A Fox News employee bragged about planting a negative review of a biography about the network’s former kingpin, Roger Ailes, with a friend at the New York Times, according to new reporting from the book’s author.
Gabriel Sherman’s 2014 book, The Loudest Voice in the Room, was panned by Times book critic Janet Maslin as “tepid” and “disingenuous” after the paper’s previous coverage of the book had been positive.
What Maslin and the Times did not disclose in the review was that she had a decadeslong friendship with then Fox News editor-at-large Peter J. Boyer, who had been recruited to the network by Ailes and was himself criticized in the book.
Now, Sherman is reporting that a “senior Fox source” says Boyer bragged about planting the story with his friend and went so far as to say he gave her talking points to put in the review.
At the time Maslin’s friendship with Boyer was publicized by Gawker, the Times pushed back strongly against any charges of a conflict of interest.
“The fact that Janet is a friend of someone who works at Fox News was of no consequence and completely irrelevant to her review of Gabe Sherman’s book about Roger Ailes,” Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, told Gawker at the time. “She discussed the situation with her editor prior to publication. It was decided there was no potential conflict so no need to make a reference.”
Murphy then challenged Gawker’s premise that Boyer’s friendship might have influenced the paper’s one piece of unfavorable coverage: “You do realize that this was hardly the only negative review of the book? Is it your contention that anyone that reviewed the book less than favorably must be carrying water for Fox News? Ridiculous.”
According to tweets by Sherman, the Times says it is standing by the review. Murphy told him that the episode would not be revisited and that the new reporting didn’t mean there was validity to the claim that Boyer had influenced the review.
New York magazine’s Sherman has been the leading reporter in breaking news around the many accusations of sexual harassment that forced Ailes from his Fox News perch last month.
Sherman also reported that his source said Boyer was in the room during “war room” meetings Ailes had surrounding his response to the book. In one meeting, the former Fox News CEO allegedly discussed hiring someone to harass Sherman and joked about having him killed.
This follows reporting in Politico on Wednesday morning that “a source close to high-level Fox News executives” told the publication that Ailes talked about sending “people to beat the shit out of [Sherman].” (A version of this story was backed by two other of Politico’s sources.)
Politico also reported that its sources said that Boyer, who was let go from Fox News two weeks ago, “was present for a series of ‘war room’ meetings in which Ailes and several consiglieres orchestrated a plan of attack against Sherman.”
After reporting on Maslin’s friendship with Boyer in 2014, Gawker noted that one of the odder portions of Maslin’s review was when she seemed to dismiss Sherman’s reporting surrounding a story from a woman who claimed that Ailes had sexually harassed her in the 1980s (bold mine):
Among those who did speak on the record to Mr. Sherman is Stephanie Gordon, an actress who in one part of that show dropped the towel she wore. She was asked by Mr. Ailes to come to his office for a Sunday photo session and felt extremely uncomfortable about having to do this for the producer. But she says Mr. Ailes could not have been nicer. He took pictures and later sent her a signed print inscribed: “Don’t throw in the towel, you’re a great actress. Roger Ailes.” But Mr. Sherman also has a story from a woman named Randi Harrison, also on the record, who claims Mr. Ailes offered her a $400-a-week job at NBC, saying: ‘If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want, I will add an extra hundred dollars a week.”
These don’t sound like the voices of the same man. More negligently, they don’t cast any light on the man whose television network makes such profitable use of the beautiful blond fembots who set it apart from all other news and political channels….
Maslin’s review is particularly complimentary, not only to Ailes’ genius in building Fox News into a media empire, but of his personal charm. There’s a portion of the review that quotes an actress complimenting a young Ailes on “what a gorgeous looking guy he was” and laments the fact that there are no pictures of that youthful Ailes because the book was unauthorized. “Reputation notwithstanding, Mr. Ailes comes across here as a convivial character whose social life has been a lot less partisan than his political pronouncements might suggest,” Maslin notes in the review.
If anything were planted in the review by an employee of Ailes and friend of Maslin’s, or even if Boyer influenced the review in any way as he reportedly claimed, then that would be a serious ethical violation for the author. It’s a charge that the Times should be investigating and responding to right away.
As of this post’s publication time, the Times’ spokewoman Murphy had not responded to a request for additional comment from the paper, comment from Maslin, or from Maslin’s editor Danielle Mattoon. Sherman also did not respond to a request for an interview.
Update, Friday August 12, 10:20 a.m.: Murphy emailed the following statement from the Times:
When she was working on the review in 2014, Janet and her editor discussed the fact that she was friendly with her one-time Times colleague Peter Boyer. Since Boyer was a minor figure in the book, they decided that this did not pose a conflict. (This was reported at the time by The Times’s own public editor.)
We’ve had further discussions about this issue today. As in the countless other reviews Janet has done over the years, the views expressed in this review were her own. We remain confident the review was not improperly influenced by Boyer, Ailes or any other outsider.