Fox News’ corporate image continues to unravel in public view as shocking stories tumble out about the hostile workplace environment that former CEO Roger Ailes allegedly cultivated for decades.
The claims first made by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who detailed the harassing office culture in her sexual harassment lawsuit filed July 6 (Ailes: “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”), have now been joined by the increasingly disturbing and chilling claims being made by additional women against Ailes.
As outside attorneys finish up their investigation into claims of harassment inside Fox News, the picture being painted of the cable news channel is one where oversight was nonexistent; in fact, senior executives appear to have helped Ailes cover up his routine acts of lechery.
During July, we learned that women claimed men who worked in positions of power at Fox News (namely Ailes, but not exclusively) groped women, kissed women against their will, made wildly inappropriate sexual comments (“Are you wearing any panties? I wish you weren't”), asked about female employees’ sex lives, pressured younger women to date older men in the office, made “jokes” about liking having women on their knees, promised promotions in exchange for sex, and cut short careers of women who took offense.
And no, it’s not plausible that Fox News executives didn’t know about this kind of rampant, illegal, workplace behavior. Fox News general counsel Dianne Brandi and Ailes’ deputy Bill Shine have been accused of trying to cover up their former boss’ behavior.
But surprise! That demeaning view of women has also been a cornerstone of Fox News’ programming for many, many years. The sexist themes relentlessly promulgated by Fox didn’t spring from a vacuum. They sprang from inside Roger Ailes’ corner office.
Meaning, Fox News’ signature Neanderthal view of women came from the top, just like Fox News’ ugly race-baiting and Islamophobia came from the top. For decades, Ailes has helped engineer hateful programming by setting the tone himself. Now, we’re finding that not only did Ailes set a sexist tone inside the newsroom and inside executive offices, he’s accused of truly appalling behavior with female employees.
Last week, based on allegations lodged by current and former Fox News employees, including those by Carlson, I likened the Fox News culture to Mad Men and its television portrayal of a sexist 1960s office environment where women were mostly treated as subservient playthings.
But following the chilling New York story about Laurie Luhn and her alleged ordeal with Ailes, the Mad Men comparison no longer does justice to the unnerving, first-hand portrayal of Fox News painted by a former longtime employee. We’ve moved beyond a deplorable harassing and sexist culture and entered something far darker.
“Former Fox News Booker Says She Was Sexually Harassed and ‘Psychologically Tortured’ by Roger Ailes for More Than 20 Years.”
That was the shocking headline from the New York magazine article by Gabriel Sherman late last week. The piece, which detailed Luhn’s on-the-record retelling of her workplace torment, further illustrated Ailes’ allegedly predatory behavior and how the network reportedly helped cover it up. “By 2006, Luhn said, Ailes was regularly demanding phone sex in the office.”
Luhn put on the black garter and stockings she said Ailes had instructed her to buy; he called it her uniform. Ailes sat on a couch. “Go over there. Dance for me,” she recalled him saying. She hesitated. “Laurie, if you're gonna be my girl, my eyes and ears, if you are going to be someone I can depend on in Washington, my spy, come on, dance for me,” he said, according to her account. When she started dancing, Ailes got out a video camera. Luhn didn’t want to be filmed, she said, but Ailes was insistent: “I am gonna need you to do better than that.”
On Twitter, Sherman then amplified his findings:
It wasn't just that Ailes preyed on Fox women. He also encouraged Fox women to be sexually involved with his friends.
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) July 30, 2016
In at least one instance, according to sources, he punished a young Fox anchor's career when she didn't want to go out with his older friend
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) July 30, 2016
The CEO of a global news corporation was paying an employee to have phone sex with him? Demanding she engage in “sadomasochistic sex with another woman while he watched”? Setting her up with a no-show job, and then pushing her out the door with a $3.15 million severance deal that doubled as hush money?
It’s insane. Or as New York writer Jonathan Chait tweeted after reading the story, “I literally feel ill.”
It’s hard to find the right words to describe the Fox work environment now being detailed in the press. But here’s a key point: That boys club misogyny and that corroded brand of corporate sexism has doubled as a cornerstone for Fox’s news programming since Ailes helped found the channel two decades ago.
Or recall that Eric Bolling once announced he was “laughing” at the idea “anything a guy can do, a woman can do better.” That Keith Ablow insisted “men should be able to veto women’s abortions.” That Steve Doocy longed for the days when it was okay to make date rape jokes. (In her suit against Ailes, Carlson also alleges that Doocy “created a hostile work environment by regularly treating her in a sexist and condescending way.” ) And Brian Kilmeade remarked, “women are everywhere. We’re letting them play golf and tennis now.” (Carlson walked off the set after that Kilmeade comment.)
Reacting to the unsettling Sherman revelations about how Ailes allegedly lorded his power over women at Fox News and his subordinates reportedly joined in, one follower of Sherman’s responded on Twitter, “They are who we thought they were.”