The Year Fox News Flushed Roger Ailes (And His Scandal) Down The Memory Hole
It turns out Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani aren’t the only famous Republicans who are emerging as prominent losers in President-elect Donald Trump’s transition sweepstakes. Among those who were also expected to play a potential role in shaping the new Republican administration was Fox News founder Roger Ailes.
Touted in the press as a marketing whiz, it was Ailes who allowed Trump to use Fox as his personal megaphone for much of the last two years and actively coached Trump during his Republican primary run.
With Ailes returning to his roots as a GOP image-maker, he and Trump seemed to represent the same side of a dark coin: paranoid, vindictive, deeply Islamophobic, and big proponents of race-baiting, especially when it comes to President Obama. Indeed, Trump mirrors the often-tasteless brand of divisive rhetoric that Ailes hallmarked at Fox for decades.
Known for whipping up partisan fears and corralling voter suspicions of the other, Ailes is a logical choice to occupy a vaunted position on Team Trump after the election. Yet Ailes seems to have joined the ranks of the disappeared in recent weeks. (The Trump campaign quickly, and publicly, shot down recent media chatter that Ailes might be tapped for a State Department post.)
It’s been an astonishing fall from grace, considering Ailes began the year at the peak of his powers. Watching Trump race out to a big lead in the Republican primary, and guiding Fox News through several flare-ups with the candidate, Ailes seemed poised to ride the Trump wave all year.
And then July 6 happened.
That was the day former Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson detailed the harassing office culture at Fox when she filed a lawsuit against Ailes, claiming he had once said to her, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.” Carlson’s lawsuit alleged Ailes sought to “sabotage her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”
Her startling allegations were many, but they were just the beginning. As Fox’s parent company launched an internal investigation into Ailes’ behavior, more women came forward with their own claims of harassment by Ailes.
Fox’s Megyn Kelly told investigators that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances toward her a decade earlier, according to New York magazine (and he resigned two days after Kelly’s allegations were reported.)
“Current and former employees described instances of harassment and intimidation that went beyond Mr. Ailes and suggested a broader problem in the workplace,” TheNew York Times soon reported. “The Times spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it.”
According to a Washington Post exposé, Ailes made “jokes that he liked having women on their knees,” and women at Fox did not want to be alone with Ailes in closed-door meetings. Also, Ailes allegedly grabbed the buttocks of a young intern in 2002 after she rebuffed his sexual advances.
Then came the chilling report in New York magazine about former Fox News booker Laurie Luhn and her alleged years-long “psychological torture” and harassment by Ailes. Luhn alleged that Ailes “instructed her to recruit young women for him,” demanded she engage in “sadomasochistic sex with another woman while he watched,” and set her up with a no-show job. After she alleged a pattern of harassent by Ailes, Luhn reportedly signed “a $3.15 million settlement agreement with extensive nondisclosure provisions,” which “bars her from going to court against Fox for the rest of her life.”
In all, at least 25 women detailed allegations against Ailes and the cable channel.
Even Fox News’ Howard Kurtz conceded, “This has been a painful and embarrassing period for the network.” Yet at the outset of the scandal, Fox News pretended Carlson was the problem, not Roger Ailes.
Greta Van Susteren suggested Carlson falsely accused her boss of sexual harassment because she was “unhappy that her contract wasn’t renewed.” (Months after Ailes’ departure, she expressed regret for her comments.) Bill O’Reilly compared Carlson’s allegations to a “frivolous lawsuit,” and announced, “I stand behind Roger 100 percent.” Jeanine Pirro called Carlson’s allegations “absurd” and tagged Ailes as a “no-nonsense guy,” adding, “I just loved him.”
And Fox’s Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed she had spoken to other women at Fox and “nobody believed” Carlson’s allegations. She insisted that Ailes “is a man who champions women.”
Trump himself weighed in, initially calling the claims against Ailes “totally unfounded based on what I’ve read,” and stressing that he is “a very, very good person” and “a friend of mine for a long time.”
As for Fox defending Ailes, two months after Carlson’s lawsuit, Fox News’ parent company reached a $20 million settlement with her and issued an apology. That concession made a mockery of the staff-wide victim-blaming that had gone on at Fox on Ailes’ behalf.
Post-Ailes, were effusive, public apologies offered up to women working at Fox? Was there any attempt to make wholesale changes among top managers at Fox? Of course not.
Instead, Fox News simply flushed the Ailes scandal down the memory hole and promoted Ailes’ longtime lieutenant Bill Shine.
That’s the same Bill Shine who reportedly “played an integral role in the cover up” of sexual harassment claims against Ailes. Shine, according to reporter Gabriel Sherman, was involved in “rallying the women to speak out against” Ailes’ accusers. Shine also reportedly played a role in “smearing” Fox News reporter Rudi Bakhtiar, who claimed she was fired after complaining about sexual harassment.
Clearly lessons have not been learned, and apparently being Fox News means never having to say you’re sorry. Even when your founder and archetype spends 2016 exposing the channel as a haven for sexual harassment.