“I Can't See Her Legs!”: Roger Ailes' Rampant Sexism
Gabriel Sherman's forthcoming biography of Roger Ailes reveals a pattern of misogyny and sexism from the Fox News CEO. The Loudest Voice in the Room documents numerous examples from Ailes during his years working in television, both on Fox and elsewhere.
Media Matters and others have noted that Fox News' on-air programming has a long history of sexism which mirrors a culture at Fox News and its parent company (previously News Corporation, now 21st Century Fox).
Sherman's reporting confirms Ailes' obsession with displaying his female anchors' legs on Fox programs. The topic of the dress code and makeup of Fox News' female personalities has long been the subject of scrutiny among writers. Fox News host Gretchen Carlson recently admitted that “pants were not allowed on Fox & Friends.”
In addition to the allegation that Ailes once offered to increase a female producer's salary in exchange for sex, Sherman's book features several examples of Ailes' sexism.
Ailes: “Move That Damn Laptop, I Can't See Her Legs!”
Sherman relayed an anecdote of Ailes regarding former Fox News reporter Kiran Chetry: “Anchor Bob Sellers remembered Ailes once calling the control booth. 'I was doing the weekend show with Kiran Chetry. He called up and said, 'Move that damn laptop, I can't see her legs!'”
Ailes: “I Did Not Spend X-Number Of Dollars On A Glass Desk For Her To Wear Pant Suits”
Sherman reports that Ailes “had admiration for [former Fox host Catherine Crier's] legs” and was livid when she appeared on-air wearing pants:
“Be more opinionated,” he told Crier in one meeting. “The guests are there as a foil for you.” He also disagreed with her dress. “He had admiration for her legs,” a senior executive said. In one meeting, Ailes barked, “Tell Catherine I did not spend x-number of dollars on a glass desk for her to wear pant suits.” [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 238]
Elsewhere in the book, discussing Megyn Kelly's famous walk through the newsroom on election night in 2012, Sherman quotes a Fox employee saying, “This is Fox News, so anytime there's a chance to show off Megyn Kelly's legs they'll go for it.”
Ailes: “I Need The Leg. That's Andrea Tantaros”
Sherman wrote of Ailes' inspiration for the afternoon Fox News program The Five:
Years later at Fox News, Ailes would talk fondly about his theatrical experience. “Whenever he can, he gets into the conversation that he produced Hot l Baltimore,” a senior Fox executive said. Creating the Fox News afternoon show The Five, Ailes found his inspiration on the stage. “He said, 'I've always wanted to do an ensemble concept,'” a close friend said. “He said, 'I wanted a Falstaff, and that's Bob Beckel. I need a leading man, and it's Eric Bolling. I need a serious lead and that's Dana Perino. I need a court jester and it's Greg [Gutfeld], and I need the leg. That's Andrea Tantaros.” [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 95-96]
Ailes Made Job Interviewee “Uncomfortable” With “Suggestive Questions” And Flirting
Sherman reports that while interviewing a prospective employee for NBC's Tomorrow, a show he was producing, Ailes “posed romantically suggestive questions and made flirtatious comments” to a woman, who told him it made her feel “uncomfortable”:
Unbeknownst to Harrison, Shelley Ross, a former newspaper reporter turned television producer, experienced an interview in which Ailes posed romantically suggestive questions and made flirtatious comments about her appearance. “This is making me uncomfortable,” Ross recalled telling Ailes. She had worked with [John] Huddy at The Miami Herald and he had recommended her for the Tomorrow job. In a follow-up telephone interview, she told Ailes that she would never date a boss. Ailes's reaction was, according to Ross, “Don't you know I'm single?” When Ross said she was no longer interested in the position, Ailes began apologizing profusely. “This must be middle-aged crazy. I'm so sorry,” he said. “If you come to work for me, you know, we're not going to have any problems.” Ross eventually accepted the offer and had a positive experience working for Ailes. When asked by a reporter in the mid-1990s about the comments he made to Ross in the interview, Ailes called her “crazy” and a “militant feminist.” [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 115]
Ailes Made “Completely Sexist” And “Disgusting” Remark About His Female Employees
In 1994, Ailes appeared on the radio show of shock jock and current Fox Business host Don Imus and made sexual and sexist remarks about two of his female hosts.
Before it was over, Ailes skewered his own employees. He joked that Mary Matalin and Jane Wallace, hosts of CNBC's Equal Time, were like “girls who if you went into a bar around seven, you wouldn't pay a lot of attention, but [they] get to be tens around closing time.”
Jane Wallace didn't appear in any news stories defending Ailes. “He had no right to say something like that,” she later said. “He was our boss. It was completely sexist. It was disgusting. It was outrageous. I thought it was a hideously awful thing to say.” But she, too, didn't make it an issue with Ailes. “I didn't say so out loud, I was working for the guy.” A few weeks later, however, Wallace quit to host her own show on FX, the start-up cable network owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 153]
Ailes Was Upset Future Employee Maria Bartiromo Had “Gained So Much Weight” In 2009
Sherman reports that in 2009 -- around the time Ailes hired Don Imus to try to inject life into the flagging Fox Business Network -- he also considered hiring CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo. Sherman quotes an executive involved in the negotiations saying that Ailes was disappointed Bartiromo had “gained so much weight”:
Around this time, he also considered poaching CNBC star Maria Bartiromo. “Roger passed on her,” one executive involved in the talks said. “He wished she hadn't gained so much weight. He said she went from looking like Sophia Loren to Mamma Leone. He felt he was being used to get more money from CNBC. He told us her agent should give him part of the commission, because the talks were worth another million dollars.” (In November 2013, Bartiromo jumped from CNBC to Fox Business.) [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 388]
Ailes On Fox Host Gretchen Carlson's 1989 Miss America Win: “It Must Not Have Been A Good Year”
Ailes' temper features prominently in the book, with Sherman explaining that Ailes “vented constantly about his talent”:
No one was spared from Ailes's eruptions. He vented constantly about his talent. He complained about The Five co-host Andrea Tantaros, who was a former political consultant. “She's pretty, but did she ever get anyone elected, even a dog catcher?” When Gretchen Carlson's name came up, Ailes pointed out she was once Miss America, then added, “It must not have been a good year.” Her co-host, Brian Kilmeade, was a “soccer coach from Long Island.” Bill O'Reilly was a “book salesman with a TV show.” [The Loudest Voice in the Room, pg 389]