I was stopped mid-article on Wednesday, July 20, while reading in the Financial Times about Roger Ailes, the chairman and CEO of the Fox News Channel, who was expected to exit the company.
Here’s what I was reading (you can find the entire article here. Note: The Financial Times is behind a paywall and may charge you to read this story.):
“The risk of a walkout of top talent from US conservatives’ favourite television brand was highlighted late on Tuesday when Breitbart, the conservative website, cited an unnamed anchor as saying that ‘all of Fox News’ primetime line-up’ would leave if Mr. Ailes were pushed out.
“Mr. Ailes is well connected to many Republican politicians and conservative donors, who may be willing to back him in a new venture.
“One person briefed on the situation said 21st Century Fox was not afraid of competition but added: ‘If you’re going to pay somebody to leave, you’re going to lock everything down.’ The person close to Mr Ailes implied that he could leave his severance package on the table, however, saying: ‘It’s not the money with Roger. It’s if [his exit is handled] with elegance.’”
It’s this last comment that stopped me. “It’s if his exit is handled with elegance”???? Wasn’t this about sexual harassment? That’s the charge made in a lawsuit recently filed against Ailes by Gretchen Carlson, who used to work for him. And, according to press reports, Megyn Kelly has also said Ailes sexually harassed her.
Furthermore, in New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer column on July 9th, Gabriel Sherman wrote that Carlson wasn’t the first person to accuse Ailes of sexual harassment. “In my 2014 biography of the Fox News chief,” Sherman wrote, “I included interviews with four women who told me Ailes had used his position of power to make either unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate sexual comments in the office.
“And it appears Carlson won’t be the last, either. In recent days, more than a dozen women have contacted Carlson’s New Jersey-based attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, and made detailed allegations of sexual harassment by Ailes over a 25-year period, dating back to the 1960s, when he was a producer on ‘The Mike Douglas Show.’ ‘These are women who have never told these stories until now,’ Smith told me. ‘Some are in a lot of pain.’ Taken together, these stories portray Ailes as a boss who spoke openly of expecting women to perform sexual favors in exchange for job opportunities.”
Six of the women agreed to talk to Sherman, two of them on the record. One of those was Kellie Boyle, 54, who is a former Republican National Committee field adviser.
Here’s Boyle’s account, as told to Sherman:
“This was back in 1989. I was 29 and living in New Jersey. My husband worked at CNBC and he said, ‘Roger Ailes is coming in to be interviewed — would you like to meet him?’ I said yes! I’d worked in political communications for the Republican National Committee, so Roger Ailes was like a god. I’d read his book, ‘You Are the Message,’ and I used it for a lot of training I did for candidates. I introduced myself in the green room, and he was very charming and said, ‘Would you like to visit my office downtown sometime?’
“A week or two later I went in and mentioned to him I was going down to D.C. the following week to sign a major contract with the National Republican Congressional Committee. He said, ‘I’m going to be in D.C. too. Would you like to have dinner before you go in?’ So we had a nice dinner at a restaurant in Union Station. There was nothing untoward about it at all. He had a driver and a car, and after dinner he said, ‘Can I take you to your friend’s?’ So we get in the car and that’s when he said, ‘You know if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys.’ I was so taken aback. I said, ‘Gosh, I didn’t know that. How would that work?’ I was trying to kill time because I didn’t know if he was going to attack me. I was just talking until I could get out of the car. He said, ‘That’s the way it works,’ and he started naming other women he’d had. He said that’s how all these men in media and politics work — everyone’s got their friend. I said, ‘Would I have to be friends with anybody else?’ And he said, ‘Well, you might have to give a blow job every once in a while.’ I told him I was going to have to think about this. He said, ‘No, if you don’t do it now, you know that means you won’t.’
“The next morning I show up to get my assignment and was told the guy I was supposed to be meeting with was unavailable. Back in New Jersey, I got a call from Roger Ailes. He said, ‘How’d your meeting go?’ I said, ‘Actually, he wasn’t available and I’m hoping to hear back from him.’ He said, ‘Ah, well, I’m sure you will. Have you changed your mind yet?’ I said, ‘I’ll have to pass, Roger. I’m married and really committed to my husband. No offense.’ He said, ‘Well, we’ll be in touch.’ And that was that. A couple weeks later, I called a friend who was very high up in the RNC and I asked him what happened. He said, ‘Word went out you weren’t to be hired.’”
And that’s just one of the stories about Ailes and sexual harassment.
[One of Ailes’ lawyers told Sherman that all six of the stories Sherman wrote about in his July 9 piece were “false.” Full disclosure: Though I haven’t spoken to Kellie since the late 1990s, I used to know her and her husband fairly well. Though I don’t recall hearing this story about Ailes before, Kellie always struck me as a person who was almost incapable of lying. If she says it happened, I totally believe her.]
As we reported on Wednesday in TVWeek, the idea of getting rid of Ailes was posited by James Murdoch to his brother Lachlan and their dad, Rupert, according to an essay by Michael Wolff in The Hollywood Reporter. Wolff once wrote a book about Murdoch, so he is quite familiar with the company. Wolff’s THR essay said, “It was James Murdoch’s cold calculation that ended the hand-wringing debate: Whither Fox News and its $1.2 billion in annual profits without Roger Ailes, no small concern of his older brother Lachlan and their father, Rupert? ‘Ailes is 76 and unhealthy, so how much longer could he last anyway?’ the younger Murdoch is said to have asked, and to have argued: Since they would lose Ailes soon enough anyway, why not turn lemons into lemonade and get credit for kicking him out for being a sexist pig?
“Among the things his father, hardly an advocate for women in the workplace (to the question, a few years ago, of why there were no women on the board of his company, he replied, ‘because they talk too much’), took particular pride in was resisting outside pressure, particularly liberal media pressure. But since former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson leveled her charges of sexual harassment against Ailes two weeks ago, Rupert has been under more and more of it every day, surrounded by people who wanted to give in to it, and with so much of it fueled by leaks coming from his own company.”
Wolff added, “Indeed, the ouster of Ailes, a sorry PR capitulation in [Rupert] Murdoch’s view, is not just an abrupt end to Ailes’ career at 21st Century Fox, but, in a way that’s hard to miss, rather a [Rupert] Murdoch coda. For his sons, James and Lachlan, who became the co-operators of the $53 billion company a year ago (reporting only to their father), getting rid of Ailes is their first transformative management step….”
The Murdochs had two choices. Fire Ailes or let him resign. Yesterday we found out what they chose to do. They let Ailes resign. According to various reports, Ailes will get about $40 million to leave the company. In addition, according to a tweet sent out by Matt Drudge (which he later retracted for unknown reasons), Ailes will be indemnified by Fox for any legal claims, which would likely include anything he’d have to pay if Carlson wins her sexual harassment case against him.
For his part, according to Drudge, Ailes said, in part, in a letter to Rupert Murdoch, “Having spent 20 years building this historic business, 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. I am confident that everyone at Fox News and Fox Business will continue as the standard setters that they are, and that the businesses are well positioned for even greater success in the future.
“I am proud of our accomplishments and look forward to continuing to work with you as an adviser in building 21st Century Fox.
“All the best,
There is no mention in his resignation letter what he means by “I will not allow my presence to become a distraction….”
Nothing about sexual harassment.
Likewise, we have a statement that was released to the press by 21st Century Fox from Rupert as well as a separate, joint statement from James and Lachlan.
Here’s the statement from Rupert about Ailes’ resignation:
“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.
“Fox News has given voice to those who were ignored by the traditional networks and has been one of the great commercial success stories of modern media.
“It is always difficult to create a channel or a publication from the ground up and against seemingly entrenched monopolies. To lead a flourishing news channel, and to build Fox Business, Roger has defied the odds.
“His grasp of policy and his ability to make profoundly important issues accessible to a broader audience stand in stark contrast to the self-serving elitism that characterizes far too much of the media.
“I am personally committed to ensuring that Fox News remains a distinctive, powerful voice. Our nation needs a robust Fox News to resonate from every corner of the country.
“To ensure continuity of all that is best about Fox News and what it stands for, I will take over as Chairman and acting CEO, with the support of our existing management team under Bill Shine, Jay Wallace and Mark Kranz.”
Are you effing kidding me? This reads like Murdoch’s praising Caesar, when he’s supposed to be burying him. We’re talking about Roger Ailes here, who told Kellie Boyle “If you want to play with the big boys you have to lay with the big boys.” The man who said to her that to get and keep a job “you might have to give a blow job every once in a while.”
When I got these statements from the Murdochs I emailed one of the 21 Century Fox PR folks the following: “What appears to be missing is the reason Ailes has resigned. Could you please email me an on-the-record statement on that?”
The reply simply referred me to the statement they had already sent me by James and Lachlan. Here’s what it said:
“We join our father in recognizing Roger’s remarkable contributions to our company. Our talented Fox News and Fox Business colleagues, up and down the organization and on both sides of the camera, have built something that continues to redefine the cable news experience for millions of viewers. We are enormously proud of their accomplishments. For them, as well as for our colleagues across our entire organization, we continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.”
What the hell are they talking about? According to the women who have come forward to complain about Ailes, not only has he been sexually harassing women for years at Fox News, but before that as well.
In their statement James and Lachlan praise Ailes, and then say that they have a “commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect.” No, fellas, at Fox News you’ve had a work environment wherein the top guy likely has been serially sexually harassing women.
Listen, is it a good thing that the Murdochs acted fast to get rid of Ailes once Carlson filed her suit and other women started coming forward and the company started finding out things during its own internal investigation? You bet.
But words matter. The author Stephen R. Lawhead once said, “To see evil and call it good, mocks God. Worse, it makes goodness meaningless.”