'New York Magazine' Reporter: Sexual Harassment Was 'Endemic' At Fox News
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Fox News has been a defining force in the conservative movement ever since Roger Ailes became the founding CEO in 1996. Ailes's downfall this summer on sexual harassment accusations is reshaping cable news and reverberating through the conservative establishment.
One man who's been at the forefront of this story is Gabriel Sherman, who covers media for New York Magazine and wrote a biography of Ailes in 2014 called "The Loudest Voice In The Room." Sherman has also become a part of this story, as we'll hear in a moment. Gabriel Sherman, welcome to the program.
GABRIEL SHERMAN: Good to be here.
SHAPIRO: This story began with accusations from Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, and your reporting quickly revealed that many more women have alleged sexual harassment by Roger Ailes. Based on your reporting, how widespread is this?
SHERMAN: It's very widespread. And sadly, when Gretchen Carlson filed her lawsuit, I was not surprised. In my biography of Roger Ailes, I documented multiple instances in which women in the past had alleged harassment prior to Ailes founding Fox News.
I interviewed 18 women subsequently to Gretchen filing her suit, and dozens of women came forward to the law firm hired by Rupert Murdoch to investigate the allegations. So really sexual harassment was endemic to the workplace at Fox.
SHAPIRO: Based on your reporting, even though there were no public accusations against Ailes when he was hired in 1996, should Rupert Murdoch have had reason to know that there were women who Ailes had sexually harassed, at least according to those women, when he was hired for the job?
SHERMAN: It's hard to say. What he should have known is that hiring him was a controversial choice. But that said, the sexual harassment allegations were not public back then. One of the things that Roger Ailes so successfully did was keep his harassment secret from the world, and he did it through a system of coercion.
One of the women I interviewed, Laurie Luhn, who Ailes began harassing, by her account, in the early 1990s, in their first sexual encounter in a hotel room, he videotaped it and told her that he was keeping the videotape in a safety deposit box for safekeeping just so, quote, according to her, "they understood each other." So this is a way that Ailes coerced and intimidated women into not coming forward and making public allegations.
SHAPIRO: You've also reported on other top officials at Fox who helped enable Ailes's behavior. How many of those officials are still at Fox who either knew about what he was doing or should have known?
SHERMAN: A lot of the senior executives who should have known are still there. Bill Shine, notably, is the co-president of Fox News. His name is on one of the sexual harassment settlements that I viewed. Dianne Brandi, the Fox News general counsel, also signed multiple sexual harassment settlements against Roger Ailes, and she is still there. So this was not a secret inside Fox News.
SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the role of Donald Trump in all of this. Ailes is currently informally advising the Trump campaign. You've reported that Fox's apparent cheerleading for Trump added to tensions between Ailes and the Murdoch family. How big a factor was this in Ailes's departure?
SHERMAN: Clearly it was a factor. Rupert Murdoch, like many establishment Republicans, was horrified by Trump's rise. And told Ailes that he wanted Fox News to stop the boosterism. You know, Roger Ailes gave Donald Trump a weekly call-in segment on "Fox & Friends" going back to 2011. He was coaching and giving him private advice.
And so Fox News was instrumental in recreating Donald Trump as a political figure. And so when the sexual harassment scandal exploded this summer, Rupert Murdoch was not as inclined to protect Roger Ailes as he would have been prior to the rise of Donald Trump.
SHAPIRO: Let's talk about your own role in this story. Brian Stelter at CNN reported that Fox has a 400-page dossier on you. Have you seen it?
SHERMAN: I have not seen it. I've seen the news reports. I had heard about it prior to the CNN report. Going back to when I was reporting my biography of Roger Ailes, I subsequently learned he assembled a surveillance team inside the network to try to smear my reputation online by setting up fake websites spreading dirt about me. They had private investigators following me and my wife. So I was aware of these tactics. But you know, really I didn't take it personally. I just focused on doing my reporting.
SHAPIRO: I understand Roger Ailes has hired the lawyer who represented Melania Trump against the Daily Mail and Hulk Hogan against Gawker. Are you being sued?
SHERMAN: Myself and New York Magazine are not being sued. What we've received is a letter from Charles Harder, the lawyer that says he was retained by Roger Ailes. But notably, he hasn't outlined any specifics that they're taking issue with. He just wrote us a letter to say that they - you know, we should preserve emails and documentation.
And we responded to the letter. And when there's something specific to respond to, we will. But until that time, we have not heard anything that they're taking issue with in my reporting.
SHAPIRO: How much do you think this shakeup at Fox is going to change the cable news landscape?
SHERMAN: Oh, clearly it will change, and it already has changed the cable news landscape. You know, there's a lot of talk of Donald Trump forming a rival conservative network in the event that he doesn't win in November.
You know, there is a possibility that, you know, Fox News tacks more to the center, becomes more of a center-right channel and Trump forms more of a right-wing populist channel to try to monetize this audience that he's assembled throughout the election.
SHAPIRO: Gabriel Sherman covers media for New York Magazine. His cover story in the latest issue is called "The Revenge Of Rodger's Angels." Thanks a lot.
SHERMAN: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: Fox News denies hiring private investigators to surveil journalists, including Gabriel Sherman. Roger Ailes has denied all the allegations against him, and NPR has requested an interview. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.