Inside the Fox News political machine

     Biographer Gabriel Sherman has written a book about Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, shown in this 2006 photo. (AP Photo/Jim Cooper, file)

    Biographer Gabriel Sherman has written a book about Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, shown in this 2006 photo. (AP Photo/Jim Cooper, file)

    We’ve long known, of course, that Fox News is a right-wing propaganda shop masquerading as a journalism outlet, but never before has the evidence been piled sky high – as chronicled in an exhaustive new book due on the shelves next Tuesday. And it’s not enough to describe Fox as the infauxtainment arm of the GOP; the cold truth, says author Gabriel Sherman, is that Fox chairman Roger Ailes “has his hands on the wheel, and the GOP is just along for the ride.”

    Sherman’s long-in-the-works biography of Ailes, The Loudest Voice in the Room – based on interviews with more than 600 sources, many of them Fox people who braved Ailes’ culture of fear – has naturally been blasted in advance by Ailes, who refused to talk to Sherman, yet complains that Sherman didn’t submit his stuff to Fox News’ fact-checkers. But since the phase “Fox News fact-checkers” is a laughable oxymoron, I’m inclined to side with Sherman’s fact-checkers, who reportedly spent 2000 hours vetting the material.

    And while it’s a tad hyperbolic for Sherman, a New York media writer, to contend (as he did on TV yesterday) that the saga of Roger Ailes “is the biggest story in American politics and media in the last 50 years,” there’s no denying what Ailes has wrought. His empire is vast, so perhaps we should view it in microcosm. Just look at what happened during the 2012 campaign, which climaxed in knee-slapping hilarity on election night when Republican mouthpiece Karl Rove freaked out live and in color upon hearing  that President Obama had won pivotal Ohio.

    Like everyone else in the Mitt Romney bubble, Rove refused to believe the empirical projections of an Obama victory. The Fox host had to call in the network’s exit poll analysts, who (to their credit) confirmed that Mitt was toast. Rove didn’t think Obama could win; he hadn’t seen it coming – just like the senior Romney adviser who later told CBS News, “I don’t think there was one person who saw this coming.”

    But, as chronicled in the new book, Rove was just being a loyal Fox employe, echoing the boss’ mentality. Because Roger Ailes began the ’12 cycle by announcing to Fox executives, “I want to elect the next US. president.” Dissatisfied with the GOP clown show, he decreed that Fox News shall uncritically promote Romney in its coverage – to the point that when Romney tapped Paul Ryan for the underticket, Ailes huddled with Ryan and recommended a speech coach who could improve his TV skills. Which was just Ailes being Ailes; remember, this guy cut his teeth in politics as Richard Nixon’s TV ad producer in 1968.

    (By the way: Imagine if a former Democratic strategist was today chairing a news network, telling his staff that he wanted to elect the next president, passing the word that a Democratic candidate shall be promoted in the coverage, and directly advising the veep nominee on his communication skills. Rest assured, right-wing heads would be detonating 24/7 with complaints about Duh Liberal Media.)

    But I digressed. Let’s return to election night 2012, and this spicy nugget from an advance copy of Sherman’s book:

    At 5:00 p.m., Ailes assembled his network’s election team in the second-floor conference room to discuss the night’s coverage. “Guys,” he told them,” no matter how it goes, don’t go out there looking like someone ran over your dog.” But as Fox’s exit poll team presented the numbers, Ailes came undone. “They weren’t good for Romney,” a person in the room said. “Roger started arguing about how the sample skewed toward liberals.” Ailes said, “Liberals like to share their feelings, and conservatives work, so they don’t vote until later.” Arnon Mishkin, the head of Fox’s decision desk team, told Ailes that the data accounted for a sample skew. It appeared that Romney was going to be trounced. Worse, so-called late-deciders were breaking for Obama.

    “Thank you, Chris Christie,” Ailes grumbled. He was still furious that Christie had given Obama a bipartisan photo op on the New Jersey coastline after Hurricane Sandy.

    “Actually, that’s not true,” Mishkin said. “We asked people that. There’s no data in the polling to suggest that Sandy hurt Romney.”

    “Well, hugging the guy couldn’t help people feel good about Romney either,” Ailes countered.

    Data was no substitute for what his gut told him. “Everyone left the room with the knowledge that Roger didn’t believe the polls” a participant said. His opinion would be channeled on-air later that night, with embarrassing consequences.

    Yep, Ailes didn’t believe the polls – because, in his view, liberals “share their feelings” with exit pollsters, whereas conservatives are busy at “work.” (In other words, liberals apparently don’t work.) So it’s no surprise that Rove freaked out a few hours later when the reality-based numbers burst his bubble. He was just being a good company man.

    Predictably, 90 percent of regular Fox viewers had assumed that Romney would win Ohio; such was the finding of an on-air autumn poll orchestrated by host Brett Baier. Virtually all the mainstream polls consistently gave Obama a small lead (sure enough, he won by a small margin), but it’s no surprise that Fox loyalists had no clue what was going on. At least six studies – by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes, Stanford University, American University, Kaiser Family Foundation, Ohio State, and Fairleigh Dickinson – have found Fox loyalists to be far more misinformed than news consumers who get their info elsewhere.

    That’s what propaganda is all about; as Ailes himself has said, he loves to “create some bulls—.” On that score, it’s mission accomplished.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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