The Cable Gamer is trying to decipher what’s behind Gabriel Sherman’s latest grab-bag of imaginary sources and conspiracy theories. Some of it even contradicts Sherman’s own “reporting.” He goes on for paragraphs describing how Fox has fallen into line behind Donald Trump (painting Trump a victor is a common thread in most Shermanesque tales). There are “revelations” of secret phone calls and negotiations in order to seal the deal. But it was just last month that Sherman had a juicier explanation: Trump had secret dirt about Fox News that effectively blackmailed the news channel into backing him. Sherman ran that one up the flagpole in April but few outside his circle saluted. So now it’s forgotten. Inoperative.
Mr. Sherman also wants you to believe Fox anchors secretly speak to him:
A Fox anchor told me that the message from Roger Ailes’s executives is they need to go easy on Trump. “It’s, ‘Make sure we don’t go after Trump,’” the anchor said. “We’ve thrown in the towel.”
Really? Nobody is allowed to air negative Trump news? Plotting like this would be ludicrous in the most surreal sitcom. Presenting it as fact is preposterous, unbelievable and utterly disconnected to the way news organizations work—not to mention a smear of every anchor on Fox News. And is easily debunked by a plethora of examples.
But Sherman’s biggest target is Megyn Kelly. You may recall how quickly he advanced the notion that Fox went too far defending her against Trump’s insults. And now, since she stands as a visible refutation of his latest conspiratorial twist, Mr. Sherman strips from her the achievement that placed her on the media map:
In fact, according to one high-level Fox source, it was Murdoch himself who directed Kelly to hammer Trump during the debut GOP debate, in Cleveland, that sparked the feud in the first place. “Rupert told her to do that,” the source said.
See? She was just following orders. But doesn’t this mean Gabriel Sherman is calling Megyn Kelly a liar? Because her version is considerably different:
Fox News research assistants put together massive binders on the candidates, on everything they’d ever said on every topic. As she read Trump’s, a couple of themes began to emerge. The one that hadn’t been explored was his sexism. Knowing that if Hillary were to be the nominee she’d hit him with that issue, Kelly had her first question. “I wrote it. I researched each line item myself. It was interesting to me after the debate when people started fact-checking my question. My own reaction was ‘Bring it on.’ You think I’d go out there and ask a question like that at the first G.O.P. debate without making sure I was bulletproof on every single word?” She drafted and re-drafted it, and showed it to her fellow moderators, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier, whose initial reaction, Baier recalls, was “Wow, let’s think about this … there clearly was going to be pushback.”
Kelly almost didn’t get a chance to ask it. The morning of the debate, while doing debate prep, she got violently ill. But, she says, “I would have crawled over a pile of hot coals to make it to that debate. No one was going to be sitting in for me, reading my questions.”
For all the hullabaloo over the questioning of Trump, it’s generally forgotten that Ms. Kelly and her colleagues didn’t single out The Donald: they were tough on the other candidates too. Which makes the notion that Murdoch had to order her to be tough on one of them even more nonsensical. Mind you, at the time Sherman was saying the tough questions to Trump were no surprise. But that, like the “secret dirt” on Fox, is now a discarded theory from yesteryear, forgotten in the light of a shiny new “scoop.”
So in Sherman’s World Megyn Kelly is reduced to an unprincipled puppet, sacrificing integrity for job security, and ultimately saying whatever her male boss tells her to say. It’s an ugly portrayal, but thoroughly Shermanesque.
CNN has announced the hiring of yet another media reporter: Brian Lowry of Variety. Does that name sound familiar? Maybe you’ve heard of him:
BILL O’REILLY: As you may know, a variety of Americans who despise FOX News are using the Dr. Tiller story to bash me and this network. A few examples: Variety magazine TV writer Brian Lowry has written more than 100 negative pieces about FOX News over the years. Here’s Lowry’s latest:
“O’Reilly said any criticism of his attacks on Tiller were being mounted by his enemies — FOX News ‘haters’ and ‘vicious individuals’ on the far left — implying that no rational person could find the heated and repeated rhetoric emanating from the channel toward a private citizen troubling.”
A private citizen? That sounds like my mom. As usual, Lowry dishonestly portrays what was in play with Dr. Tiller and his criminal prosecution. Lowry is a FOX News hater.
Oh, that Brian Lowry. He’s made a name for himself in exactly the fashion that makes him so desirable to the suits at CNN. Inside Cable News has said they “don’t give much credence to Lowry’s FNC pieces because they are almost always slanted or otherwise negative towards FNC.” The Cable Gamer has a few examples:
Megyn Kelly might be the new kid in the Fox News primetime lineup, but she’s mastered the oldest trick in the network’s playbook – namely, playing the victim.
Since its inception, Fox has emulated the “If it bleeds, it leads” mindset of local news, garnishing its presentation with snazzier graphics and more urgent production values. The canny post-Sept. 11 adaptation has been, “If it scares, it airs.” Race is just the latest and perhaps ugliest aspect of that equation.
With Megyn Kelly Move, Fox News Makes a Cosmetic Change…Fox remains the same: A conservative-leaning channel dominated by older white men, with a few younger women thrown in for an audience that remains skewed toward senior citizens who still enjoy seeing a pretty face or two while hearing about how Obama is destroying America.
There is also an undeniable genius in Ailes’ we win/you lose approach, covering Democrats in a way no journalist would if they wanted their phone calls from sources returned, then bashing those who won’t respond for being hypocrites or cowards if they shy away from the channel.
FNC rise: screeching to the choir?…Fox and its key talent would also have us believe that the surge reflects disenchantment with other media and a shift in the political winds. More likely, though, it’s just a case of preaching to the same like-minded anti-Obama choir, for greater periods of time.
You know you’re going to get objective analysis when when you see the term “screeching” used about a cable network or when drawing more and more of “the choir” is treated like a sneer. As usual, the innate assumptions and biases of the author, are utterly invisible to him.
Brian Lowry says, “Extrapolating from ratings is always hazardous, given the uncertainty of measuring audience sentiment. But drawing sweeping conclusions about the zeitgeist from such data is specious at best.”
But what the hell….he’ll do it anyway…
There is nothing in Lowry’s piece that factually disputes the claim that FNC is now appealing to more moderate democrats, independents, and to libertarians (even IF people are keeping their televisions tuned to the channel for longer periods of time — an action that is politically significant in itself)….
Frankly, the essential condescension and sheer disdain so many in the media reveal in their unconscious assumptions just puts your heart in your toes and your stomach in your throat.
It pretty much puts the lie to any assertion FNC might make about the channel not being essentially an adjunct of the Republican Party. This won’t come as a surprise to many people, naturally, but it blows up the “fair and balanced” claim in an undeniable way.
The “it” that Lowry was quick to take at face value was another Shermanesque “scoop,” this one that Roger Ailes was selecting and recruiting Presidential candidates for the Republican Party. Whatever happened to that scoop, by the way? The Cable Gamer wonders if it has worked out as well as some of those other exclusives.
Meanwhile, The Cable Gamer stumbled across this observation from Brian Lowry, which may or may be relevant to CNN’s need for another media writer:
Kurtz appears seriously compromised, and looked even worse Sunday compared to CNN’s Brian Stelter…
You know Sherman: nice kid, but kind of clueless without Mr. Peabody to explain stuff to him. So when Sherman says something, it helps to look behind the curtain to see who’s playing Mr. Peabody these days. Case in point, Gabriel Sherman’s latest, highly touted opus about the Trump campaign:
OPERATION TRUMP: Inside the most unorthodox campaign in political history.
A lengthy article goes into excruciating detail about the Trump effort, and it’s clear that Sherman’s new-found status as chief engineer on the Trump Train may have given him actual, non-fictional sources, mainly The Man himself. The article is peppered with quotes from The Donald: “Trump told me,” “he told me,” “he said of Rubio,” “Trump said,” “he said,” “Trump shouted,” “he said,”—no way is anyone going to critique Sherman for fuzzy anonymous sources this time.
Slog through this War and Peace of campaign puffery far enough and you’ll find a nugget relating to The Cable Game. It involved Brian Lewis, a Fox News PR executive, and his attorney:
Lewis hired Judd Burstein, a powerhouse litigator, and claimed he had “bombs” that would destroy Ailes and Fox News. That’s when Trump got involved. “When Roger was having problems, he didn’t call 97 people, he called me,” Trump said. Burstein, it turned out, had worked for Trump briefly in the ’90s, and Ailes asked Trump to mediate. Trump ran the negotiations out of his office at Trump Tower. “Roger had lawyers, very expensive lawyers, and they couldn’t do anything. I solved the problem.” Fox paid Lewis millions to go away quietly, and Trump, I’m told, learned everything Lewis had planned to leak. If Ailes ever truly went to war against Trump, Trump would have the arsenal to launch a retaliatory strike.
This allegation made headlines at places like Slate, Talking Points Memo, Media Matters, Huffington Post, National Review, Salon, Gawker and others too humorous to mention. Needless to say it made Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter. In fact it was the top story:
Is this Trump’s “Trump card” against Fox?
What dirt does Donald Trump have on Roger Ailes?
Mr. Stelter notes:
Crucially, this info is not anonymously sourced: Trump is on the record saying Ailes “called me” to mediate…Why was Trump involved in the first place? Maybe because Burstein had briefly worked for Trump many years earlier. “Fox paid Lewis millions to go away quietly, and Trump, I’m told, learned everything Lewis had planned to leak,” Sherman writes, describing it as the “arsenal” for a “retaliatory strike” against Fox…
With so much of Sherman’s story not anonymously sourced, why does Mr. Stelter single out one statement as crucial? And why does he completely overlook the elephant in the journalistic room? Throughout Sherman’s interminable account “Trump said” is cited way more than any other source. And yet there’s a unique phrase that, in over 7,000 words, only appears once:
Fox paid Lewis millions to go away quietly, and Trump, I’m told, learned everything Lewis had planned to leak.
“I’m told.” Passive voice: one of the greatest fact-avoidance tools in the English language. “Rocks were thrown.” “Mistakes were made.” “I was told.” Funny that should turn up in the one paragraph that got so many media headlines. This matter-of-fact reversion to an unknown source, without even a description (e.g. “a high-level source in the Trump campaign”) to give it a fig leaf of verisimilitude, has been pretty much ignored by all the people promoting Sherman’s claim.
STELTER: Well, these are clearly sources that were in the room with Roger Ailes. You know, authors like Gabriel Sherman don’t make up this stuff.
STELTER: We’ve seen a lot of anonymous sources and I wonder if there’s any way around that. Because when readers and viewers hear anonymous sources, they’re very skeptical. They wonder if they should trust the information.
Would that Brian Stelter settle for “I’m told” as all the sourcing necessary for a headline story? Especially when the premise is inconsistent with known facts? Ailes and Fox refused to remove Megyn Kelly, issued many statements defending Ms. Kelly and ripping Trump (one of which Sherman even suggested was too harsh!), and ultimately gave up a scheduled debate that was cancelled because Trump was displeased and refused to appear. None of this is consistent with a Roger Ailes trembling in acquiescence because Trump has “bombs” that could destroy him. In fact, it suggests just the opposite. Brian Stelter’s only comment on this enters the Lame Explanations Hall of Fame: “Maybe the candidate is showing uncharacteristic restraint.”
Another writer noticed the disconnect between Sherman’s claims and reality:
OK, this might explain why Fox News talent such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Greta Van Susteren and all of Fox and Friends appear to big Trump supporters. But, Fox News is one of the few networks to call Trump out. The network did release a public statement against Trump and his attacks on Megyn Kelly.
So, the bigger question……
What dirt does Donald Trump have on Jeff Zucker? That’s what we want to know.
Placing an incendiary charge into an overlong, little-read treatise is standard self-promotional procedure, but the way it was done here is considered journalistically unacceptable:
Be as specific as possible. Negotiate hard with your source to agree a description that is sufficiently precise to enable readers to trust the reliability of our anonymous sourcing. “A source” or “sources”, “observers” or “quarters” with no further description is vague and unacceptable.
Thanks to the passive voice, Sherman didn’t even give us “a source” or “observers.” No descriptors necessary!
Trump has been playing Mr. Peabody to Gabriel Sherman for months now. And if that’s where the story about “bombs” came from it’s obvious why Sherman wouldn’t want readers to know: Donald Trump’s rep for honesty and truthfulness is pitiful at best. Who’d believe him?
Sherman desperately needs a better, more trustworthy Peabody. Too bad the original is unavailable, being a dog—and a cartoon dog at that. Mr. Sherman could use a man like Mr. Peabody again.
GREAT MINDS UPDATE: Moments after publishing, The Cable Gamer learned that Erik Wemple of the post had just written an article tackling this same subject. Recommended reading.
There’s nothing Gabriel Sherman likes better than his fantasy of Roger Ailes as a Presidential kingmaker. Sherman fancies that Fox News is actually like Del Floria’s tailor shop—only when you pull back the curtain you find not the U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, but a crypto-Republican political organization intent on picking the next leader of the free world. And in the boss chair, no doubt stroking a white cat, is Ailes, as he manipulates the pieces on his chessboard to put his chosen favorite into the White House.
The problem with Sherman’s comic-book-level scenario is that he keeps getting it wrong. First Fox was promoting Trump. Only Trump went to war with Fox News because they were embarrassing him with tough questions, and called for his followers to boycott the network. Sherman called Rewrite and gave them a new meme: Fox is pushing Marco Rubio. It was even a “pro tip.”
That didn’t last either, so today the latest Sherman meme:
According to three Fox sources, Fox chief Roger Ailes has told people he’s lost confidence in Rubio’s ability to win. “We’re finished with Rubio,” Ailes recently told a Fox host. “We can’t do the Rubio thing anymore.”
Sherman doesn’t say when “recently” was, but just today Marco Rubio was welcomed to the highly-rated America’s Newsroom on Fox News for a 7-minute interview. If Ailes really said “We’re finished with Rubio” this is a funny way to show it. As if that wasn’t enough, the Florida Senator showed up again tonight for a session with tomorrow’s debate co-moderator Megyn Kelly.
Keep in mind Marco Rubio has been making appearances on Fox as regularly as ever—and so are his rivals. Doesn’t this give Sherman’s promoters pause? Are Sherman’s invisible friends ever right about anything? Published in New York Magazine, exposed as false within hours—this has to be the shortest-lived meme ever. Why?
Consider how these purported political machinations are witnessed by not one…not two…but three anonymous sources, all of whom immediately tattle to Gabriel Sherman. Does that preposterous scenario sound believable? Do you believe three Ailes confidants would rush to reveal secrets to someone whose main claim to fame is trying to to discredit their friend?
When snake-oil turns out to be colored water, how many bottles do you have to buy before you stop recommending it and instead expose the fraud? Yes, we’re talking about you, journalistic community. It’s not like you haven’t been conned before.
Sunday morning, at the tail end of a Reliable Sources hour devoted to talking about Fox News and Donald Trump, Brian Stelter squeezed in an off-topic question to guest David Zurawik regarding MSNBC’s election coverage:
STELTER: One year ago yesterday, Brian Williams embellished a story about Iraq on “The Nightly News.” It was noticed. Then other questions were raised. He left the chair. And tomorrow he is anchoring Iowa caucus coverage on MSNBC. You have been highly critical of Brian Williams. So, I was just curious. Will you give him a chance one year later?
ZURAWIK: Brian, I will absolutely give him a chance…
The issue here was Williams’ history of lies. But nobody so much as raised an eyebrow about the fact that Williams has been assigned a minder, a co-anchor, and it ain’t an NBC News correspondent. Brian will be co-anchoring with erstwhile Air America talk show host, Rachel Maddow. This would be roughly equivalent Bret Baier dispensing with Chris Wallace, only to make Sean Hannity his co-anchor. But you know as well as we do that Roger Ailes would never pollute his coverage of breaking political news by saddling his superb journalists with partisan co-anchors.
As we looked in at MSNBC’s preview show tonight, there was Maddow (who has her own checkered reportorial history) expounding and intro’ing program blocks on an equal footing with Williams. Cut to opinion host Steve Kornacki who’s now paraded as an impartial political expert. Cut to incisive observations from opinion host Lawrence O’Donnell with pal Gene Robinson (quite a panel). Cut to opinionizer Chris Hayes to talk about Sanders. Cut to our man on the scene, opinion host Chris “two Cuban guys” Matthews. MSNBC’s entire prime time line-up, plus Matthews and Kornacki, had their moment in the sun. The Cable Gamer could tell you what all those opinion hosts have in common, but she thinks you’ve already sussed that out.
Long story short, this is Lean Forward news—with Brian Williams propped up to present a facade of “journalism.” Tonight’s coverage had the same relentlessly leftist tone that’s made MSNBC the failure that it is. It seems unlikely that Brian Stelter will ever get around to addressing this fraud, as his cohort Dylan Byers has already bought into the scam hook, line and sinker.
But The Cable Gamer knows better, and so do you.
If the on-again, off-again dust-up between Donald Trump and Fox News is going to be remembered for anything, it may be the utter bewilderment and confusion among the FNC critics, who have been left stumbling, reversing course on a dime, and scrambling for relevancy as events confound their expectations.
Consider our friend Gabriel Sherman. When we last ran into him he had done an about face regarding Roger Ailes (he’s promoting Trump…nope, he’s really trying to destroy Trump), a turn of events that seems to have blindsided him. He took to the airwaves to make the peculiar claim that Roger Ailes, the most successful cable news executive in American history, doesn’t really understand his audience. Presumably this was predicated on the Trump-fomented crusade against Fox and Megyn Kelly, complete with astroturfed boycott campaigns.
But it was Sherman who didn’t understand the Fox audience. Megyn Kelly started off the week of August 11th as the #1 cable news program. She returned this week after a ten-day vacation and what happened? She took the #1 slot three days out of four—topping even the King of Cable, Bill O’Reilly. Yet as she was enjoying unprecedented ratings success Mr. Sherman went to Newsmax with a new theory, based on…well, nothing tangible:
You know there was some talk before her most recent contract that she was flirting with CNN to kind of jump from Fox to CNN. I think she wants to leave all options on the table and if she gets down in the weeds and really slugs it out with Trump that would hurt her brand.
The Cable Gamer is shaking her head over this one. Does he really believe CNN would recoil at someone who publicly disagreed with Trump? More like the other way around: to Jeff Zucker that’s a feature, not a bug. And why exactly would Megyn Kelly leave the top-rated cable news channel and join CNN? To replicate the smashing career moves of Paula Zahn and Kiran Chetry?
Despite the mindlessness of this notion, it was immediately seized upon by some:
- BREAKING: Megyn Kelly Leaving FOX?… Ailes Author Says “She Wants to Go Mainstream”
- Megyn Kelly eyeing move to Fox News’ rival?
Meanwhile at MSNBC, where they claim to air a newscast at 5:00 pm, a discussion of Trump featured guest lefty John Fugelsang and impartial news anchor Michael Eric Dyson (yes that’s as preposterous as it sounds, but it’s what MSNBC is feeding its lemmings). Fugelsang insisted that Trumpbots are abandoning Fox News due to outrage over Megyn Kelly. But wait—her ratings are stronger than ever. No it doesn’t make sense, but it’s MSNBC daytime. What do you want anyhow?
Hat-tips to @johnnydollar01 @BrianStelter @instapundit
He’s not exactly reluctant to speak his mind but we haven’t heard much from Shepard Smith, Fox’s star breaking news anchor, about the controversy over Megyn Kelly and what Donald Trump said about her. Cable Gamer Johnny Dollar posted Shep’s appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers where the subject came up:
SHEPARD SMITH: I know why we’re part of the story, because Megyn asked a relevant question the candidate didn’t want to answer….That he turned it on her while running from the question was telling for me.
SETH MEYERS: Has Fox News done a fair job taking care of Megyn post-debate?
SMITH: Miss Megyn does not need our help. We’re all in 100% support of her of course. All she did was ask timely, good questions…She’s on a much deserved vacation that had nothing to do with him so that’s good.
The Dean of The Deck is on target, as usual. Ms. Kelly herself would agree.
New York‘s Gabriel Sherman:
It’s unclear what, ultimately, convinced Ailes to let his moderators go after Trump. He may have wanted to shoot first to prevent Trump from damaging Fox in a live situation, as they say in the business. Perhaps Murdoch got to Ailes. Or, perhaps, Ailes just wanted good television.
Assumptions. Speculations. Guesses.
No. Creative fiction.
For reasons that are unclear to The Cable Gamer, this website became a topic of rumor and speculation by a couple of media writers yesterday. It was apparently triggered by our tweet, breaking the news before anyone else, that Donald Trump was sitting down with Bill O’Reilly for an interview to be seen Tuesday night:
Apparently CNN’s Brian Stelter wasn’t aware of TCG’s scoop when hours later he tweeted this:
Johnny Dollar replied to Mr. Stelter:
Here’s where it starts to get strange. Brian Stelter decided to “interpret” the wording of our scoop:
The reference to Gabriel Sherman’s reporting resurrects a claim Mr. Sherman made in a book about Fox News where he asserted The Cable Game blog was actually written by Roger Ailes and James Pinkerton. Then Sherman himself showed up:
Here is Gabriel Sherman saying that Ailes and Pinkerton write The Cable Game now—today. In other words, declaring that I, Sydney Bloom, am in fact Roger Ailes and James Pinkerton, with no evidence whatsoever.
Now there’s a curious response. Asked to bring specificity to his accusations about the authorship of The Cable Game, Sherman retreats to a citation of his book—which answers only one-third of what he was asked, and ducks the charge he made about me moments earlier. Note that said charge still stands without qualification—or documentation.
So we’re left with Sherman taking a shot at TCG but refusing to either back it up or walk it back. And The Cable Gamer has to wonder if he was just taking a guess—making it up, if you want to be crass about it—or if he has a source or some evidence to corroborate his accusation.
Bullwinkle fans remember Sherman—he was a nice kid, but kind of clueless. He needed Mr. Peabody to tell him what was going on. The Cable Gamer would like to hear from the Mr. Peabody who’s telling our Sherman that I am Roger Ailes and/or James Pinkerton. Because, as flattering as that comparison may be, The Cable Gamer thinks there should be more evidence than Sherman’s “because I said so.”
Tonight Fox News takes another small step away from traditional “news” programming with the Bill O’Reilly-produced series Legends & Lies. Separating myths about the Old West from fact, it sounds like it belongs on The History Channel, but with Strange Inheritance performing well on FNC (it’s sometimes their top-rated Saturday night program), it’s understandable that the suits think a similar program might help shore up Sunday nights.
TCG is all for innovation in a world where technology and fragmented audiences are creating challenges for cable news outlets. But I’m not sure that Legends & Lies will be as well-received by Fox News viewers as Strange Inheritance. Superficially they seem like similar shows, but finicky cable news audiences will know better. Inheritance has in Jamie Colby a recognized cable news journalist as its host, investigating and talking to real people. Despite a few restaged scenes, it could be a segment of a magazine-type program like the old Fox Files. L&L, on the other hand, is not structured as a documentary. It uses dramatic recreations to tell its story; in that respect it’s like a movie, albeit a low-budget movie, often employing local semi-professional actors who seem unlikely to earn Emmy recognition for their thespian artistry.
What’s more, L&L deals with the past. What happened in the 1800s can be fascinating, even intriguing, but its strongest appeal is to history buffs. Cable news viewers are instinctively attracted to current events. The natural audience for Legends & Lies is on the History Channel; it’s an open question whether attaching Bill O’Reilly’s name to it gives this show sufficient cachet to keep and hold an audience that is, at its core, not all that interested in the subject matter.
TCG expects the heavy promotion to stir up enough curiosity to get a decent tune-in for tonight’s debut, but I’ll be surprised if Legends & Lies sustains Strange Inheritance levels of viewership. On the other hand, no one in cable news has a track record like Roger Ailes, so what do I know?