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.