New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman, whose coverage of the Ailes scandal has been exceptional, reported this morning that former Fox News chief Roger Ailes hired a private investigator to illegally obtain the phone records of journalists who wrote about him.
Ailes allegedly sought the phone records of journalists because he wanted to know who they were talking to at Fox News, and his list of targets included at least one former employee of Media Matters.
Media Matters is now calling for an investigation.
Media Matters responded in a statement on Friday: “From what we witnessed with Rupert Murdoch and News Corp’s prior phone hacking scandal, its critical for an immediate investigation of Roger Ailes and any other current or former Fox News employees who may have been involved in this illegal practice.”
“Roger Ailes and Fox News broke the law by hacking into the phone records of Media Matters employees. Anyone involved in the illegal hacking should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and we are considering all legal options.”
New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman did not specify how many journalists Ailes targeted, perhaps because its unknown at this time, but I think we can safely assume it was far more than just one. The previous News Corp phone hacking scandal centered in the UK eventually ensnared hundreds of victims.
Sherman’s report details how the Murdochs tolerated the behavior of Roger Ailes because the profits at Fox News were so good.
I recommend reading Sherman’s report in full, but here’s a key passage:
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. “I’m looking forward to squishing Rupert like a bug,” CNN founder Ted Turner boasted at an industry conference. But Ailes recognized how key wedge issues — race, religion, class — could turn conservative voters into loyal viewers. 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.
Ailes was untouchable up until the point that women at Fox News had enough and took matters into their own hands because Fox and News Corp executives didn’t give a shit about them. No one cared as long as the ratings and profits continued to flow.
Ailes converted conservative viewers into loyal, die-hard wingnuts by feeding them a constant stream of paranoia and fear. He did enormous, lasting damage to our political discourse, the government itself, and the lives of countless women who worked for him. But he beat CNN in the ratings and that’s all Rupert Murdoch cared about.
As you know, Roger Ailes is now one of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s closest advisers.
Sherman also reported that most of Fox’s top on-air talent could be gone after this election is over according to his sources at Fox. We’ve all speculated that Donald Trump will create his own conservative news network after the election is over but Fox News brass is apparently taking the possibility very seriously. Notably, Trump superfan Sean Hannity is reportedly considering leaving Fox for Trump TV.