Roger Ailes is gone, resigned from his position at Fox News, the network that he birthed and guided to cable-news ratings dominance; that he turned into a force in Republican Party politics; that he ruled with supreme control-freakishness, under the approving wink of mogul Rupert Murdoch. Ailes will leave his billion-dollar creation just shy of its 20th anniversary on air.
“Roger Ailes has made a remarkable contribution to our company and our country. Roger shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly over 20 great years,” Murdoch, Ailes’s boss at 21st Century Fox, said in a statement, in part.
Like many statements that come out of the Fox News world, that’s all a lie. The contributions that Ailes has made to our country consist of repeated distortions, falsehoods and smears that he and his ilk refused to correct. Or to stop diffusing. His contribution to the company, sure, is a great deal of profit — the 2015 profits were estimated to be $1.5 billion — mixed in with a lot of skirt-chasing. This whole mess unspooled within the past two weeks, following the lawsuit against Ailes filed by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson alleging all manner of sexual harassment and retaliation. It had the ring of truth, thanks to previous reporting by New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, whose book “The Loudest Voice in the Room” contained interviews with women who’d experienced similar things over the course of Ailes’s career in broadcasting.
The dagger came in the form of an independent review of Ailes’s leadership commissioned by 21st Century Fox after the Carlson suit and executed by New York law firm Paul, Weiss. Within days of the investigation’s start, leaks surfaced suggesting that many women had corroborating evidence of Ailes’s lecherous ways, including megastar Megyn Kelly. The face of the network. Even today, just before news of the resignation hit the Internet, another female former anchor — Laurie Dhue — came forth with plans to disclose details of her experience with Ailes. Like many others, she was emboldened by Carlson’s example. “She is in the process of writing a book in which she will candidly discuss her years at Fox News and her interactions and communications with Mr. Ailes and many other Fox News personalities, her involuntary departure from Fox News and her lack of success in continuing her career in the television news industry following her departure from Fox News,” her attorney said.
The upshot here is that tens — if not more — of Ailes’s female underlings have experienced some form of objectification or abuse from Ailes. Just think about how silly all those men and women — Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Greta Van Susteren, Neil Cavuto, among others — must feel after having issued statement after statement defending Roger Ailes in the immediate aftermath of the Carlson suit. “I stand behind Roger 100 percent,” O’Reilly said in an interview with Seth Meyers. “You’re a target, I’m a target. Any time, somebody could come out and sue us, attack us, go to the press or anything like that,” he told the late-night host. “And that’s a deplorable situation.”
Sure, Roger Ailes is a victim. The other Ailes supporters said similar things. Or perhaps even more outrageous things: “What [Carlson’s] alleging is just wildly out of anything anyone has ever experienced with Roger,” Van Susteren said. So behold this scenario: Top Fox News talents going on the record to defend their boss. Stupidly, as it turns out. Of one thing we can be sure in this whole affair, and that is that if these sexual harassment allegations were even the slightest bit flimsy or beyond corroboration, there’s no way in heck that Murdoch & Co. would have booted Ailes. There’s a deep rot at Fox News.
All of this means that the O’Reilly-Hannity-Van Susteren-Guilfoyle-Cavuto set spoke up strongly and defiantly about a topic they knew nothing about — that’s the better interpretation of their actions. Or: They spoke up strongly and defiantly with full knowledge that they were, in effect, lying — that’s the worse interpretation of their actions.
Either way, these folks were giving us a clear look at the rigors of Fox News journalism. And the Fox News way of life, as well. Loyalty is the reigning value at this news outlet — loyalty to Roger Ailes, the network’s paterfamilias, and not to journalistic principles. Under the terms of Ailes’s departure, he is to remain as a consultant through 2018.
The breakneck demise of Ailes, too, demonstrates that censorship and its attendant bureaucratic strictures have an expiration date. Ailes’s response to the Carlson suit reflected an entire worldview at Fox News; his lawyers objected that the whole matter must be moved to secretive arbitration as outlined in Carlson’s employment contract. They bashed her lawyers for speaking to the media — perhaps unaware of the irony. This was cowardice and hypocrisy in full battle regalia.
Yet the arbitration play arose from an MO of paranoia and secrecy that started and ended with Ailes himself. In a Rolling Stone profile from 2011, Tim Dickinson highlighted Ailes’s penchant for insane security and secrecy measures, including a “monitor on his desk that allows him to view any activity outside his closed door.” The news chief also took freakish measures to secure his home in Philipstown, N.Y., as Sherman documented in his book. (Other paranoia material here.) Whatever his defenses, the internal climate of fear and suppression at Fox News has been well-documented. There’s the requirement that employees not speak to the media without full approval of the PR operation; the airtight nondisclosure clauses that bind former employees to keep their mouths shut about what happened at Fox News; and the very real possibility that Ailes and his henchpeople would slime dissenters in the media. All of that fascism explains why someone like Dhue, who left Fox News in 2008, would wait until now to tell her story.
Silencing those many voices over many years is not a management strategy. It’s a surefire recipe for brand ruination. And that’s what’s happening right here in the middle of Republican National Convention week. It just so happens that Fox News and its overseers at News Corp. and subsequently 21st Century Fox fashioned an approach to corporate governance verily designed to sow seeds of scandal and nurture them year by year until they become worldwide news events. The other notable example being the famous News of the World phone-hacking episode. As Nick Davies documented in his exhaustive book “Hack Attack,” the people working under Murdoch never once did the right thing as their serial privacy invasions were dug up and investigated by journalists and authorities. Instead, they stonewalled, slung mud and otherwise sought to slither away from accountability.
What does Roger Ailes have to say about all of this? He conveyed his thoughts in a letter to Murdoch, who’ll be running the outlet until a successor is named. One line reads like this: “I will not allow my presence to become a distraction from the work that must be done every day to ensure that Fox News and Fox Business continue to lead our industry.” Oh, it’s too late for distraction subtraction, Roger Ailes. Your loyalists will be eating this flavor of crow for quite some time.
Only task left for Ailes is to get back at those who’ve betrayed him in these events. He and his PR types have probably lined up a blogger or two to do their bidding. Watch for it.