How Roger Ailes got taken down by a ‘dumb blonde’

I mentioned in a previous post that my schadenfeude has limits when it comes to actual physical harm done to people and their families. But I have no limits to my enjoyment when it comes to how the odious, sexist, serial harasser Roger Ailes of Fox News got his comeuppance at the hands of someone who was widely seen as a dumb blonde. As I have noted before, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson may have played a dumb blonde on her network but she is no fool.

Gabriel Sherman reports that she had carefully planned the takedown of Roger Ailes and had secretly recorded him for over a year until she had enough evidence of his harassment to go to court.

Of all the people who might have brought down Ailes, the former Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson was among the least likely. A 50-year-old former Miss America, she was the archetypal Fox anchor: blonde, right-wing, proudly anti-intellectual. A memorable Daily Show clip showed Carlson saying she needed to Google the words czar and ignoramus. But television is a deceptive medium. Off-camera, Carlson is a Stanford- and Oxford-educated feminist who chafed at the culture of Fox News.

Taking on Ailes was dangerous, but Carlson was determined to fight back. She settled on a simple strategy: She would turn the tables on his surveillance. Beginning in 2014, according to a person familiar with the lawsuit, Carlson brought her iPhone to meetings in Ailes’s office and secretly recorded him saying the kinds of things he’d been saying to her all along. “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better. Sometimes problems are easier to solve” that way, he said in one conversation. “I’m sure you can do sweet nothings when you want to,” he said another time.

After more than a year of taping, she had captured numerous incidents of sexual harassment.

Carlson’s Fox contract had a clause that mandated that employment disputes be resolved in private arbitration—which meant Carlson’s case could be thrown out and Smith herself could be sued for millions for filing.

Carlson’s team decided to circumvent the clause by suing Ailes personally rather than Fox News. They hoped that with the element of surprise, they would be able to prevent Fox from launching a preemptive suit that forced them into arbitration.

The Murdochs must have hoped that by acting swiftly to remove Ailes, they had averted a bigger crisis. But over the coming days, harassment allegations from more women would make it clear that the problem was not limited to Ailes but included those who enabled him — both the loyal deputies who surrounded him at Fox News and those at 21st Century Fox who turned a blind eye. “Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values,” claimed the lawsuit of Fox anchor Andrea Tantaros, who says she was demoted and smeared in the press after she rebuffed sexual advances from Ailes, “but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-­fueled, Playboy Mansion–like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.”

Ailes’s ouster has created a leadership vacuum at Fox News. Several staffers have described feeling like being part of a totalitarian regime whose dictator has just been toppled. “No one knows what to do. No one knows who to report to. It’s just mayhem,” said a Fox host.

Many people I spoke with believe that the current management arrangement is just a stopgap until the election. “As of November 9, there will be a bloodbath at Fox,” predicts one host. “After the election, the prime-time lineup could be eviscerated. O’Reilly’s been talking about retirement. Megyn could go to another network. And Hannity will go to Trump TV.”

As for the women who collectively brought an end to the era of Roger Ailes, their fortunes are mixed. Megyn Kelly is in a strong position in her contract talks, and sources say Gretchen Carlson will soon announce an eight-figure settlement. But because New York has a three-year statute of limitations on sexual harassment, so far just two women in addition to Carlson are said to be receiving settlements from 21st Century Fox. The many others who left or were forced out of the company before the investigation came away with far less — in some cases nothing at all.
It’s hard to say that justice has been served. But the story isn’t over: Last week, the shareholder law firm Scott & Scott announced it was investigating 21st Century Fox to “determine whether Fox’s Officers and Directors have breached their fiduciary duties.” Meanwhile, Ailes is walking away from his biggest career train wreck yet, seeking relevance and renewed power through the one person in the country who doesn’t see him as political kryptonite, the candidate he created: Donald J. Trump. Ailes may be trying to sell us another president, but now we know the truth about the salesman.

The article goes on to lay out the sequence of events that led to the firing of Ailes. It also provides a mini-biography of Ailes and how he “recognized how key wedge issues — race, religion, class — could turn conservative voters into loyal viewers” and used that insight to make Fox News so successful. If he is, as is reported, serving as an unofficial advisor to Donald Trump, then Trump’s campaign suggests that he is still pursuing that same strategy.


  1. blf says

    I now cannot find it, but some years ago I read an article in, I think, the Grauniad, about Ailes. Ailes himself, as I recall, refused to be interviewed, so it was based on interviews with former(and then-current?) colleagues. The one thing I recall from the article were claims that Ailes is a paranoid conspiracy nutter, he actually believes a lot of the absurdity faux pumps out.

    (Since I’m running off rather old memories here, I could easily be misremembering, so please use some salt.)

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