MSNBC's Gabe Sherman: “There’s A Lot More Questions To Ask” About How Bret Baier’s Discredited Report Got On The Air
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has an extensive history of attacking the media, and his campaign and supporters have joined in the fight throughout the election. The nominee, his surrogates, and his supporters have called media outlets and reporters across the spectrum “dishonest,” “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time,” and until recently, the campaign had a media blacklist of outlets that weren’t allowed into campaign events.
Fox News’ forced exit of Roger Ailes in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal is just the beginning of what is expected to be a “wholesale housecleaning” of management in the coming months, according to Gabriel Sherman, the New York magazine writer and Ailes biographer who has been covering the network for the past six years.
Sherman, who spoke at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Thursday night, said he is still reporting on a “breaking news” story surrounding Fox and believes that major change are ahead.
“From what I understand talking to people up and down the network is that it’s really in a holding pattern,” Sherman said. “They are looking for a permanent CEO and most likely there will be, after the November election, more of a wholesale housecleaning.”
Sherman’s appearance followed his blockbuster cover story last week on Ailes that revealed insider accounts of the back story behind former anchor Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, which she and Fox settled for $20 million earlier this week.
He took questions from moderator Bill Grueskin, a Columbia journalism professor and a former Wall Street Journal editor, as well as both in-person and online audience members.
“In the crush of daily headlines it can seem like the story has really played out, but I think we are still in the middle of what I think will be remembered as one of the seismic shifts in the American media landscape,” Sherman told the crowd. “It took just 15 days from when Gretchen Carlson filed her lawsuit for Roger Ailes to be pushed out the door of Fox News, an institution he built and shaped in his image and in the process remade American politics in his image.”
Sherman also discussed his 2014 Ailes biography, The Loudest Voice in the Room, and how his reporting for that book and New York magazine was often both influential and frightening.
He cited two women he interviewed for the book, Shelley Ross and Randi Harrison, who recounted their own claims that Ailes sexually harassed them in the 1980s when he produced the Tomorrow show on NBC.
Sherman said their openness might have affected Gretchen Carlson’s decision to sue.
“Having these women out there I think gave Gretchen Carlson and her lawyers confidence to file her lawsuit because this was not an isolated incident,” Sherman said. “We had already had on-the-record episodes of sexual harassment.”
Asked about the revelations that Carlson had secretly recorded some of the most damaging comments by Ailes, Sheman said those audio files could someday be heard in court.
“My understanding is that those tapes still exist,” Sherman said. “So if there is future litigation, if say another woman should file a lawsuit, they could be subpoenaed in court.”
Grueskin brought up the 400-page dossier Fox News reportedly created on Sherman and a private investigator they had following him. Sherman said that was not the most frightening moment in his Ailes reporting over the years.
“I think the scariest moment was at the end of 2012, it was Christmastime, when the website Breitbart, which now is famous for being aligned with Trump, splashed an article about me on the home page that I was being paid by George Soros, and I was, it labeled me a Soros-funded attack dog,” Sherman recounted. “We got a death threat at home, the phone rang and someone very scary on the phone said some very scary things. Ailes, this sort of right-wing machine does this to politicians, but they have security and all this; we don’t even have a doorman at home.”
He said he filed a police report and had a trip out of town planned anyway, so he and his wife left New York.
“It was the first time it internalized for me that Ailes is a very powerful man,” Sherman said. “He has access not only to a lot of money, but he had relationships across the media that he could then train and turn on me.”
He said that kind of fear affected several of the sources he used for the recent New York piece, which included many anonymous voices.
“I had sources who were so paranoid and scared they would call me from burner phones,” Sherman said of the disposable prepaid phones. “I had sources who would meet me in the strangest of places, in the most anonymous places in Manhattan because they didn’t even want to be talking to me on the telephone.”
But, he added, “it is not going to deter me from covering what is still a breaking news story.”
Although he says he has never interviewed Ailes, who has regularly declined, Sherman said if he had the chance to ask one question, it would be: “What are your regrets?”
Sherman also said he has no interest in filing any legal action against Fox or Ailes for some of their intimidation methods: “The short answer is no. I have been in the trenches on a breaking news story.”
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Vanity Fair reported that the internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, launched after former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes, has concluded with a $20 million settlement and a public apology, but without examining “the broader culture of Fox News.” This “relatively swift closure to an ugly chapter,” as Vanity Fair put it, shows that the probe was little more than a pseudo-investigation. The magazine noted that in some ways, it "simply got a revenue machine back on track." And that confirms previous concerns about the impartiality of the investigation, which was handled by Fox News’ parent company.
After Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit on July 6 against then-Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, Fox’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, retained the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to lead an internal investigation into the claims.
Some questioned the “firm's independence” and ability to investigate the allegations with impartiality. As The New York Times reported, describing the Paul, Weiss investigation “as an ‘independent’ review commissioned by the company’s board … is not correct” because “The firm was retained by 21st Century Fox not only to investigate but also to provide legal advice.” The Times noted that a “true independent review would preclude legal advice.”
As the investigation proceeded behind closed doors, media outlets reported that the “harassment and intimidation” inside Fox News “went beyond Mr. Ailes and suggested a broader problem in the workplace.” New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported that Fox executives -- including Ailes deputy Bill Shine, who has since been promoted to co-president of Fox News -- were aware of Ailes’ alleged sexual harassment of Fox News employees and said some helped the former network chairman and CEO “cover up” his actions.
But as news broke that Carlson and 21st Century Fox settled the suit, Vanity Fair reported that “the Paul, Weiss investigation … never officially expanded to examine the broader culture of Fox News.” According to Vanity Fair, Paul, Weiss “was apparently never ordered to scour the company’s hard drives for all evidence of sexual harassment or bawdy culture.”
The settlement punctuates an important chapter in the Ailes scandal. While the Paul, Weiss investigation interviewed more than 20 women, according to two sources familiar with the process, it never officially expanded to examine the broader culture of Fox News. The firm, according to numerous people familiar with the process, was apparently never ordered to scour the company’s hard drives for all evidence of sexual harassment or bawdy culture. In some ways, according to one person familiar with the process, the Paul, Weiss investigation simply got a revenue machine back on track.
As New Yorker contributing editor Jeannie Suk Gersen wrote: "“Unlike what reportedly happened around Ailes, neither an employee’s supervisor nor the person being accused of harassment should have any control over an investigation.”
Given that Fox News has for years cultivated a toxic atmosphere of misogyny and sexism, and given reporting about the widespread culture of sexual harassment at the network that went beyond Ailes, Media Matters launched a petition calling on 21st Century Fox to publicly release the findings of the internal review. Though now those findings may be spurious, given the narrow scope of the investigation.
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New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman shed light on the tensions between former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox's parent company 21st Century Fox, that resulted from Ailes “putting Fox so squarely behind the candidacy of Donald Trump.” The revelation was part of a report detailing Ailes’ ouster from Fox News after former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson filed asexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes.
Under Ailes, Fox News facilitated the rise of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, giving him double the airtime of any other candidate during the GOP primary and nearly $30 million worth of free airtime from May to December 2015. Several Fox personalities became Trump cheerleaders and defenders, including Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends, which Trump had been calling into since 2011, the network’s star Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, who has emerged as the chairman of Trump’s fan club. Despite a feud between Trump and the network after Megyn Kelly asked the candidate about his past statements about women at the first GOP debate, the relationship has remained strong, with Fox figures frequently helping to explain and defend Trump’s outrageous statements and proposals. Numerous media outlets blamed Fox News for creating “the Trump Monster,” as Trump predominantly relies on their coverage.
In the September 2 article, Sherman explained that “the relationship between Murdoch and Ailes [became] strained” because “Murdoch blamed Ailes for laying the groundwork for Trump’s candidacy.” According to Sherman, “Murdoch didn’t like that Ailes was putting Fox so squarely behind the candidacy of Donald Trump” and that he “was not a fan of Trump’s and especially did not like his stance on immigration.” Sherman added, “Murdoch told Ailes he wanted Fox’s debate moderators… to hammer Trump,” resulting in Ailes becoming “caught between his friend Trump, his boss Murdoch, and his star [Megyn] Kelly”:
According to a person close to the Murdochs, Rupert’s first instinct was to protect Ailes, who had worked for him for two decades. The elder Murdoch can be extremely loyal to executives who run his companies, even when they cross the line. (The most famous example of this is Sun editor Rebekah Brooks, whom he kept in the fold after the U.K. phone-hacking scandal.) Also, Ailes has made the Murdochs a lot of money — Fox News generates more than $1 billion annually, which accounts for 20 percent of 21st Century Fox’s profits — and Rupert worried that perhaps only Ailes could run the network so successfully. “Rupert is in the clouds; he didn’t appreciate how toxic an environment it was that Ailes created,” a person close to the Murdochs said. “If the money hadn’t been so good, then maybe they would have asked questions.”
Beyond the James and Lachlan factor, the relationship between Murdoch and Ailes was becoming strained: Murdoch didn’t like that Ailes was putting Fox so squarely behind the candidacy of Donald Trump. And he had begun to worry less about whether Fox could endure without its creator. (In recent years, Ailes had taken extended health leaves from Fox and the ratings held.) Now Ailes had made himself a true liability: More than two dozen Fox News women told the Paul, Weiss lawyers about their harassment in graphic terms. The most significant of the accusers was Megyn Kelly, who is in contract negotiations with Fox and is considered by the Murdochs to be the future of the network. So important to Fox is Kelly that Lachlan personally approved her reported $6 million book advance from Murdoch-controlled publisher HarperCollins, according to two sources.
According to Fox sources, Murdoch blamed Ailes for laying the groundwork for Trump’s candidacy. Ailes had given Trump, his longtime friend, a weekly call-in segment on Fox & Friends to sound off on political issues. (Trump used Fox News to mainstream the birther conspiracy theory.) Ailes also had lunch with Trump days before he launched his presidential campaign and continued to feed him political advice throughout the primaries, according to sources close to Trump and Ailes. (And in the days after Carlson filed her lawsuit, Trump advised Ailes on navigating the crisis, even recommending a lawyer.)
Murdoch was not a fan of Trump’s and especially did not like his stance on immigration. (The antipathy was mutual: “Murdoch’s been very bad to me,” Trump told me in March.) A few days before the first GOP debate on Fox in August 2015, Murdoch called Ailes at home. “This has gone on long enough,” Murdoch said, according to a person briefed on the conversation. Murdoch told Ailes he wanted Fox’s debate moderators — Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace — to hammer Trump on a variety of issues. Ailes, understanding the GOP electorate better than most at that point, likely thought it was a bad idea. “Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee,” Ailes told a colleague around this time. But he didn’t fight Murdoch on the debate directive.
On the night of August 6, in front of 24 million people, the Fox moderators peppered Trump with harder-hitting questions. But it was Kelly’s question regarding Trump’s history of crude comments about women that created a media sensation. He seemed personally wounded by her suggestion that this spoke to a temperament that might not be suited for the presidency. “I’ve been very nice to you, though I could probably maybe not be based on the way you have treated me,” he said pointedly.
After the debate, Trump called Ailes and screamed about Kelly. “How could you do this?” he said, according to a person briefed on the call. Ailes was caught between his friend Trump, his boss Murdoch, and his star Kelly. “Roger lost control of Megyn and Trump,” a Fox anchor said.
Fox News sought the phone records of Media Matters senior reporter Joe Strupp through “legally questionable means” in order to identify his anonymous network sources, according to a new report.
New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported in his September 2 cover story on the fall of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes:
Fox News also obtained the phone records of journalists, by legally questionable means. According to two sources with direct knowledge of the incident, Brandi, Fox’s general counsel, hired a private investigator in late 2010 to obtain the personal home- and cell-phone records of Joe Strupp, a reporter for the liberal watchdog group Media Matters. (Through a spokesperson, Brandi denied this.) In the fall of that year, Strupp had written several articles quoting anonymous Fox sources, and the network wanted to determine who was talking to him. “This was the culture. Getting phone records doesn’t make anybody blink,” one Fox executive told me.
Media Matters president Bradley Beychok responded to the report:
From what we witnessed with Rupert Murdoch and News Corp's prior phone hacking scandal, it's critical for an immediate investigation of Roger Ailes and any other current or former Fox News employees who may have been involved in this illegal practice.
Roger Ailes and Fox News broke the law by hacking into the phone records of Media Matters employees. Anyone involved in the illegal hacking should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and we are considering all legal options.
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Former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes used “portions of the Fox budget” to “hire consultants, political operatives, and private detectives” to conduct “surveillance campaigns” against perceived enemies, including journalists critical of Fox and Ailes, according to a report from New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman.
Parent company 21st Century Fox announced in July that Ailes would be resigning following allegations of sexual harassment from former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson and at least 25 other women. Subsequent reports have indicated Ailes was only part of a decades-long culture of sexual harassment at Fox.
Sherman reported that Ailes used revenue from Fox’s budget to hire consultants, operatives, and detectives that “reported only to him” and would work in a special “Black Room” to conduct operations “against people he targeted both inside and outside the company.” Sherman wrote that “Targets of the campaigns included journalists” such as Sherman himself and reporters from Gawker. He also wrote that multiple Fox employees participated in these operations, including Fox contributor and Ailes lawyer Peter Johnson Jr. and Fox contributor Bo Diehl, and that Fox’s CFO “approved budget expenditures throughout this period,” along with Fox’s general counsel.
Sherman reported in his 2014 Ailes biography that Ailes had masterminded the creation of a blog called "The Cable Game” which was used to attack Fox rivals and critics and was authored in part by Fox contributor Jim Pinkerton.
From the August 7 article:
But with Ailes gone, Fox executives are now looking closely at how Ailes spent Fox money. And what they are discovering is that, beyond the sexual harassment claims, Ailes was also able to use portions of the Fox budget to hire consultants, political operatives, and private detectives that reported only to him, according to a senior Fox source. 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.
According to one highly-placed source, Solivan worked out of what Fox insiders called “the Black Room,” an operation Ailes established around 2011 to conduct PR and surveillance campaigns against people he targeted both inside and outside the company. The “Black Room” was located on the 14th floor of the News Corp building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas, a quiet part of the office that housed Fox News Latino and some marketing and promotions employees. Fox employees Ken LaCorte and Jim Pinkerton, veteran political operatives who’ve worked with Ailes since the 1980s, also worked with Solivan, the source said, adding that Ailes’s personal lawyer, and Fox contributor, Peter Johnson Jr. advised the team. (In an email, Peter Johnson denied any involvement in “Black Room” campaigns, saying, “The only online campaign I’m aware of is yours attempting to create a truth from a fiction with this account.”)
Targets of the campaigns included journalists John Cook and Hamilton Nolan, who have aggressively covered Ailes for Gawker. According to one source, private detectives followed Cook around his Brooklyn neighborhood and Fox operatives prepared a report on him with information they intended to leak to blogs. (According to the source, one proposed line of attack claimed that Cook — whose wife, Slate news director Allison Benedikt, is Jewish — was anti-Semitic.)
I was also the target of an operation, a highly-placed source told me: In 2012, while I was researching a biography of Ailes, Fox operatives set up web pages to attack my reputation, and Fox funds paid for Google search ads against my name that linked to the sites. One source also said private investigators employed by Fox contributor Bo Dietl were instructed to follow me and my wife.
The allegations about Ailes’s questionable use of Fox resources raise the issue of how much other high-ranking officials knew about his activities. Fox News CFO Mark Kranz, for instance, approved budget expenditures throughout this period, and general counsel Dianne Brandi approved contracts. Through a spokesperson, both Kranz and Brandi said they had no knowledge of expenditures for surveillance and online attacks.
The Partnership for a New American Economy, a pro-immigration advocacy organization that News Corp. executive co-chairman Rupert Murdoch co-chairs, is launching an initiative to push for immigration reform in 2017. But Murdoch is also backing the 2016 presidential bid of Republican nominee Donald Trump, who is strongly anti-immigrant.
According to an August 3 Politico report, the Partnership for a New American Economy’s “Reason for Reform” initiative is meant to make “the economic case” for immigration reform. Despite co-chairing New American Economy, Murdoch has also thrown his weight behind Trump, who has made attacking immigrants a central part of his campaign. Murdoch has also called for the Republican establishment to unify around Trump.
According to New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, Murdoch has reportedly stepped in to run Fox News after sexual harassment allegations pressured former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes to resign. Murdoch will reportedly continue to run the station as is, making it difficult to reconcile with his leadership position in a pro-immigration reform advocacy group. Based on CNN’s Brian Stelter’s reporting, Lachlan Murdoch, son of the News Corp. executive co-chairman, said he and his father want to preserve the Fox’s “unique and important voice” during the elder Murdoch’s time as the channel’s acting CEO. And according to Sherman, Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly “sacrificed core principles to forge political alliances that advance his media empire’s interests.” Sherman noted that "it’s clear Trump is good for business,” and “the channel’s ratings dip whenever an anti-Trump segment airs.”
Fox News has an anti-immigration slant to its news coverage, which has included the recent outrage at a White House campaign for Immigrant Heritage month, the routine demonization of immigrants, the habitual use of anti-immigrant slurs like “anchor babies” or “illegals,” and stark opposition to immigration reform. The network has become a major driver of right-wing fearmongering on immigration by attacking Hispanic civil rights groups, routinely using stock video footage of immigrants crossing the border during immigration discussions, and stereotyping Hispanic immigrants as criminals. Fox’s immigration coverage is often sourced from extreme nativist groups like NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies.
Former Fox Booker Laurie Luhn: Ailes Required “Luring Young Female Fox Employees Into One-On-One Situations”
New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported that a former Fox News booking director claims to have been sexually harassed by Roger Ailes “for more than 20 years,” Fox executives helped cover it up, and a settlement document she signed with the network “precludes her from speaking to government authorities like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the FBI. Not to mention the press.”
Sherman wrote about the former booking director's experience working for Fox and being “psychologically tortured” by Ailes and the network. Laurie Luhn explained that during her time at Fox as a booking director, she was “required  to do many things she is now horrified by, including luring young female Fox employees into one-on-one situations with Aies that Luhn knew could result in harassment.” Luhn also recounted her own sexual harassment from Ailes and how the network settled with her on the conditions of an “extensive nondisclosure” agreement which prevented Luhn from taking the network to court: :
The morning after Fox News chief Roger Ailes resigned, the cable network’s former director of booking placed a call to the New York law firm hired by 21st Century Fox to investigate sexual-harassment allegations against Ailes. Laurie Luhn told the lawyers at Paul, Weiss that she had been harassed by Ailes for more than 20 years, that executives at Fox News had known about it and helped cover it up, and that it had ruined her life. “It was psychological torture,” she later told me.
In late 2010 or early 2011, Luhn said, she wrote a letter to Fox lawyer Dianne Brandi saying she had been sexually harassed by Ailes for 20 years. Brandi did not acknowledge receipt of the letter, but, according to a source, she asked Ailes about the sexual-harassment allegations, which he vehemently denied. Ailes, according to the source, told Brandi to work out a settlement. Luhn hired an attorney to negotiate her exit from Fox. Through a spokesperson, Brandi declined to comment.
On June 15, 2011, Luhn and Brandi signed a $3.15 million settlement agreement with extensive nondisclosure provisions. The settlement document, which Luhn showed me, bars her from going to court against Fox for the rest of her life. It also precludes her from speaking to government authorities like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the FBI. Not to mention the press. Aware that speaking with New York on the record could pose legal risks, Luhn was insistent that she wanted to tell her story. “The truth shall set you free. Nothing else matters,” she told me. Her family friend also said this is what Luhn wanted.
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