In a comprehensive report on ex-Fox News boss Roger Ailes’ downfall published online Friday, New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reports previously unknown details about how Ailes allegedly used private investigators to obtain rival journalists’ phone records and ran the network like a “surveillance state.”
The story traces Ailes’ ascent to CEO of Fox News, where he allegedly abused female employees along every step up the corporate ladder. Sherman, whom one of Ailes’ lawyers recently described as a “virus” that is trying to “suck the life” out of Ailes’ family, writes that it’s “unfathomable” to think top executives at the network were unaware of Ailes’ alleged sexual harassment of dozens of women.
Here are five of the most stunning developments from Sherman’s magazine piece.
Sherman’s report confirmed speculation that former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who is suing Ailes for sexual harassment and retaliation, possesses taped recordings of Ailes’ alleged advances that back her suit, which opened the floodgates for the Fox News boss’ eventual downfall.
An anonymous source familiar with the suit told New York Magazine that Carlson had started bringing her iPhone to record meetings with Ailes beginning in 2014. A year later, she had taped Ailes suggesting they should have started “a sexual relationship a long time ago,” and saying some problems “are easier to solve” that way, remarks which are quoted verbatim in her civil complaint.
As Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper empire was embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal, Fox News allegedly employed “legally questionable means” to obtain a U.S. journalist’s phone records.
Two anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the incident told Sherman that Dianne Brandi, Fox’s general counsel, hired a private investigator in late 2010 to obtain the home and cell phone records of Joe Strupp, a reporter for the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, which vigorously catalogs the network’s missteps. Through a Fox spokesperson, Brandi denied that allegation.
After Sherman’s story was published, Media Matters president Bradley Beychok released a statement that accused Fox News and Ailes of breaking the law and said the organization was considering legal action.
As Sherman tells it, fired Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit provided an opening for the network’s star anchor. Ailes was no longer lending Kelly his support and she was in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations. When Kelly alleged to James Murdoch that Ailes had once made harassing comments and hugged her inappropriately in his office, Murdoch reportedly urged her to speak to the investigators at the law firm Paul, Weiss, which is conducting an internal probe into the Ailes allegations.
Kelly was the third or fourth woman to speak with investigators, an anonymous source briefed on the investigation told Sherman. After her interview, she reportedly called up current and former Fox staffers to encourage them to speak with the lawyers, and many more women came forward.
In private, Ailes reportedly fumed that Kelly did not publicly defend him amid the allegations, as Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and other on-screen talent did. Ailes’ wife, Elizabeth, allegedly was incensed enough by Kelly’s disloyalty that she pushed for a nuclear option to retaliate against Kelly: recirculating racy photos from a GQ magazine shoot to smear her. Fox News’ PR shop refused to do so, according to the report.
Confusion reigned on the afternoon of July 19, when the conservative link aggregating site Drudge Report touted the “exclusive” news that Ailes was leaving the network with a $40 million golden parachute, complete with a posting of what appeared to be a draft severance agreement.
Sherman reported that the document came from Ailes’ attorney, Susan Estrich, who mistakenly sent the draft agreement instead of a denial from her client following news that Megyn Kelly had spoken to investigators about Ailes’ alleged behavior.
Although there’s been wide speculation that Donald Trump’s 2016 endgame may be to break into cable news with a conservative network that would rival Fox News, anonymous network insiders talked about Trump TV as a near-certainty that was casting a pall over the network’s future.
The current top talent and leadership will only last through Election Day, one unnamed host told Sherman.
“As of November 9, there will be a bloodbath at Fox,” the host said. “After the election, the prime-time lineup could be eviscerated. O’Reilly’s been talking about retirement. Megyn could go to another network. And Hannity will go to Trump TV.”