Book Review: The Loudest Voice in the Room
This past Christmas break I went by a friend’s apartment and we started talking politics. We pretty much lean the same side so there is very little, if ever, any disagreement. We discussed the current 2016 presidential candidates, media coverage, economics, and so forth. It was a lively and fun conversation. But at the crux of it all was our befuddlement over the Trump phenomenon and the media’s inability and downright refusal to refute his lies and blatant hypocrisies and discriminatory statements. With a look of contentment mixed with confusion, I sat perched on the edge of his couch lambasting both the media and people for allowing themselves to be swindled by this man.
My friend paused for about thirty seconds before leaning over and picking up a book from his coffee table. “Here, I think you should read this.”
Gabriel Sherman’s The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News – and Divided a Country (2014) is an eye-opening and revealing look into the man who changed the face of responsible media on its head into the 24/7 crass and apocalyptic entertainment variety show that it is today.
We all know Ailes as the provocative political figure with a conservative vision of America. By 2000 he had created a ratings powerhouse in the form of Fox News to make sure his political ideology had a voice available to every American. Now considered one of the most dominant media organizations in America, Fox and its affiliates influence and shape today’s policies in a way that has reinvigorated a subsect of the American population with set beliefs in American nationalism and traditionalist outrage. And this was not by accident.
In The Loudest Voice in the Room Sherman brilliantly captures the soul of Ailes and the paranoid unpredictability that has been the driving force behind his rise in media and TV. It follows a young Ailes up through the second election of President Barack Obama and how he built a billion dollar network that operates under absolute and sole control by this one man.
Sherman provides a brief look at Ailes childhood. Here we have a boy who grew up under the shadow of his older brother, at the abusive and dominant hand of his father, and nurtured by a mother who eventually leaves him to fend for himself when she finally divorces his father and marries a man who couldn’t have been more opposite than him. Ailes own childhood suffering and the working-class conservative ideals espoused by his father are what initially drives Ailes to do and be better than his own family. It is from this experience that we are to gain some semblance of an understanding as to why Ailes believes that ruthlessness and manipulation are the characteristics necessary for success.
the bio then begins looking at ailes professional life starting with him as a young producer for “The Mike Douglas Show” during the 1960s and his fast rise to TV consultant for Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential run. By the 1970s Ailes is quick to realize the power of TV in reaching and impacting larger audiences than radio ever will and by the 1980s Ailes has settled into his role of political puppeteer who is unabashed in his criticism of the Democratic Party and is the friend you have to make if you are to succeed in the GOP. When Fox News is created in the mid-1990s it isn’t until the Clinton scandal that Ailes sees it’s full potential as a network devoted to upholding American morality and traditional values. By 2010 we see Ailes, in control of Fox News, whose sole purpose is to elect the next president. He ultimately failed and with this failing we find Ailes becoming even more suspicious and hateful of the Democratic Party.
While this bio may seem like any run-of-the-mill summary you could find on, say, Wikipedia, what makes The Loudest Voice in the Room a fantastic read is the behind the scene personal stories, tribulations, and anecdotes Sherman was able to pull from willing interviewees. Few of the stories are lighthearted. Most show a man who, when the spotlight is not on him, can barely control his temper. He probably could have tried out for minor league baseball based on any of the number of things he threw with targeted precision at his coworkers and employees. His obsessive need to control every broadcast, every message, is on full display: at age 28 he drafted every Q and A down to each single sentence for “The Mike Douglass Show”; he threatens a WSJ staffer that he will ruin her career because he didn’t like a story she had written; and as Fox dictator insists on hiring only thin, attractive blondes because they are appealing to the eye of the audience.
There is a lot to be said about this man. I encourage anyone interested in Ailes’ rise to prominence and position of power to pick up this book and settle in for a long night. At the end of it you may feel some trepidation at the type of influence this man has had on America but also a sense of calm because you finally will have answered those two questions – how and why.