- Sarah Ellison
Vanity Fair contributing editor. Her most recent piece is an exclusive headlined “Inside the Fox News Bunker.” She’s the author of War at The Wall Street Journal: Inside the Struggle to Control an American Business Empire. She worked for 10 years at The Wall Street Journal in Paris, London and New York.
Further revelations about former Fox News chief Roger Ailes are surfacing, raising questions about how much the company was aware of his transgressions. Ailes has now been accused of sexual harassment by more than 20 women, including Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and former anchor Gretchen Carlson. Earlier this week, another former Fox News host also accused Ailes of sexual harassment. Andrea Tantaros says she repeatedly reported Ailes’s harassment to senior Fox executives last year. She says she was demoted and then taken off air as a result. To talk more about these revelations, we’re joined by Sarah Ellison, Vanity Fair contributing editor. Her most recent piece is an exclusive headlined “Inside the Fox News Bunker.” It exposes the existence of explosive audiotapes recorded by multiple women in conversation with Ailes. Sarah Ellison is also the author of “War at The Wall Street Journal: Inside the Struggle to Control an American Business Empire.”
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the crisis engulfing Fox News, as further revelations about former chief Roger Ailes have raised questions about how much the company was aware of his transgressions. Ailes has now been accused of sexual harassment by more than 20 women, including Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, former anchor Gretchen Carlson. Earlier this week, another former Fox News host also accused Ailes of sexual harassment. Andrea Tantaros says she repeatedly reported Ailes’ harassment to senior Fox executives last year. She says she was demoted and then taken off the air.
The former director of booking at Fox News has said Ailes sexually harassed her and tortured her for two decades. Laurie Luhn told New York Magazine that Fox News knew about the harassment and helped cover it up. She said the harassment amounted to psychological torture and ruined her life. Luhn called Ailes a predator and said her duties included luring young female Fox employees into one-on-one situations with Ailes that she knew could result in harassment.
New York Magazine has also reported Ailes ran his own “Black Room” operation out of Fox News, in which he used Fox money to hire private detectives and political operatives who carried out Ailes’ personal campaigns, including targeting journalists. The magazine reports Ailes sent private detectives to follow around multiple journalists who had been reporting on him.
Ailes has denied all the allegations against him. He resigned in July, receiving a $40 million severance package. Rupert Murdoch has stepped in as interim chief of Fox News.
To talk more about these revelations, we’re joined by Sarah Ellison, Vanity Fair contributing editor. Her most recent piece is an exclusive headlined “Inside the Fox News Bunker.” It exposed the existence of explosive audiotapes recorded by multiple women in conversation with Ailes. Sarah Ellison is also the author of War at The Wall Street Journal: Inside the Struggle to Control an American Business Empire. She worked for 10 years at The Wall Street Journal in Paris, London and New York.
Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.
SARAH ELLISON: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: So, take us inside the Fox bunker.
SARAH ELLISON: Well, right now inside Fox News, of course, the organization is without its longtime leader, Roger Ailes, and that divides the newsroom, that used to be that there were sort of Ailes loyalists, who were very unhappy to see him go, and then people who professed a lot of professional relief that he was gone. The pro-Ailes camp is shrinking as more and more women come forward. But I think that a lot of what they’re wondering now is, what are they going to learn from the internal investigation that has been launched to look into these allegations that this—
AMY GOODMAN: So, for people who aren’t following it very much—
SARAH ELLISON: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —lay out all of these revelations that have come out, and also what you have found: explosive audiotapes.
SARAH ELLISON: Right. I mean, I think you gave an excellent summary of the various women who have come forward. Roger Ailes was—you know, he was forced to resign in July, and he received a very large settlement payout from the company.
What I found in my reporting is that Gretchen Carlson, who was the woman who initially brought the first lawsuit against Roger Ailes, is in discussions now with company, 21st Century Fox, which owns Fox News, about an eight-figure settlement. And in those settlement discussions, one of the—that’s where the tapes came out, the idea that there are these explosive tapes with—that have recorded conversations between Roger Ailes and multiple women, including Gretchen Carlson. What’s ironic about that is that Roger Ailes was sort of known for taping other people, that he was very worried about secrecy, that he always felt—he did always feel that other people were spying on him, and he was worried about that. I mean, there was a wooden door outside of his office. In order to be able to get in, you had to—you couldn’t see through the doors as you would be in a normal executive’s office. Everyone who was approaching the—walking down the hallway to his office was caught on a camera. But the question of what is in these tapes and whether or not they become public and how they would become public is really at the center now of this settlement discussion, which is very tense.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain who is investigating all of this.
SARAH ELLISON: So, 21st Century Fox asked Paul, Weiss, which is a large New York powerful law firm, to do an internal investigation into the claims that were brought by Gretchen Carlson. And they have brought a number of women in to speak to them about what they experienced. And that’s how the Megyn Kelly revelations came out. That’s how many of the women—when we talk about 20 women, that’s where we’re getting that number from, the number of women who have either contacted the investigation or been heard by them.
That investigation is a very powerful tool for the company and, namely, the sons of Rupert Murdoch, James and Lachlan Murdoch, who are professing to want to really clean up the culture of Fox News and make it a trusting workplace, a 21st century workplace, where every—where women can feel—women and everybody else can feel safe. And so, the company now is dealing with this very strange conundrum where the man who made this Fox News organization a huge powerhouse—and whether you liked it or didn’t, you had to admit that it was an incredibly powerful news organization. Their shareholders want them to keep it exactly the way that it was. All the human beings who work there would like it to change. And so, this is something that they’re sort of grappling with right now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have—he’s getting $40 million—
SARAH ELLISON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —in a settlement. And we learned that because, for a brief moment—
SARAH ELLISON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain what happened, how Drudge Report, how Matt Drudge got a hold of the settlement as they were working it out. Roger Ailes wasn’t even kicked out of the place yet.
SARAH ELLISON: Right. I mean, this is—this is several weeks ago, in the course of a very tense last week before Roger Ailes, you know, had officially resigned. There was a report about Megyn Kelly talking to the—talking to the internal investigation about how she had been sexually harassed by Roger Ailes. In response to that report, Roger Ailes’s attorney wanted to put out a statement debunking what Megyn Kelly had said, and saying, “She thanked me. She thanked me many times. We have a wonderful relationship.” And instead of sending that statement to the Drudge Report, they sent a draft agreement that had the $40 million figure in it. So, of course, everyone who has been reporting on this was whiplashed, because they thought, “Oh, wait. What is this? Why is Drudge getting an early report?” that he then very quickly took down, because he was contacted by people begging him to sort of take it down, that it was a mistaken—mistaken leak. I mean, it’s a very—in the midst of all these grisly headlines, it’s a very funny moment, in fact, because you have someone who’s trying to spin against someone’s sexual harassment claims, and instead they end up putting their own settlement package right out there for the rest of us to see.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this week, CNN’s Brian Stelter said he was spied on by a Fox News staffer.
SARAH ELLISON: Right.
BRIAN STELTER: About 10 years ago, I had a crush on a woman at Fox News. She was a low-level staffer. I was in college at the time. So I was going out on what I thought were dates, because I thought these were dates. These were not dates. She was actually reporting back to Fox News about me.
BILL CARTER: Yeah.
BRIAN STELTER: She was reporting back about what I thought of her and about CNN and MSNBC and Fox. Because I was a reporter on the beat, they were actually spying on me that way. Now, I didn’t think that was a big deal at the time. I thought it was the way Fox operates. Fox is a political organization.
BILL CARTER: Yeah.
BRIAN STELTER: But now we know they were actually sending out private investigators. They were tailing journalists.
BILL CARTER: And following reporters around.
BRIAN STELTER: Tailing. We knew.
AMY GOODMAN: So, wow. That’s CNN’s Brian Stelter, who formerly was at The New York Times. Explain this, Sarah.
SARAH ELLISON: Well, there are other journalists who have come out with similar sort of stories—I mean, Brian Stelter, John Cook at Gawker. Gabriel Sherman is probably the person who’s received the most attention in this way. He worked on a biography of Roger Ailes for years. And Ailes made a comment to—I mean, there’s a report out this week that Ailes had commented to someone that “I could send someone over to his house and get him beaten up.” And, you know, he, Gabe Sherman, and his wife had their apartment swept for bugs.
You know, the question about what Ailes did, there are the sexual harassment claims, but then there’s the question of at what point does any of this kind of alleged behavior become illegal and criminal, as opposed to something that would be brought up in a civil lawsuit. And I think that, you know, the overall intimidation—I mean, Fox News always was an intimidating place to cover and to write about, and journalists sort of knew that. They knew that there was a possibility—I mean, in addition to getting an angry phone call, there were other reporters who had negative anonymous stories leaked about them and smeared. I mean, there was a story many years ago of a reporter who had gone into drug rehab, and that was leaked by Fox News’s PR department. I mean, it’s just—it’s sort of unthinkable in terms of the way that they allegedly operated.
And now what we have—I mean, what’s interesting is this Gretchen Carlson lawsuit has sort of broken the dam. Everyone is now able to come forward with their stories. And it’s sort of what a culture of fear looks like when it finally breaks down.
AMY GOODMAN: And it implicates so many.
SARAH ELLISON: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who it implicates, like Andrea Tantaros, who said she went to higher-ups. She named those higher-ups.
SARAH ELLISON: Right. I mean, so there’s—obviously, Roger Ailes is out of the building now, and everyone is aiming most of their attacks at Roger Ailes. But he also had a lot of people under him, and there are a lot of questions about how—how willing those people were to follow his orders, how active they were in kind of enforcing what it was that he wanted them to do, what they exactly knew. That’s the one level of it. Then the other level is above him. What did people at the parent company, Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, what did those people know? I mean, I was just speaking with someone who said this Laurie Luhn settlement that we keep talking about, this $3.15 million settlement—
AMY GOODMAN: Now, she was the so-called booker.
SARAH ELLISON: She was a Fox News booker, and she’s the person who told New York Magazine that over the course of 20 years she was essentially Roger Ailes’ sex slave. And what she—I mean, she reported other executives inside of Fox News that knew of—that would call her to New York—Bill Shine is the person that she mentions specifically. There’s a general counsel—
AMY GOODMAN: He’s the Fox executive vice president.
SARAH ELLISON: Exactly. He was sort of Ailes’s number two. Dianne Brandi is the general counsel who drew up the settlement arrangement with Laurie Luhn. Those people are—and others—I mean, there are other unofficial sort of—there are less official sort of, quote-unquote, “friends” of Roger’s who are people that were on the payroll or who were on sort of monthly retainers, that no one in the building really knew exactly what they did, but Ailes sort of had them. And there’s an allegation now in another story that came out that he was using those people to do—to run these kinds of campaigns, whether they were smearing journalists or going after other enemies.
AMY GOODMAN: People like Bo Dietl.
SARAH ELLISON: Exactly, exactly. And those people are leaving. I mean, those people are being dismissed now. And so that’s part of the effort that Rupert Murdoch is engaged in at this moment to kind of get rid of those people. But the point that I want to make about the three—the settlement is that when you ask people at 21st Century Fox and Fox News why that wasn’t reported and why that didn’t raise eyebrows, they say, “Well, at a division like Fox News, which brings in $1 billion of profit, that’s a rounding error, $3.15 million.” I mean—
AMY GOODMAN: And how many of these are there?
SARAH ELLISON: Well, that’s—I mean, there are two questions. One is that, how many—how many $3 million settlements do you need in order for it to register? How many are there out there? That can’t be the only settlement that we—that is in existence. But companies decide all the time what is material and what is not. “Material” is this term that public companies like to use in terms of—they just get to decide what they think is important. Much larger companies than Fox News disclose much smaller settlements than $3.15 million. So, at a certain point, people above Ailes and other people have to answer for that.
AMY GOODMAN: And Laurie Luhn, a broken woman—I mean, for 20 years, as you described it, his sex slave, and then told to lure in young women from Fox—
SARAH ELLISON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —to bring them into a one-on-one situation—
SARAH ELLISON: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —with Roger Ailes.
SARAH ELLISON: Yeah, I mean, I think that—we still don’t know the extent to which and the way that which Roger Ailes enticed people to do the things that they’re accusing him of. Right? So, you know, there—I have heard stories about how he could also be very—at turns, very charming. I mean, this is the case with any kind of charismatic leader. They have a side to them that can be very compelling and charismatic. But what we’ve heard—and, I mean, what we’ve heard in the past six weeks or so is a very different story. And it’s one where he was largely terrifying people, and they were either too scared to speak out or they were—or they were actually doing what it was that he was telling them to do and also too scared to speak out.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. I also want to ask you about his lawyer, very unusual, Susan Estrich. They were foes many years ago—
SARAH ELLISON: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —when Susan Estrich was the campaign manager for Michael Dukakis, and Roger Ailes worked for his opponent, George H.W. Bush. We’re talking to Sarah Ellison, who is Vanity Fair contributing editor. She’s written many pieces on this, including “Inside the Fox News Bunker,” and most recently wrote a piece about the NRA, “The Civil War That Could Doom the N.R.A.” But we’ll continue on what ails Fox—is it more than Roger? Stay with us.