Book: Obama complained to Murdoch, Ailes about Fox News campaign coverage

Obama set up a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan with Ailes and News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch because he was upset that Fox was portraying him and his campaign negatively, columnist and author Zev Chafets reports in his forthcoming book, Roger Ailes: Off Camera.

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Vanity Fair on Wednesday published excerpts of the biography, which shares Ailes account of the meeting.

“Obama arrived with his aide Robert Gibbs, who seated Ailes directly across from Obama, close enough for Ailes to feel the intention was to intimidate him. He didn’t mind; in fact, he rather appreciated the stagecraft, one political professional to another,” writes Chafets.

The book said Obama took particular issue with conservative commentator Sean Hannity, who battered the then-candidate regularly on his nightly show.

Ailes acknowledged that Hannity was opposed to Obama, but simply urged the candidate not to worry about the attacks. 

“Nobody who watches Sean’s going to vote for you anyway,” Ailes reportedly said.

Ailes told Chafets that Obama then asked in a subtle manner what he could do to change the tone of the coverage. Ailes said he told Obama that he wanted a president that appeared strong on national security issues. 

According to Ailes, Obama looked him in the eye and promised he didn’t intend to cut military spending. Ailes said the response was “as good a lie as anyone ever told me.”

“At that point, Gibbs stood and announced that the session was over. I don’t think he liked the meeting very much,” said Ailes in the book.

Chafets said White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to give Obama’s version of the events for the book.

In the biography, Ailes opened up to Chafets with blunt criticisms of Obama.

“Obama’s the one who never worked a day in his life,” Ailes said. “He never earned a penny that wasn’t public money. How many fundraisers does he attend every week? How often does he play basketball and golf? I wish I had that kind of time. He’s lazy, but the media won’t report that.”

Chafets also writes that Ailes called Vice President Biden “dumb as an ashtray.”

Obama has a history of entanglements with the cable news channel. In an interview with The New Republic earlier this year, Obama said Fox held outsized influence over Republicans in Congress.

“One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates,” he said. “If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you'll see more of them doing it."

This week, Hannity has taken to introducing Obama as “President Panic” for his warnings about the across-the-board budget cuts, which took effect last Friday. 

But it’s not just Democrats complaining about the channel’s coverage. During the Republican presidential primary last April, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) accused the cable network of being in the tank for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum made a similar claim later in the cycle.

“Gingrich and Santorum had been Fox commentators before getting into the race, and Ailes found their complaints self-serving and disloyal,” Chafets writes. “Brian Lewis, his spokesman, asked Ailes for guidance on how to respond to Newt. ‘Brush him back,’ Ailes said. ‘He’s a sore loser and if he had won he would have been a sore winner.’ Lewis nodded. Ailes was silent for a moment and then added, ‘Newt’s a prick.’ ”