Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is there a perp walk in Roger Ailes's future?


On Friday I voice the opinion that people like Roger Ailes just aren't held to account for crimes like the one he now seems clearly to have committed in pressing Judith Regan to lie to federal investigators about her affair with (ugh) Bernie Kerik. I'd love to be proved wrong, but I really don't expect it. I recycled this photo, by the way, from an October 2009 Politico puff piece with the caption: "Friends are encouraging Fox News founder Roger Ailes to run for president in 2012."

by Ken

Howie passed along the report earlier today that Fox Noisemaster Roger Ailes is about to be indicted, presumably for his now-disclosed role as the previously unnamed Newscorp exec who was revealed long ago to have leaned on Judith Regan, then embattled but still in the company's employ as a book publisher, to lie to federal investigators who were vetting Rudy Giuliani crony Bernie Kerik to be the new homeland security secretary. Back in 2004 Rupert Murdoch and his people were still looking at Rudy as their guy for the future, and they didn't want his luster tarnished by squalid revelations that his man Bernie had had an extramarital affair with their gal Judith.

As it turned out, the squalid affair was almost the least of the embarrassments Battling Bernie caused his low-life patron Rudy. But at the time it was possible to imagine that the revelation could dim the luster of Master Rupert's rising star Rudy.

It didn't make a lot of sense to me, this rumor. After all, everybody has known for years about Miss Judith's claim about the pressure from above to lie to the federal investigators, and everybody also knew that there were, er, rules -- not just against lying to the investigators but against encouraging someone else to do so. It's not as if anyone in government has shown any interest in holding the previously unnamed Newscorp to account. The general belief way back when was that she had a tape of a phone conversation to back up her story, and that the existence of that tape had enabled her to wangle a $10.75M settlement to leave the company quietly. Strangely, nothing more was heard from her about this heinous crime of the unnamed Newscorp honcho.

The only thing that's changed is that, as I mentioned Friday, the New York Times's Russ Buettner pieced together information buried in the court papers for an embarrassingly related cause of action involving Miss Judith's settlement with her old Newscorp pals, which identified Ailes as the Newscorp heavy and also confirmed the existence of that embarrassing phone-conversation tape. (Buettner also laid out a compelling case for the ties between Ailes and Rudy which could have led our Roger to apply muscle on his pal's behalf.) What's so embarrassing about the related case is that it's based on allegations from the lawyers who represented Miss Judith in her old action against Newscorp that she stiffed them by firing them with a settlement in hand, thereby cheating them of their share.
The new documents emerged as part of a lawsuit filed in 2008 in which Ms. Regan’s former lawyers in the News Corporation case accused her of firing them on the eve of the settlement to avoid paying them a 25 percent contingency fee. The parties in that case signed an agreement to keep the records confidential, but it does not appear that an order sealing them was ever sent to the clerk at State Supreme Court in Manhattan, and the records were placed in the public case file.

Discussion of the recorded conversation with Mr. Ailes emerges in affidavits from Ms. Regan’s former lawyers who are seeking to document the work they did on her case and for which they argue they deserve the contingency fee. They describe consulting with a forensic audio expert about the tape.

Does it really seem likely that after all these years suddenly an indictment has materialized against Ailes over that?

Well, Salon's Justin Elliott pieced together the way today's story became a story. He doesn't claim to know whether there's any truth to it, but then, it turns out that neither does the guy who, as Elliott put it, dropped the bombshell on his blog this day, economics analyst and TV commentator Barry Ritholtz.
he story, which was based on what an unnamed source told Ritholtz, quickly boomeranged around the Web and Twitter. Several well-read web sites, including Business Insider and Political Wire, picked up the report.

As it turns out, Ritholtz's source for the post was a man he happened to meet and strike up a conversation with at a Barbados airport over the weekend, he told me in an interview this afternoon.

Here's what happened, according to Ritholtz, who just got back from a vacation on the tropical island: He was sitting in the Barbados airport waiting for a plane to arrive and he struck up a conversation with an older man sitting next to him.

"We started chatting and next thing I know, we're waiting to leave the gate, his phone rings and he tells his wife, 'yeah Ailes just canceled the event,' Ritholtz says, describing the man as "obviously annoyed and frustrated."

The man runs an annual event in March at which Ailes was scheduled to speak, according to Ritholtz, who declined to specify the event. When he asked the man why Ailes canceled, the man said Ailes was about to be indicted. He describes the man, who he would not name, as an "Upper East Side Democrat."

Ritholtz says that everyone assumed any indictment would be related to a matter reported on by the New York Times last week: that Ailes allegedly told News Corp. executive Judith Regan to lie to federal investigators who were vetting Bernie Kerik, the New York police commissioner who was nominated to be the first Secretary of Homeland Security. Regan had had an affair with Kerik at a lovenest near Ground Zero; Ailes allegedly wanted to protect the political ambitions of Kerik's boss, Rudy Giuliani. The allegations emerged in a civil lawsuit filed by Regan -- who claimed that she had a phone recording of Ailes talking about the matter -- against News Corp. Much about the episode is still unclear because Regan was paid $10 million to settle the suit, and she signed a confidentiality agreement.

It's not entirely clear what Ailes would be charged with in connection with the episode. I've reached out to a Fox spokesperson for a response to all this, and I will update this post if I hear back.

Ritholtz, for his part, describes his attitude in writing the post as "passing along what an informed person had said."

"If it's true we'll find out. If it's not, no big deal," he says. "We'll see where this goes."

Well, yes, I guess we'll see. My guess is that it takes a whole lot more than this to bring down a lifelong thug like Ailes. In fact, this all has the ring of really bad -- and unfunny -- comedy, like maybe a really bad Woody Allen movie.

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