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.”