection to make us think Tiff had outright murdered a federal agent. Instead, we find out she is working with Jared, the title character G.I. Zombie. The two are investigating the previous shown motorcycle gang. After chopping him up in the bar, we get a semi humorous scene of Tiff now getting the pleasure of helping G.I. Zombie put himself back together again. Humpty Dumpty he is not.

Despite being a zombie and having just been chopped up, G.I. Zombie seems intent on doing his duty. He even takes the time to recite the soldier’s creed while watching Tiff undress. Of course, the bits of humor are wonderful (G.I. Zombie wanting to watch TCM) and add a great deal to the book.

Of course, the issue goes on to show us that G.I. Zombie isn’t as in control as we may initially think. This was a nice addition to the issue and will certainly play out in future issues as an interesting plot point. The issue also takes the time to establish some of G.I.’s more interesting powers. The end of the issue was also a great cliffhanger and left me wanting to pick up next month’s issue.

It’s worth taking a moment to give a great deal of credit to the art by Scott Hampton. It’s very unique and does a really wonderful job of contributing both to the tone and mood of the book. It also helps that Hampton does a great job of emphasizing some of the smaller details alongside the more grisly scenes.

G.I. Zombie is unlike anything else being produced by DC right now and that’s a good thing. The New 52 can always use some more diversity, and thankfully Palmiotti & Gray always seem able to bring it. The first issue was a good introduction and leaves the reader wanting more. If you didn’t already pick it up this Wednesday, definitely do so while your local comic book store has a copy.

Last Orders [The War That Came Early #6] (Book Review)

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When I first heard the announcement for The War That Came Early series, I was extremely excited. After all, Turtledove, the master of alternative history would finally be focusing on a World War II story that involved it starting early. I was left wondering all of the different scenarios that could possibly take place, considering my own love for alternative history stories. There was a great deal of potential to be had.

Instead, the story was fairly predictable throughout the entire series with a couple of good twists here or there. The story felt more of a rehash of World War I than anything else. Turtledove’s prose varies from me depending on the series or even the book. He has a strong writing style that I’ve come to appreciate (otherwise I wouldn’t have read so many of his books) and he has his creative moments.

Last Orders feels more of a lackluster effort and going through the motions more than anything. I was waiting for the real action to pick up or something to happen that wasn’t completely mundane or predictable. Unfortunately, that moment never came. Last Orders is not the worst alternative history book I’ve read by far, but it’s certainly not some of Turtledove’s best work. Although I suppose it is only fitting that I feel the last book in this series didn’t live up to the potential of it. If you’ve gotten this far in the series, I suggest finishing it since it would only take you an afternoon to read.

Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal (Book Review)

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There is something for everyone of all ages in the work of Jim Henson. Whether you enjoy The Muppets (and really, who didn’t?), or maybe Labyrinth , or perhaps The Dark Crystal or Fraggle Rock. Henson brought out the child in each of us, and there was room for everyone to enjoy his work. His untimely death at 53 is all the more unfortunate when you consider the numerous projects that were left undone, and the projects yet to be created in the mind of the man who was known for his boundless creative energy. Personally, I will never forget “It’s Not Easy Being Green” and especially “Just One Person”.

Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal is something you could consider as a template to the Jim Henson Museum. The book breaks up into Henson’s early days, days with the Muppets, and his more prominent work after the Muppets. Taken directly from The Jim Henson Company archives, this book contains much of the diary that Jim kept for the majority of his professional life. Included with this is numerous other material, including sketches of characters or work he was doing, photographs that are not often seen involving him or his work, and much more.

This works as a great companion piece to read after Jim Henson The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. One cannot help but remember some of their childhood or even adulthood moments spent watching some of Jim’s work while reading this. Definitely pick this up for an afternoon read if you’re a fan of the man’s work and legacy.

We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency (Book Review)

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I will never stop finding it weird when I see Caturday and IM A FIRIN MAH LAZER in print.

Parmy Olson’s We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency delivers in providing the origins of Anonymous and later the rise and fall of the group known as LulzSec. My favorite thing about this book is Olson’s ability to distill something that continues to confound media outlets to this day and simplify it for your average reader. The book is able to do this without treating the reader as dumb, instead exploring the story of Anonymous and LulzSec in a way that makes the reader feel like they were on the IRC channel when these events were happening.

Even today, Anonymous is largely unknown to the public at-large, a group they might have read about in their local newspaper once or saw something about on Fox News when they were hacking some bank or government website. Olson takes the readers through the roots of Anonymous, starting with the infamous 4chan and /b/, and exploring how individual identities soon became an collective. The most interesting aspect of Olson’s storytelling is how despite there being a collective mindset, soon individual identities emerged for various reasons in IRC channels and other places.

Olson also explores internet culture and even 4chan culture in a non-biased way, explaining to the reader what a “moralfag” or “rule 34″ is. One of the overarching themes in the Anonymous community explored in this book other than anonymity or non-anonymity is the purpose of “Anonymous” itself. The lines were and continued to be drawn whether or not Anonymous should be used for activism, or whether it should stick to simply causing chaos.

It’s odd to me to be reading about many of these events, considering my own existence on the internet while these events were occurring. This includes the beginning raids on Habbo Hotel to more of an activism bent with the raids on the church of Scientology and the Westboro Bapist Church. What initially seemed to many as moral crusaders soon took a sudden turn with attacks on Sony, government websites, and other companies. Although it is worth noting that Olson makes the distinction several times throughout the text (including at the beginning) that Anonymous itself has no real hierarchy or leadership, so trying to define it as one group or with one purpose is not only pointless but entirely misleading.

Not just the actions but the “e-drama” or infighting between the various groups jostling for attention is included here. Even today, the different groups and the public at-large debate Anonymous as a whole (whether fair or not) considering their actions involving corrupt governments in the Middle East and security groups.

Olson examines all of this with the story of Sabu, Kayla, and Topiary, who along with a couple others would join the group LulzSec. This group was initially seen to be as a less-serious version of Anonymous, quickly gaining infamy for some of its actions and its unusual public relations on Twitter. The reader can get to know and even sympathize to a degree with some of the main characters as they go about their actions. This comes to my only real complaint with the book is that it often feels like a movie of sorts.

In fact, at times while reading this book I felt like I was reading a cyber version of “Goodfellas”. Many of the rules surrounding both Anonymous and the crew in Goodfellas were the same, including that snitching was paramount to death (or the death possible in the online world). They both had arguments with other crews, paranoia ran deep in both cases, and eventually members of both groups become disillusioned with it as a whole. There’s also the fact that both groups have gone through serious examination (at least in their beginnings) whether or not they’re a force of good. At one point in the book, one of the main characters even remarks about the existence of a guide could lead to RICO charges, something infamously used aganist mob bosses nationwide.

Overall, We Are Anonymous is a fascinating story that will leave you unable to put the book down from beginning to end. It’s one of the best examinations of internet culture I’ve seen in print and is extremely readable. Definitely recommended for anyone looking to learn more about the topic or just for an interesting book to read.

Red Inferno: 1945 (Book Review)

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I hate movies that give the entire plot away in the trailer. It’s actually a pet peeve of mine and has made me largely avoid trailers in some cases. On a similar note, I also hate when fiction books give away the entire plot of the book on the jacket and unfortunately Red Inferno: 1945 is one of those books. The reader could glance for a minute or two at the back of the book with it’s description and walk away with roughly the same amount of knowledge that I had after reading it. Sure, there’s a journey to these things and the author is a good writer, but what’s the point of reading an alternative history book when the description lays out all the major plot points.

This was eternally frustrating for me as I was reading due to the fact I was waiting for something else to happen. Sure, there was the eventual and predictable love story that occurs, but the action itself is also utterly predictable due to the author laying out the entire strategy in the back of the book. Not only that, but everyone but the Americans in this book (especially Truman) come off like geniuses while the Soviet Union come off as cartoon villain epic proportions. Even the British are largely neutered and written off with these mysterious outbreaks of anti-war demonstrations.

Which leads me to question why these were not occurring in the United States as well or if they were why they weren’t mentioned. In fact, very little outside of what was happening on the ground in Germany, the White House, and Stalin’s den is mentioned. Even though there is an entire war in the pacific going on, it is given lip service at best and the ending there is just completely solved with little ease. Meanwhile, the “butterfly” to cause this entire story, the decision by America to take Berlin only sets off the Soviet Union because Stalin suddenly has a meltdown over an individual city. Sure, Stalin and the rest of the upper leadership in the Soviet Union were paranoid but this book takes it to an extreme degree.

My other big problem with this book is how completely irrational and unrealistic the Soviet Union attacking the Allies were. As the book itself even mentions, the Soviet Union was also entirely dependent on Land-Lease by the end of the war and the lack of it would cause them to starve very quickly. Predictably, fuel and lack of other supplies quickly became an issue for them. The book also strangely seems to write FDR and Churchill as muppets who were bought and sold what Stalin was doing instead of being pragmatic actors dealing with a potential enemy in diplomatic fashion instead of having to deal with two different ones.

Ultimately, my two main problems with the book take away from the possible enjoyment of it. Which is a shame due to the fact the author has a nice writing style, but I feel that a lot of potential is lost in the execution. Overall, alternative history fans may find themselves enjoying this book for some of the twists and turns it presents, but only if they avoid reading the description.

F.D.R.: His Personal Letters, Early Years (Book Review)

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F.D.R.: His Personal Letters, Early Years is a look at the letters from future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from his first letter at the age of five through his time at Harvard and marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt. This book is the first in a trilogy of letters that FDR sent to his mother, a woman would occupy arguably the most important spot in FDR’s life, even after his marriage and her death.

The book itself serves as an important historical document, letting readers have a first-hand look at some of the letters from a young man who would eventually become the only President to ever be elected to four terms and win World War II. Considering the lack of letters written today with the invention of the internet and email, this book serves as a reminder of the past and what largely no longer exists. It is unlikely that there will ever be another President who we as readers will ever get this much first-hand information about.

The editors of this particular edition made the decision to not strike any letters from this series. This decision changed the scope of the book and how it is ultimately as a final product. One must recall that FDR as a young boy was still merely a young boy who lived an upper class life. He never went without and spent money fairly freely as the book shows at times. He went to schools like Groton and later Harvard with plenty of time for activities. So we are largely left in this particular book with a boy who was fairly normal and lived a relatively boring young life.

What the reader can obtain from this book is a sense of FDR as a young boy and the man he would soon become. Of course, due to the fact the letters are mostly to his parents, the scope of this knowledge can be limited. The reader can see flashes of brilliance of the man who would one day become known from sea to shining sea. We are given some insight into Roosevelt’s mindset about things such as the annexation of Hawaii, the Spanish-American War, and see his growing skills as a debater.

Roosevelt was also a good student, almost always at the top of his class. His involvement in The Harvard Crimson was interesting and it was good of the author to include some of his editorials he wrote as Editor-in-Chief. It is also amusing at one point in the book to see FDR admonishing the potential of the Executive Branch gaining more power, ironic due to the power that FDR would one day wield in the same chair.

Overall, this book offers some insights but can be too repetitive for your average reader. The editors would have been better served to perhaps par down some of the letters which offer no real insight and to offer less background information for individuals that the reader ultimately doesn’t really care about. Individuals that wish to learn more about FDR or consider themselves a fan of him should definitely at least give this book a read.