Former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes used “portions of the Fox budget” to “hire consultants, political operatives, and private detectives” to conduct “surveillance campaigns” against perceived enemies, including journalists critical of Fox and Ailes, according to a report from New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman.
Parent company 21st Century Fox announced in July that Ailes would be resigning following allegations of sexual harassment from former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson and at least 25 other women. Subsequent reports have indicated Ailes was only part of a decades-long culture of sexual harassment at Fox.
Sherman reported that Ailes used revenue from Fox’s budget to hire consultants, operatives, and detectives that “reported only to him” and would work in a special “Black Room” to conduct operations “against people he targeted both inside and outside the company.” Sherman wrote that “Targets of the campaigns included journalists” such as Sherman himself and reporters from Gawker. He also wrote that multiple Fox employees participated in these operations, including Fox contributor and Ailes lawyer Peter Johnson Jr. and Fox contributor Bo Diehl, and that Fox’s CFO “approved budget expenditures throughout this period,” along with Fox’s general counsel.
Sherman reported in his 2014 Ailes biography that Ailes had masterminded the creation of a blog called "The Cable Game” which was used to attack Fox rivals and critics and was authored in part by Fox contributor Jim Pinkerton.
From the August 7 article:
But with Ailes gone, Fox executives are now looking closely at how Ailes spent Fox money. And what they are discovering is that, beyond the sexual harassment claims, Ailes was also able to use portions of the Fox budget to hire consultants, political operatives, and private detectives that reported only to him, according to a senior Fox source. Last week, according to the source, Fox News dismissed five consultants whom Ailes had hired to do work that was more about advancing his own agenda than Fox’s. One of the consultants, Bert Solivan, ran negative PR campaigns against Ailes’s personal and political enemies out of Fox News headquarters, a source said.
According to one highly-placed source, Solivan worked out of what Fox insiders called “the Black Room,” an operation Ailes established around 2011 to conduct PR and surveillance campaigns against people he targeted both inside and outside the company. The “Black Room” was located on the 14th floor of the News Corp building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas, a quiet part of the office that housed Fox News Latino and some marketing and promotions employees. Fox employees Ken LaCorte and Jim Pinkerton, veteran political operatives who’ve worked with Ailes since the 1980s, also worked with Solivan, the source said, adding that Ailes’s personal lawyer, and Fox contributor, Peter Johnson Jr. advised the team. (In an email, Peter Johnson denied any involvement in “Black Room” campaigns, saying, “The only online campaign I’m aware of is yours attempting to create a truth from a fiction with this account.”)
Targets of the campaigns included journalists John Cook and Hamilton Nolan, who have aggressively covered Ailes for Gawker. According to one source, private detectives followed Cook around his Brooklyn neighborhood and Fox operatives prepared a report on him with information they intended to leak to blogs. (According to the source, one proposed line of attack claimed that Cook — whose wife, Slate news director Allison Benedikt, is Jewish — was anti-Semitic.)
I was also the target of an operation, a highly-placed source told me: In 2012, while I was researching a biography of Ailes, Fox operatives set up web pages to attack my reputation, and Fox funds paid for Google search ads against my name that linked to the sites. One source also said private investigators employed by Fox contributor Bo Dietl were instructed to follow me and my wife.
The allegations about Ailes’s questionable use of Fox resources raise the issue of how much other high-ranking officials knew about his activities. Fox News CFO Mark Kranz, for instance, approved budget expenditures throughout this period, and general counsel Dianne Brandi approved contracts. Through a spokesperson, both Kranz and Brandi said they had no knowledge of expenditures for surveillance and online attacks.