Roger Ailes is alleged to have sexually harassed women for the last 30 years and more recently while in charge of Fox News. He and 21st Century Fox have agreed to make a $20 Million payment to Gretchen Carlson to settle her sexual harassment lawsuit. Her employment claim was based on Ailes behaviour. To support her claims, she stated she would give recordings of conversations that capture his behaviour.
Beginning in 2014, according to a person familiar with the lawsuit, Carlson brought her iPhone to meetings in Ailes’s office and secretly recorded him saying the kinds of things he’d been saying to her all along. “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. Sometimes problems are easier to solve” that way, he said in one conversation. “I’m sure you can do sweet nothings when you want to,” he said another time.
The recordings appear pivotal to the Company and Ailes agreeing to settle.
Be my “friend” since every media executive has a “friend.”
When her story became public other women came forward. What emerged is that Fox News had settled other lawsuits about Ailes and women. In particular, it was alleged that one of his claims to encourage women to gratify him sexually was to explain needed to be his “friend”. As Kellie Boyle explained, he would ask if the woman would be willing to be his “friend” as other men in the industry had their “friends”.
He said, “That’s the way it works,” and he started naming other women he’d had. He said that’s how all these men in media and politics work — everyone’s got their friend. I said, “Would I have to be friends with anybody else?” And he said, “Well, you might have to give a blow job every once in a while.” I told him I was going to have to think about this. He said, “No, if you don’t do it now, you know that means you won’t.”
The story suggests that the media industry has an institutional problem. If Ailes claim is true and there is no reason to suggest it isn’t then other media executives behave the same way. Moreover, it would also suggest why the media have shied away from reporting, or investigating this story. Ailes knows their “dirty laundry”. If threatened, he could make sure that such information finds its way into the public domain. It is how the industry operates. The information about “friends” gives Ailes tremendous power to harm those proprietors, editors, and executives who might investigate him.
The only difference is that Ailes got caught.
It speaks to the moral cowardice that other media executives have shied away from this story. They claim to act in the public interest, to uphold the best traditions, and they avoid the story. The price is too high. They live in glass houses and they do not want anyone throwing stones. They know that Ailes even out of Fox News remains a powerful and dangerous figure. He can ruin reputations, damage companies, and hurt people with his disclosures. For that reason, they have weighed the balance and decided against anything more than a superficial reporting of the allegations, cases, and evidence. In particular, there will not be a wider investigation across the industry. No matter the country, the media rarely wash their own dirty laundry in public.
The next time you turn on Fox News (or any news outlet) keep this in mind: Ailes may be gone but the culture remains.