Roger Ailes is no longer at Fox News after leaving the company in July with a large settlement following a sexual harassment lawsuit by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. But the full story behind the former chairman and CEO’s behavior at the news network continues to unfold.
In the latest exposé, New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman—who started investigating reports of inappropriate behavior by Ailes when he wrote an unauthorized biography of the Fox News CEO in 2014—paints a portrait of a company ruled with an iron fist by an arrogant, often paranoid, and intensely secretive man. In many ways, it makes Fox News look like a kingdom ruled by a feudal lord.
Even before the latest story came out, it was fairly obvious that Ailes and his supporters were trying hard to do damage control on some of the more explosive allegations. Lawyers started calling reporters and feeding them damaging quotes about Sherman and his work, taken from a 400-page research file about him.
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Based on numerous interviews with sources both inside and outside Fox News, the New York magazine article describes how Ailes allegedly pursued numerous women sexually, and helped to create a culture at the network in which casual sexual harassment of female employees was taken for granted. Here are just a few of the more interesting allegations from Sherman’s piece:
1) Gretchen Carlson secretly taped conversations with Ailes: The former Fox News anchor used her iPhone to record meetings with the Fox CEO in which he suggested that she should have slept with him in order to make her career problems go away.
This is especially fitting since Ailes was notorious for spying on his employees and anyone he considered to be a threat. Many Fox staffers said they were convinced that the Fox chairman was tapping their phones and even having them tailed by private investigators.
2) Ailes illicitly acquired the phone records of journalists: Sherman says in his story that the Fox News CEO managed to get his hands on the telephone records of reporters he believed were out to get him, by what a source called “legally questionable means.”
Among those affected were Joe Strupp of Media Matters, a non-profit organization that was often critical of Fox. “This was the culture,” one Fox News executive told Sherman. “Getting phone records doesn’t make anybody blink.” Media Matters has said it is considering legal action against Fox and/or Ailes.
3) Murdoch blamed Ailes for using Fox to support Donald Trump’s candidacy: The elder Murdoch “blamed Ailes for laying the groundwork for Trump’s candidacy,” according to Sherman. A few days before the first Republican debate on Fox in 2015, Murdoch called the Fox News CEO and told him he wanted the moderators to “hammer Trump on a variety of issues.”
Ailes disagreed with his boss, but did as he was told. At the time, there was much speculation about whether the new harder tone from Ailes was his own choice or whether he was instructed to turn on the Republican candidate by Murdoch. It appears that it was the latter.
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4) Rupert Murdoch initially tried to protect Ailes, but his sons had other ideas: The billionaire media mogul, who owns Fox News’ parent company 21st Century Fox (FOX), stood by Ailes when the initial reports of his behavior emerged, in part because Fox generated more than $1 billion in profit every year.
But James and Lachlan Murdoch, who are CEO and co-chairman of Fox respectively, were determined to get rid of the Fox CEO, and saw the allegations as the perfect excuse to push Ailes out. Despite this, however, a number of Ailes’ lieutenants remain in positions of power at the network.
5) Ailes’ lawyer mistakenly leaked a copy of his settlement: Susan Estrich, a key member of the Fox News chairman’s legal team, intended to send a statement to the Drudge Report denying the Carlson allegations. But instead, she sent the news site a copy of the draft settlement that Fox had come up with.
The $40-million settlement was quickly taken down by the site’s founder, conservative-leaning Matt Drudge, but the damage had already been done. The fact that the two sides were even talking about a settlement reinforced the idea that Ailes was being removed from the helm of the company he ran for almost two decades.