The sharks are circling Fox News, much to the delight of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, David Brock, George Soros, and most Democrats. If they get their bite on Fox, it will be the American people who will be bitten — that is, we will be the losers, because we will lose the one TV-news voice that gives the right a fair shake.
Of course, there’s no news in the fact that the left hates Fox: Its foes have desperately sought to destroy Ailes and the news channel since its inception back in 1996. The new question, one that will soon enough be answered, is whether Ailes has any enemies high up inside the parent company, 21st Century Fox.
In the meantime, the bombshell news is that, on July 6, former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual-harassment suit against Ailes. But in fact, as we shall see, Carlson is not the real shark because her “bombshell” is, in fact, a total dud.
Fox and Ailes have vehemently denied her allegations. As Ailes responded immediately:
Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false. This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup. When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit. Ironically, FOX News provided her with more on-air opportunities over her 11 year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book. This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.
Indeed, Carlson seems to have no true case. After 11 years at the network — during which time Fox tolerated a 2012 incident in which she got up and walked off the set of Fox & Friends, an absolute no-no in the TV biz — Carlson finally was let go in June. And so, BOOM! in July, she files a lawsuit, in which she also named, but did not formally accuse, her former co-anchor, the always likable Steve Doocy.
We can start our review of the Carlson case by noting that she was an avowed fan of Ailes for most of her time at Fox. As Mediate headlined about her 2015 memoir Getting Real, “Gretchen Carlson Sure Had Nice Things to Say About Roger Ailes In Her Book.” She wrote then:
Roger Ailes, the most accessible boss I’ve ever worked for … saw FOX as a big family, and he cared about everything we did.
Yet now that Carlson is no longer a Fox employee, her tone has changed dramatically. In her filing, she alleges that back on September 19, 2015, Ailes propositioned her, offering to keep her on the job at Fox if she would have a sexual relationship with him.
Such she-said-he-said allegations are virtually impossible to prove or disprove, and yet Carlson must explain why, on September 21, just two days after the supposed incident, she wrote to Ailes, “I’d love to stay at Fox.” To put it mildly, this is not the language of someone who was mortally offended by an unwanted sexual advance.
For its part, Fox has summoned up a cornucopia of evidence to support its staunch defense. Lawnewz, for example, has a great scoop, in the form of a September 23, 2015, memo from Ailes — that is, four days after the purported confrontation, to the #2 at Fox, Bill Shine, suggesting that perhaps Carlson should get “another chance.” Once again, on Ailes’s part, this is not the language of someone who wishes to take vengeance on an employee who rejected his sexual advances. Interestingly, Ailes included no pressure in the memo, and Shine, the head of programming for the network, seems to have taken no substantive action that would have saved Carlson’s career at Fox. In other words, her fate was just an ordinary piece of business in the daily life of a busy company.
Yet Carlson kept at it, still hoping to stay. In an October 9 memo to Ailes, she volunteered herself as a fill-in for other hosts on the network: “I hope you’ll reconsider me filling in for Greta or Megyn. Last [night] Sandra Smith filled in for MK. Why not me?” And she signed the note with a smiley face.
Then, on October 27, she wrote to Ailes announcing that she would be appearing before Congress and added pompously, “I have a waiting list for high level staff to come see me which is unprecedented. Thanks as always for your support.”
Finally, on November 11, Carlson sent Ailes a note after the Fox Business Network hosted the Republican debate, writing hopefully:
Maybe for the next debate you could incorporate my experience, smarts & wit — on stage — or doing the FoxNews.com analysis after. I know I wouldn’t let you down.
Once again, this is not exactly the voice of someone who felt aggrieved by Ailes.
In the meantime, other women at Fox have dismissed Carlson’s charge. Greta Van Susteren, widely thought of as a closet liberal, has said that she has seen nothing in her 15 years at Fox to indicate any Ailes hanky-panky. And another host, Jeannine Pirro, labeled Carlson’s lawsuit “absurd.”
And then there’s Kiran Chetry. She was an on-air employee of Fox for seven years, 2000 to 2007, and it’s fair to say that she is very attractive. And yet here’s what she wrote, bravely, in the liberal-left Huffington Post:
Over the years at Fox, I met with Roger Ailes one-on-one many times and never once did Roger ever make me feel uncomfortable or put forth any sexual advances.
I can’t speak for Gretchen since I wasn’t in the room obviously but I will tell you that I never felt uncomfortable around Roger Ailes.
To her great credit, Chetry felt it was important to speak out, because, as she said, it was a matter of basic fairness. If the accuser has rights, so does the accused. And yet, she added, the accused is usually the loser in the court of public opinion:
The flip-side is whenever someone is accused of sexually harassing or intimidating someone who works under them, they are as good as dead reputation-wise.
Okay, so Carlson has no case. She’s not a dangerous shark at all; she’s more like a tuna fish, flopping around on the deck of a boat.
So who are the real sharks? These four:
First, Carlson has reportedly decided to subpoena Judith Regan, a former official at the News Corporation, who was fired from its HarperCollins publishing division back in 2007 after she sought to publish a scurrilous book by O.J. Simpson, provocatively titled, If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer. (Interestingly, long before her termination from the company, she was reportedly banned from the Fox green room for abusing the makeup artists.)
Yet of course, as we have all learned, no good deed goes unpunished. And so we come to the second shark — and this one could be real, chomping into Fox, if not Ailes himself. Completely independently from the Carlson action, three female makeup artists have filed a separate sex-discrimination suit against Fox — although not against Ailes. Their story is a soap opera of a kind, in which they accuse a white male makeup artist of lording it over them — and further assert that the man had the advantage because he had a special relationship with Fox’s Judge Andrew Napolitano. Oy!
Third, there’s the Murdoch family. The grand patriarch, Rupert Murdoch, himself mostly a conservative — he supported, for example, Brexit — is, by all accounts, a friend and fan of Ailes. After all, back in 1996, the two men launched the Fox News Channel together, and over the last two decades, they have built a news phenomenon that has changed American journalism for the better and, by the way, that generates at least a billion dollars a year in profits for Murdoch’s company (which has since been divided into two: the News Corporation and 21st Century Fox).
Yet Rupert Murdoch is 84 years old. For the most part, he has turned over the reins of his company to his two sons, Lachlan, 43, and James, 41. And a third child, Elisabeth, 47, a TV veteran, is thought to be waiting in the wings for her return engagement.
So the question is: What do the Murdoch children think of Ailes? After all, Rupert won’t be around forever, even if his mother did live to be 102. The Kremlinology of the Murdoch family is notoriously opaque, but as we know, rich kids have a way of being a lot more liberal than their tycoon fathers. Indeed, as a further clue, back in 2010, Elisabeth’s then-husband, Matthew Freud, went on the record with this caustic comment abut Ailes:
I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.
Once again, it’s worth noting that Freud is no longer part of the family and, in particular, that Rupert was known to dislike Freud intensely. So today, we’re still left to wonder about the true state of play inside the Murdoch family.
And so we come to the fourth shark, one that could be the most deadly: an outside law firm, as yet unnamed, tasked with “investigating” the Carlson case. As the 21st Century Fox news release put it:
The Company has seen the allegations against Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy. We take these matters seriously. While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter.
So what does that mean? The company says that Ailes has performed “brilliantly,” but at the same time, that it “takes these matters seriously.” So is that good or bad? There’s no way to know. The “review” could just be that, which would go over the same dubious and doubtful information supplied by Carlson, which means that the investigation would be concluded quickly and with no ill effect on Ailes or Doocy. Or, it could take on the quality of a witch-hunt, especially if it branches out into, for example, the makeup artists’ allegations. As we have seen, those latter charges have nothing to do with Ailes, but in the hands of Ailes’s many enemies, whipped up by the New York City media, it could all become a toxic witches’ brew of poisonous and career-ending slander.
It seems fair to conclude that Rupert Murdoch himself will always come to Ailes’s defense, but we don’t know about his children. They could, in fact, make a disastrous decision that would cost them plenty.
Indeed, in one notorious case, the son of a great corporate founder made a supremely self-destructive decision:
Back in 1978, Henry Ford II fired Lee Iacocca. Iacocca had been a loyal employee of Ford for 30 years, as well as a superstar employee for 15 years since he developed the Mustang, Ford’s hottest car in a generation. But, as Henry II said to Iacocca, “Sometimes you just don’t like somebody.” And so Iacocca walked the plank. More precisely, he walked across the street to Chrysler, where he led the company to great success in the 80s.
So Henry Ford II lost twice: First, he lost the talents of a fine executive, and second, one of his rivals gained the talents of that fine executive. Nice work, Henry II! But of course, if you own the company, you are immune from criticism, at least internally.
So we come back to Ailes. Will the Murdoch children, perhaps in league with some militant-feminist legal wrecking crew, “Iacocca-ize” him?
If so, as with Henry Ford II four decades ago, they would be making a huge mistake. After all, while Ailes is 76, he is a young 76, and he surely has another genius startup in him. That is, like Iacocca, he could walk across the street and join a new media company; investors — even liberals — would be eager to invest.
In the short run, it would be a messy situation if Ailes left, as he potentially could pull together a whole new outfit out of the wreckage of Fox. Indeed, those of us with long memories recall that when Ailes left CNBC in 1995 to start Fox, he took along with him nearly 100 top employees — and CNBC never recovered.
For his part, Rupert remembers that well. The question is, do his children remember? Or do they even care?