Gabriel Sherman reports: It took 15 days to end the mighty 20-year reign of Roger Ailes at Fox News, one of the most storied runs in media and political history. Ailes built not just a conservative cable news channel but something like a fourth branch of government; a propaganda arm for the GOP; an organization that determined Republican presidential candidates, sold wars, and decided the issues of the day for 2 million viewers. That the place turned out to be rife with grotesque abuses of power has left even its liberal critics stunned. More than two dozen women have come forward to accuse Ailes of sexual harassment, and what they have exposed is both a culture of misogyny and one of corruption and surveillance, smear campaigns and hush money, with implications reaching far wider than one disturbed man at the top.
It began, of course, with a lawsuit. Of all the people who might have brought down Ailes, the former Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson was among the least likely. A 50-year-old former Miss America, she was the archetypal Fox anchor: blonde, right-wing, proudly anti-intellectual. A memorable Daily Show clip showed Carlson saying she needed to Google the words czar and ignoramus. But television is a deceptive medium. Off-camera, Carlson is a Stanford- and Oxford-educated feminist who chafed at the culture of Fox News. When Ailes made harassing comments to her about her legs and suggested she wear tight-fitting outfits after she joined the network in 2005, she tried to ignore him. But eventually he pushed her too far. When Carlson complained to her supervisor in 2009 about her co-host Steve Doocy, who she said condescended to her on and off the air, Ailes responded that she was “a man hater” and a “killer” who “needed to get along with the boys.” After this conversation, Carlson says, her role on the show diminished. In September 2013, Ailes demoted her from the morning show Fox & Friends to the lower-rated 2 p.m. time slot.
Carlson knew her situation was far from unique: It was common knowledge at Fox that Ailes frequently made inappropriate comments to women in private meetings and asked them to twirl around so he could examine their figures; and there were persistent rumors that Ailes propositioned female employees for sexual favors. The culture of fear at Fox was such that no one would dare come forward. Ailes was notoriously paranoid and secretive — he built a multiroom security bunker under his home and kept a gun in his Fox office, according to Vanity Fair — and he demanded absolute loyalty from those who worked for him. He was known for monitoring employee emails and phone conversations and hiring private investigators. “Watch out for the enemy within,” he told Fox’s staff during one companywide meeting. [Continue reading…]
The Atlantic reports: October 7, 2016, will be the 20th birthday of the Fox News Channel, and at the moment, the network is experiencing the soap-operatic highs and lows typical of any teenager on television. In many ways, the summer of 2016 may go down in Fox News history as the company’s nadir. Its founder and leader Roger Ailes has been dishonorably dispatched, the remaining executives are dealing with a flurry of sexual harassment lawsuits, and one of its most public faces, Sean Hannity, has ignominiously remodeled himself as a gutless Trump whisperer.
And yet Fox News’ fortunes are ascendant, at least in the most quantifiable sense. The network’s annual profit in 2015 soared by about 20 percent. For the first time ever, Fox News has been the most-watched cable network among both primetime and daytime viewers for several months, with a larger audience than its nominal rivals, CNN and MSNBC, combined. Led by “The O’Reilly Factor,” Fox News doesn’t just have the best-rated news show on cable television; according to The Wrap, it has the 13 best-rated news shows on cable television.
With Ailes out, the future of the network is in the hands of the younger Murdochs, who take the helm of a network that seems to be both drowning and soaring, at a time when television audiences are fleeing the big screen of the living room for other devices. The dilemma: Does Fox change course to attract a broader audience in a period of fragmented viewership, or rededicate itself to the formula of hyperpartisan infotainment that made it the reigning emperor of cable? [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: During major inflection points in Donald J. Trump’s campaign, the advisers, family members and friends who make up his kitchen cabinet burn up their email accounts and phone lines gaming out how to get his candidacy on track (and what counsel he might go along with).
But one person in the mix brings more than just his political advice. He also happens to control an hour of prime time on the Fox News Channel.
That person is Sean Hannity.
Mr. Hannity uses his show on the nation’s most-watched cable news network to blare Mr. Trump’s message relentlessly — giving Mr. Trump the kind of promotional television exposure even a billionaire can’t afford for long.
But Mr. Hannity is not only Mr. Trump’s biggest media booster; he also veers into the role of adviser. Several people I’ve spoken with over the last couple of weeks said Mr. Hannity had for months peppered Mr. Trump, his family members and advisers with suggestions on strategy and messaging.
So involved is Mr. Hannity that three separate denizens of the hall of mirrors that is Trump World told me they believed Mr. Hannity was behaving as if he wanted a role in a possible Trump administration — something he denied to me as laughable and contractually prohibitive in an interview on Friday.
But he did not dispute that he lends his thoughts to Mr. Trump and others in his close orbit whom Mr. Hannity has known for years.
“Do I talk to my friend who I’ve known for years and speak my mind? I can’t not speak my mind,’’ he said.
But, Mr. Hannity said, “I don’t say anything privately that I don’t say publicly.’’ And, he acknowledged, it’s unclear how far his advice goes with Mr. Trump, given that “nobody controls him.”
Mr. Hannity is unapologetic about his aim. “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States.” After all, he says, “I never claimed to be a journalist.” [Continue reading…]
Trump stands by Roger Ailes, casting doubt on motives of women accusing Fox chief of sexual harassment
As allegations against his old friend piled up, Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd on July 24 that, “Some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them…And when they write books….and say wonderful things about him….[N]ow, all of a sudden, they’re saying these horrible things about him.”
Without passing judgment about the specific allegations, which are currently under investigation by 21st Century Fox, one should be able to accept that a woman could both have been promoted by a boss and harassed by him. Women are often forced to maintain good relations with men who abuse them precisely because those men have power.
When I mentioned this to Trump in a phone interview last Tuesday, he doubled down on his retrograde take. “There was quite a bit of fabulous things said [about Ailes by Gretchen Carlson],” he told me. “It would be easier for me and more politically correct for me to say you are right. But you would think she wouldn’t say those things.”
I pointed out that it wasn’t just Carlson who had made allegations. “I didn’t know it was more than just her,” Trump told me, even though his comments to Chuck Todd referred to women, plural.
What if someone had treated Ivanka in the way Ailes allegedly behaved?
His reply was startling, even by Trumpian standards. “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case,” he said. [Continue reading…]
Media Matters reports: When it comes to covering climate change, it’s not just The Wall Street Journal’s editorial section that is problematic in the Rupert Murdoch era — a new study shows the paper’s newsroom has misinformed readers on the issue, too.
A new joint study from researchers at Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oslo appearing in the journal Public Understanding of Science (PUS) found major differences between the climate change reporting of The Wall Street Journal and other major U.S. newspapers. The July 30 study, titled “Polarizing news? Representations of threat and efficacy in leading US newspapers’ coverage of climate change,” examined non-opinion-based climate change articles in The Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post from 2006 to 2011.
The study found some disturbing trends in The Wall Street Journal’s news reporting on climate change, including that the Journal was less likely than the other newspapers to discuss the threats or impacts of climate change and more likely to frame climate action as ineffective or even harmful. The authors of the study concluded that, given the Journal’s conservative readership, the negative nature of its climate reporting “could exacerbate ideological polarization on climate change.” [Continue reading…]
Carl Bernstein writes: So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch’s ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America’s democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.
In the American instance, Murdoch’s goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.
Thus in the spring of 2011 – less than 10 weeks before Murdoch’s centrality to the hacking and politician-buying scandal enveloping his British newspapers was definitively revealed – Fox News’ inventor and president, Roger Ailes, dispatched an emissary to Afghanistan to urge Petraeus to turn down President Obama’s expected offer to become CIA director and, instead, run for the Republican nomination for president, with promises of being bankrolled by Murdoch. Ailes himself would resign as president of Fox News and run the campaign, according to the conversation between Petraeus and the emissary, K T McFarland, a Fox News on-air defense “analyst” and former spear carrier for national security principals in three Republican administrations.
All this was revealed in a tape recording of Petraeus’s meeting with McFarland obtained by Bob Woodward, whose account of their discussion, accompanied online by audio of the tape, was published in the Washington Post – distressingly, in its style section, and not on page one, where it belonged – and, under the style logo, online on December 3.
Indeed, almost as dismaying as Ailes’ and Murdoch’s disdain for an independent and truly free and honest press, and as remarkable as the obsequious eagerness of their messenger to convey their extraordinary presidential draft and promise of on-air Fox support to Petraeus, has been the ho-hum response to the story by the American press and the country’s political establishment, whether out of fear of Murdoch, Ailes and Fox – or, perhaps, lack of surprise at Murdoch’s, Ailes’ and Fox’s contempt for decent journalistic values or a transparent electoral process.
The tone of the media’s reaction was set from the beginning by the Post’s own tin-eared treatment of this huge story: relegating it, like any other juicy tidbit of inside-the-beltway media gossip, to the section of the newspaper and its website that focuses on entertainment, gossip, cultural and personality-driven news, instead of the front page.
“Bob had a great scoop, a buzzy media story that made it perfect for Style. It didn’t have the broader import that would justify A1,” Liz Spayd, the Post’s managing editor, told Politico when asked why the story appeared in the style section.
Buzzy media story? Lacking the “broader import” of a front-page story? One cannot imagine such a failure of news judgment among any of Spayd’s modern predecessors as managing editors of the Post, especially in the clear light of the next day and with a tape recording – of the highest audio quality – in hand.
“Tell [Ailes] if I ever ran,” Petraeus announces on the crystal-clear digital recording and then laughs, “but I won’t … but if I ever ran, I’d take him up on his offer. … He said he would quit Fox … and bankroll it.”
McFarland clarified the terms: “The big boss is bankrolling it. Roger’s going to run it. And the rest of us are going to be your in-house” – thereby confirming what Fox New critics have consistently maintained about the network’s faux-news agenda and its built-in ideological bias. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Sir John Major has claimed Rupert Murdoch demanded his government change its policy on Europe or his papers would oppose him at the 1997 general election.
The former Conservative prime minister told the Leveson inquiry on Tuesday that Murdoch delivered the ultimatum at a private meeting with the News Corporation founder on 2 February 1997, three months before the election in which the Tories lost heavily to New Labour.
Major’s claim appears to contradict Murdoch’s own evidence to the inquiry. Murdoch told Leveson on 25 April that “I have never asked a prime minister for anything.”
In his witness statement to the inquiry Major said he assumed Murdoch meant that “he has never asked for anything that would benefit him personally or his company”. “In my very limited contact with Mr Murdoch his statement is on a strict interpretation literally true,” he added.
“Certainly he never asked for anything directly from me but he was not averse to pressing for policy changes. In the runup to the 1997 general election in my third and last meeting with him on 2 February 1997 he made it clear that he disliked my European policies which he wished me to change.
“If not, his papers could not and would not support the Conservative government. So far as I recall he made no mention of editorial independence but referred to all his papers as ‘we’.
“Both Mr Murdoch and I kept our word. I made no change in policy and Mr Murdoch’s titles did indeed oppose the Conservative party. It came as no surprise to me when soon after our meeting the Sun newspaper announced its support for Labour.”
The Guardian reports: Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, is to be charged over allegations that she tried to conceal evidence from detectives investigating phone hacking and alleged bribes to public officials.
Brooks, one of the most high-profile figures in the newspaper industry, will be charged later on Tuesday with three counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in July last year at the height of the police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced.
She is accused of conspiring with others, including her husband, Charlie Brooks, the racehorse trainer and friend of the prime minister, and her personal assistant, to conceal material from detectives.
Brooks and her husband were informed of the charging decision – the first since the start of the Operation Weeting phone hacking investigation last January – when they answered their bail at a police station in London this morning.
They are among six individuals from News International, along with the company’s head of security, Mark Hanna, to be charged over allegations that they removed material, documents and computers to hide them from officers investigating phone hacking. The charge is a serious one which carries a maximum penalty of life, although the average term served in prison is 10 months.
In a statement Brooks and her husband – who are both close to David Cameron – condemned the decision made by senior lawyers and overseen by Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions.
The Guardian reports: Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire is facing a challenge on a new front in the billowing phone-hacking scandal after a powerful US Senate committee opened direct contact with British investigators in an attempt to find out whether News Corporation has broken American laws.
Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, has written to Lord Justice Leveson, who leads the British judicial inquiry into media ethics, asking if he has uncovered any evidence relating questionable practices in the US.
“I would like to know whether any of the evidence you are reviewing suggests that these unethical and sometimes illegal business practices occurred in the United States or involved US citizens,” Rockefeller writes in a letter released on Wednesday.
The development adds to the potential dangers facing News Corp, a publicly-traded company with its headquarters in New York. Rockefeller has taken a close interest in the unfolding phone-hacking saga, but it is the first time that a Senate committee member has acted in his official capacity.
The Associated Press reports: News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch must take responsibility for serious failings that caused Britain’s tabloid phone hacking scandal, lawmakers said Tuesday in a scathing report — as a narrow majority also insisted the tycoon was unfit to lead his global media empire.
In a report on the malpractice at Murdoch’s now shuttered News of The World tabloid, legislators accused Murdoch and his son James of overseeing a corporate culture that sought “to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing.”
Parliament’s cross-party Culture, Media and Sport committee unanimously agreed that three key News International executives had misled Parliament by offering false accounts of their knowledge of the extent of phone hacking — a rare and serious censure that can see offenders hauled before Parliament to make a personal apology.
The panel said the House of Commons would decide on the punishment meted out to the three executives: New York Daily News editor Colin Myler, a former News of The World editor; the British tabloid’s longtime lawyer Tom Crone and Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and former board member of The Associated Press.
Members of the panel said Rupert Murdoch, 81, had insisted he was unaware that hacking was widespread at the News of The World, blaming his staff for keeping him in the dark. That explanation was not accepted.
The legislators said if that was true, “he turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies.”
In a ruling opposed by 4 Conservative Party members of the 11-member committee, the panel cast serious doubt on Murdoch’s credentials as an executive.
“We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company,” the report said.
The judgment on Murdoch implies that News Corp., which he heads, is also not fit to control British Sky Broadcasting, in which the company has a controlling stake of 39 percent.
Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, said it is reading the report with interest.
“Ofcom has a duty … to be satisfied that any person holding a broadcasting license is, and remains, fit and proper to do so,” the statement read. “Ofcom is continuing to assess the evidence.”
David Leigh writes: The wagons of the Murdoch media empire have long been circled protectively around one man, as the hacking scandal has raged on. Many other Murdoch myrmidons have been arrested, sacked, or turned out into the snow in his father’s brutal closure of the News of the World: but not him.
James Murdoch’s luck is still holding, in one way. The explosive news this week was that new evidence knocks a hole in his “I knew little” defence. But it failed to emerge in time to affect the recent shareholder revolt at BSkyB. For some reason, the News International group of executives and lawyers who are supposedly rooting out all evidence of malpractice, were a fraction slow in discovering this smouldering email chain and turning it over to a Commons committee. Had they been quicker, the outcome at Sky might have been different.
James’s luck has held in another way too. Some public attention has been distracted by the timing of Scotland Yard’s announcement that the murdered Milly Dowler’s voicemails were indeed hacked by exploitative NI journalists, but probably not additionally deleted on purpose. The NI attack dogs have been set to bay at maximum diversionary volume, even trying to accuse the Guardian, which originally reported the deletions, of deliberately “sexing up” their disclosures. Tellingly, even this week NI refuses to confirm or deny whether its journalists did delete Milly’s voice messages.
But in a more fundamental sense, James’s luck has finally run out. The publication of the newly discovered emails between him and the then editor of the News of the World, documents not only the mechanism of a big cover-up but also, crucially, the way that James has repeatedly shifted his story and sought to blame others. It is not a good look for the would-be captain of a mighty international corporation.