The godfather of Fox News eludes critical discussion in a new biography
by Zev Chafets
$26.95 List Price
There are only two truly revealing sentences in Zev Chafets’s new biography of Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News and message minder for a host of Republican presidents. They serve as bookends of sorts. The first, in the preface, informs us that the project at hand will be superannuated: “He intends to write an autobiography someday, and I imagine he is holding something in reserve.” The second appears 249 pages later, in the acknowledgments: “I am indebted to Brian Lewis, Fox News executive vice president for corporate communications, who was always willing to answer just one more question.”
In other words, this is a book at once unnecessary and compromised by its subject: a superfluous hagiography.
It’s a shame, because Ailes, who went from a purportedly hardscrabble Ohio upbringing to producing Richard Nixon’s television performances to almost single-handedly remaking America’s politico-journalism map with Fox News, is a fascinating man. His capacity for mythmaking is robust, and one hopes for a book that attempts to disentangle some of Ailes’s self-inflating legend-spinning from the truth. Unfortunately, Chafets’s biography is not that book. It is the diary of a hanger-on, the recollections of a striver who was granted a few audiences with Ailes (“I picked Zev” was how Ailes put it to the Daily Beast). Chafets is an awed pal on the outskirts of Ailes’s social circle, watching transfixed as the great man holds court at a corner bar, obnoxiously nudging you in the ribs at every joke to make sure you got it.
Matters aren’t helped by Chafets’s inability to muster a
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