Wednesday, September 07, 2016

In the end, even Rupert Murdoch was made to understand that horror show Roger Ailes had to go


In his article in the Sept. 5 NYM, Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman argued that nobody, least of all Rupert Murdoch, should have been surprised by Big Ratso's behavior at the fake-news empire he was hired to create -- it was a pattern that had kept him from being employed for more than a few years at his previous jobs.

by Ken

On Friday Digby served up a post, "The Ailes chronicles. OMG" thusly:
Pull up a chair and read the most amazing story you will read all year, and that's including the story of the Trump campaign. This is the big one by Gabriel Sherman about the most influential right wing propagandist of the past half century Roger Ailes.
After offering "just a tiny excerpt that she made clear "isn't even the worst of it," she concluded:
Grab a drink or a cup of coffee and read the whole thing. Then ask yourself what it means that this man has been the single most influential right wing strategist and media figure of the past 40 years.

Oh, and yeah, it's important to mention that he's working closely with Donald Trump. Does anyone have a problem with that?
It was hard to resist a gentle suggestion like that, and I didn't. I devoured the piece by New York magazine national affairs editor Gabriel Sherman (author of the 2014 biography The Loudest Voice in the Room, and newly announced as an NBC and MSNBC contributor), "The Revenge of Roger's Angels," which was posted online Friday and appeared in the NYM issue of Sept. 5. (And by the way, also check out his online coverage before and since.)

So Tuesday Fox Noise parent company 21st Century Fox stepped in, announcing settlements with Gretchen Carlson and some others of the women who have told their stories of their own accounts of sexual harassment in Big Ratso's Fox Noise Horror Show and offering compensation -- $20 million in Carlson's case. Fox Noise wasn't actually party to Carlson's lawsuit, which was against Noisemaker-in-chief Ailes, and people around the giant rat bastard make clear that he isn't contributing a red cent to the payoff. The story is all lies, he says. Of course he's lying, unless his brain is so addled that he really doesn't know what reality is.

Then again, why should Big Ratso contribute? According to Sherman, big-time hush-money payoffs to people who knew too much were a regular feature of his Fox Noise reign of horror, and that money always came out of the Fox till, seemingly without a lot of questions asked, in keeping with the free hand, not subject to other corporate oversight, granted Ratso by his lone corporate overseer, corporate emperor Rupert Murdoch, in recognition of the obscene profits Fox Noise contributed to the New Corp. empire.

Says Sherman, "Murdoch knew Ailes was a risky hire when he brought him in to start Fox News in 1996."
Ailes had just been forced out as president of CNBC under circumstances that would foreshadow his problems at Fox.

While his volcanic temper, paranoia, and ruthlessness were part of what made Ailes among the best television producers and political operatives of his generation, those same attributes prevented him from functioning in a corporate environment. He hadn’t lasted in a job for more than a few years. “I have been through about 12 train wrecks in my career. Somehow, I always walk away,” he told an NBC executive.

By all accounts, Ailes had been a management disaster from the moment he arrived at NBC in 1993. But by 1995, things had reached a breaking point. In October of that year, NBC hired the law firm Proskauer Rose to conduct an internal investigation after then–NBC executive David Zaslav told human resources that Ailes had called him a “little fucking Jew prick” in front of a witness.

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.

What NBC considered fireable offenses, Murdoch saw as competitive advantages. He hired Ailes to help achieve a goal that had eluded Murdoch for a decade: busting CNN’s cable news monopoly. Back in the mid-’90s, no one thought it could be done.
Of course Big Ratso did it, by "recogniz[ing] how key wedge issues — race, religion, class — could turn conservative voters into loyal viewers," and "by January 2002, Fox News had surpassed CNN as the highest-rated cable news channel."
But Ailes’s success went beyond ratings: The rise of Fox News provided Murdoch with the political influence in the United States that he already wielded in Australia and the United Kingdom. And by merging news, politics, and entertainment in such an overt way, Ailes was able to personally shape the national conversation and political fortunes as no one ever had before. It is not a stretch to argue that Ailes is largely responsible for, among other things, the selling of the Iraq War, the Swift-boating of John Kerry, the rise of the tea party, the sticking power of a host of Clinton scandals, and the purported illegitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Ailes became untouchable. At News Corp., he behaved just as he had at NBC, but Murdoch tolerated Ailes’s abusiveness because he was pleased with the results.
That "abusiveness" included "us[ing] Fox’s payroll as a patronage tool, doling out jobs to Republican politicians, friends, and political operatives," "position[ing] his former secretaries in key departments where he could make use of their loyalty to him," and in general "rul[ing] Fox News like a surveillance state," encasing himself in an impregnable fortress of secrecy while creating a climate of terror for anyone in the company who might be tempted to act in any way that he might deem disloyal (meaning anything he didn't like), making clear to one and all that anyone who did so that punishment would be severe.

It's pointed out as well that the amount Fox is paying Carlson is half the $40 million the company is supposed to have agreed to pay Big Ratso in July to get him to go the fuck away, though it may be as little as a third if we credit reports that place the Ratman's "Oh Yeah? Just Try and Make Me Go" haul at $60 mil. According to Sherman, as the Carlson lawsuit began exploding, Rupert Murdoch's first instinct was to try to protect his old ratpal, but he was persuaded that the situation was untenable, not least by his sons James and Lachlan, who are wielding increasing influence at Fox and are not fans of the hulk. Among other things, they persuaded their 85-year-old father to have the law firm of Paul Weiss perform the independent investigation that sealed Ratso's doom as more and more present and former women came forward to tell their stories.

When it came to getting Ratso out:
James had wanted Ailes to be fired for cause, according to a person close to the Murdochs, but after reviewing his contract, Rupert decided to pay him $40 million and retain him as an “adviser.” Ailes, in turn, agreed to a multiyear noncompete clause that prevents him from going to a rival network (but, notably, not to a political campaign). Murdoch assured Ailes that, as acting CEO of Fox News, he would protect the channel’s conservative voice. “I’m here, and I’m in charge,” Murdoch told Fox staffers later that afternoon with Lachlan at his side (James had gone to Europe on a business trip).
Now we hear noise that a chunk of Big Ratso's exit haul will be devoted to bullying Gabriel Sherman and New York by hiring lawyer Charles Harder, who pursued and won the suit on behalf of Hulk Hogan which led to the collapse of Gawker. To be sure, Big Ratso knows more than a thing or two about bullying; it's who he is and what he's does. Still, NYM isn't Gawker, and wouldn't you think that everything Gabriel Sherman has written about him, both online and in the magazine, has been vetted by squadrons of lawyers, and considering that the Paul Weiss investigation presumably verified the claims, not just of Carlson, but of the growing number of other women who have gotten the courage to put their histories with Big Ratso and his henchmen and henchwomen on the record (and several others of whom have also received settlements from Fox), it's nice to imagine that the whole thing may blow up in his loathsome face.

One point worth noting is that, effective as the Paul Weiss investigation may have been in establishing Big Ratso's culpability, it managed to confine itself solely to that issue, leaving untouched the larger issues of the culture he created at Fox Noise which made it all possible and how far beyond the big guy the practice of sexual harassment flourished. This omission hardly seems accidental. There's a larger and perhaps more important reckoning that so far at least has been deftly bypassed.

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At 12:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your final point. It's the enablers who kept it going for so many years that horrifies me. And two of them have been elevated to replace Ailes. It's not just one rotten guy - it's a whole system of enabling the harassment.

Kim Kaufman

At 7:04 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks for adding that highly pertinent detail, Kim.

As of when Gabriel Sherman wrote his Sept. 5 NYM article, the 21st Century Fox high command seemed genuinely at a loss what to do about replacing Ratso Roger, and the talk seemed to be that, while wholesale personnel changes didn't seem likely now, with the election season in progress, after the election all bets are off. So it's hard to know whether the new Fox Noise high command is meant to be long-term or interim; either way, it sure doesn't inspire confidence, does it?



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