Roger Ailes is, allegedly, a depraved and truly loathsome piece of shit, whose time on this earth has seemingly been filled sexual threats or outright abuse of women unlucky enough to cross his path. Sometimes, lately, it seems as though it’s his driving force as a human being. Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine has dedicated himself to tracing Ailes’ deeply gross and decades-long pattern of behavior, but his latest piece turns the spotlight on the women of Fox News who finally brought him down.
Sherman is the author of 2014's The Loudest Voice in the Room, a book about Ailes which, withering though it was, only lightly touched on sexual abuse allegations against him. As Sherman explains in his new piece, “though I heard rumors of Ailes and Fox News women, I could not confirm them at the time.”
It wasn’t until Gretchen Carlson filed her bombshell sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, leading to his speedy “resignation,” that the stories started to come out. Now there’s a seemingly endless flood. Here are some of the most upsetting and illuminating tidbits from Sherman’s latest, which both provides new insight into his patterns of abuse and the bravery it took for his employees to finally confront him.
As early as the 1960s, Ailes was trying to get women to sleep with him and his friends by offering them jobs, and threatening them to keep them silent.
From his time on the Mike Douglas Show:
Though Ailes had married his college girlfriend, he used his growing power to take advantage of the parade of beautiful women coming through his office hoping to be cast on the show. Over the past two months, I interviewed 18 women who shared accounts of Ailes’s offering them job opportunities if they would agree to perform sexual favors for him and for his friends. In some cases, he threatened to release tapes of the encounters to prevent the women from reporting him. “The feeling I got in the interview was repulsion, power-hungriness, contempt, violence, and the need to subjugate and humiliate,” says a woman who auditioned for Ailes in 1968 when she was a college student.
His behavior was so notorious that when he left the show and went to work as a speechwriter for the Nixon campaign, he wasn’t offered a job in the White House:
One prominent Republican told me that it was Ailes’s well-known reputation for awful behavior toward women that prevented him from being invited to work in the Nixon White House (or, later, in the administration of Bush 41). So after the ’68 election, he moved to New York, where he continued to use his power to demand sex from women seeking career opportunities. During this time Ailes divorced, remarried, and divorced again. A former television producer described an interview with Ailes in 1975, in which he said: “If you want to make it in New York City in the TV business, you’re going to have to fuck me, and you’re going to do that with anyone I tell you to.”
In a neat bit of foreshadowing, Ailes was forced out of a job at NBC in 1995 for being a maniac and calling an executive “a little fucking Jew prick.”
That executive, David Zaslav, told a law firm hired to do an internal investigation that he was afraid Ailes would do him literal, physical harm:
Zaslav told Proskauer investigators he feared for his safety. “I view Ailes as a very, very dangerous man. I take his threats to do physical harm to me very, very seriously … I feel endangered both at work and at home,” he said, according to NBC documents, which I first published in my 2014 biography of Ailes. CNBC executive Andy Friendly also filed complaints. “I along with several of my most talented colleagues have and continue to feel emotional and even physical fear dealing with this man every day,” he wrote. The Proskauer report chronicled Ailes’s “history of abusive, offensive, and intimidating statements/threats and personal attacks.” Ailes left NBC less than three months later.
From the beginning of his time at Fox, Ailes made a practice of determining which women he thought were vulnerable enough to be sexually exploited:
According to interviews with Fox News women, Ailes would often begin by offering to mentor a young employee. He then asked a series of personal questions to expose potential vulnerabilities. “He asked, ‘Am I in a relationship? What are my familial ties?’ It was all to see how stable or unstable I was,” said a former employee.
And in a truly horrific bit of detail, a makeup artist at Fox News began to suspect what was going on when women started to return from meetings with Ailes with their makeup smudged:
Karem Alsina, a former Fox makeup artist, told me she grew suspicious when Fox anchors came to see her before private meetings with Ailes to have their makeup done. “They would say, ‘I’m going to see Roger, gotta look beautiful!’ ” she recalled. “One of them came back down after a meeting, and the makeup on her nose and chin was gone.”
Gretchen Carlson started counter-surveilling Ailes to prove his pattern of harassment:
Ailes is notoriously fond of invading the privacy of both his enemies and people who work for him. To pick out two particularly absurd examples: He spied on reporters who worked at a small-town paper he owned to make sure they weren’t gossiping about him, and he paid people to spy on Gawker reporters John Cook and Hamilton Nolan, who had written about him.
Carlson understood that to prove her accusations, she’d have to get him on tape, and she did:
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.
A bonus detail concerns Donald Trump, a real good buddy of Roger Ailes. Sherman details Ailes’ and Ruper Murdoch’s discomfort when Trump began launching a series of gross verbal attacks against Fox anchor Megyn Kelly for the crime of asking him during a debate about his attitudes towards women. Meanwhile Kelly, a source told Sherman, wondered if Trump had paid someone to poison her.
Problematically for Ailes, Fox’s audience took Trump’s side in the fight; Kelly received death threats from viewers, according to a person close to her. Kelly had even begun to speculate, according to one Fox source, that Trump might have been responsible for her getting violently ill before the debate last summer. Could he have paid someone to slip something into her coffee that morning in Cleveland? she wondered to colleagues.
Sherman’s entire piece should be read in full, and Roger Ailes should wade directly into the sea.