Fox News Scandal Explodes: Millions In Hush Money, Journalists Spied On, Threats Of Violence
Fox News In Flames
The Roger Ailes scandal isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, the scandal at Fox News continues to grow, and may be reaching the point of actual criminality. As of now, it already reads like a mob story. Sexual favors being demanded. Hush money being paid. Threats of physical harm to opposition. Spying and counter-spying through surveillance. Deep connections with the local police department.
In other words, get your popcorn because this show is just starting.
It seems like just yesterday that sexual harassment allegations sent Roger Ailes scurrying from his Fox News empire. One allegation led to another, and then another, and Ailes exited, stage right. But Fox News was already on fire.
And now, recent allegations and rumors and reports indicate that Ailes’s behavior has gone from scandalous and disgusting to possibly even criminal.
According to multiple “highly placed sources,” Ailes used Fox News profit as his own personal checkbook, and the company dime not only footed the bill for millions in hush money – it also went towards waging wars against journalists Ailes didn’t like. In fact, a sizeable chunk of Fox change went solely towards advancing Ailes’ own agenda, rather than that of Fox News.
Because Fox makes more than $1 billion in profits annually, one former executive explained, the funds that Ailes used for settlements and other private matters “amounted to little more than a rounding error.”
Questioning Ailes Not Part Of Fox News ‘Culture’
Furthermore, when Ailes was at the helm of Fox News, there was no questioning his spending habits. It was “against the culture” of Fox, said one source. But with Ailes no longer in the equation, a closer look at the books reveals that Ailes is even dirtier than initially believed.
Fox News made a settlement payment to Laurie Luhn, a former guest booker, in the amount of $3.15 million in 2011, shortly after she complained to the network that Ailes had sexually harassed her for 20 years. Fox News knew nothing of this payment.
“A settlement of that size that involved a complaint against Roger Ailes would hopefully have come to the attention of senior officials of 21st Century Fox,” says Charles Elson, director of Center for Corporate Governance, University of Delaware. “That it didn’t from a controls standpoint raises concerns.”
But apparently, since no one questioned Ailes (it was against Fox News culture, remember?), he was able to pay off Luhn, who described her experience with Ailes as “psychological torture.”
Spy Games And Paranoia
Beyond using Fox profits to pay for his own, sick, predatory decisions, Ailes also reportedly used the coffers to to wage a surveillance war against Fox News employees and journalists. CNN reports:
According to six current and former employees, many Fox News hosts, on-air personalities and producers have long feared that Ailes had tapped their phones and was monitoring their conversations.
“We all believe our phones are tapped and that we are monitored,” one Fox News personality told CNNMoney, echoing the fears of others who asked not to be quoted.
“People definitely felt that the clicks on the line were coming from the inside,” said another.
The idea that Fox employees were being spied on is described as a “pervasive fear” throughout the news corporation. But now, it appears as though Ailes didn’t limit his spy games to just his own employees. As Fox News cracks down on Ailes’s questionable spending habits, they add fuel to the flames that Ailes left them in.
The New York Daily Magazine reports:
Last week, according to the source, Fox News dismissed five consultants whom Ailes had hired to do work that was more about advancing his own agenda than Fox’s. One of the consultants, Bert Solivan, ran negative PR campaigns against Ailes’s personal and political enemies out of Fox News headquarters, a source said. A Fox News spokesperson confirmed, “Solivan was recently informed that his services were no longer needed.” Solivan, who had previously worked for Fox News as a general manager of the channel’s website, did not respond to requests for comment.
The ‘Black Room’ At Fox News
I hope you grabbed that popcorn I mentioned earlier, because things are about to get really weird.
According to Fox insiders, Solivan, Ailes’s personal henchman who was paid on Fox’s dime, worked out of what was called “the Black Room.” The Black Room was located in a quiet part of the same office that housed Fox News Latino, as well as some marketing and promotion employees, on the 14th floor of the News Corp Building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas. It was an operation Ailes started himself in 2011, and designed to “conduct PR and surveillance campaigns against people he targeted.” These people were both inside and outside of the Fox corporation.
A few other top veteran Fox political veterans worked with Solivan in the Black Room, including Ken LaCorte and Jim Pinkerton. The source stated that Ailes’s personal lawyer and Fox contributor Peter Johnson Jr. advised the team in the “Black room.” Johnson has denied any such involvement.
Reported targets of the Black Room campaigns included journalists John Cook and Hamilton Noah. Both covered Ailes for Gawker. The Black Room operatives proposed lines of attack against the two, including attempting to paint Cook as anti-Semitic. (Cook’s own wife is Jewish.) The source stated that private detectives followed Cook around his neighborhood. Another target of the Black Room was Joe Lindsley, who once edited Ailes’s local newspaper. Ailes had him followed, while Solivan waged an online campaign against him.
Will This Be The Smoking Gun?
Another focus of the Black Room’s black ops tactics was New York magazine reporter and Ailes biographer Gabe Sherman. And this is where Ailes and his buddies may have jumped into the criminal arena with both feet.
Ailes apparently made threats against Sherman. At least two sources heard Ailes go full-on The Godfather in regards to Sherman.
“I know where he lives, and I’m gonna send people to beat the shit out of him.”
One of those sources also stated that Ailes had said if what Ailes and his Black Room buddies did in order to smear Sherman through their Fox-funded campaign, “multiple people at Fox would go to jail.”
There’s suspicion, sources said, that phone records were obtained illegally. At one point, Sherman and his wife explored the possibility of having their apartment swept for bugs, according to a source familiar with the matter. Ailes’ attorney, Susan Estrich, did not respond to requests for comment. Sherman declined to comment.
The Cop Connection
One facet of this many-faceted and complicated tale is that Ailes has deep ties to the New York City Police Department. This is particularly interesting when placed into context with all the surveillance and counter-surveillance going on at Fox under Ailes’s directions. Apparently, Ailes’s own spying methods led to paranoia that he, himself, was being spied upon, and so he had NYPD people to do counter-surveillance. A document requesting that counter-surveillance has been obtained and reads as the following request:
Request for counter surveillance from Threats Desk. Mr. Ailes employs a retired NYPD Detective as personal escort. He arrives via private Car and is dropped off daily in front of 1211 Ave of Americas daily between 7am and 9am. He is Escorted into building by his security and is met by building security.
At the request of Mr. Ailes his security is not to be notified. He is aware of the pending counter surveillance attempt. Lt. Chapman (917) xxx-xxxx will be notified of the times and dates before conducting counter surveillance.
Ailes Is Filthy – But How Dirty Is Fox?
In short? Probably pretty darned filthy, too.
Although sources say that no one questioned Ailes’s budgetary spending, there is a pretty good chance that other high-ranking officials within Fox news and 21st Century Fox, the parent company, knew something. Budget expenditures were approved by the CFO, after all, and contracts were also approved by Fox’s general counsel.
Fox executives continue to deny any knowledge of expenditures for surveillance and online attack purposes.
In the meantime, Fox execs continue to parse through the flaming hot mess Ailes left behind. They are tasked with the job of determining who on their payroll is doing “legitimate work” for Fox — and who was there simply to do Ailes’s own personal bidding. One senior source says it is likely that more people will be let go in the days to come.
Or, in other words, stock up on popcorn, because this show is just getting started, folks.
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
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