Few people in the news business have valued secrecy quite like Roger Ailes, the former C.E.O. of Fox News. Ailes’s very own corner office on the second floor of 21st Century Fox’s glass and steel headquarters, in Midtown Manhattan, featured a solid wood door that prevented anyone on the outside from peering in. Visitors had to be buzzed in by Ailes or an assistant. They were also captured on-camera, their image projected to a monitor on Ailes’s desk.
Many assumed that such secrecy was a vestige of Ailes’s formative years advising Richard Nixon. Now, it appears that it may have run deeper. Last month, former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against Ailes for sexual harassment—an event that ushered in a litany of former colleagues with similar stories. Weeks later, Ailes resigned. (Ailes has fervently denied all allegations. His lawyer, Susan Estrich, reiterated those denials. A spokesperson for 21st Century Fox also declined to comment for this piece.)
Ailes’s second-floor office now stands empty. Floors below it, in Fox News’s subterranean newsroom, a former Sam Goody retail outlet, staffers are still coming to terms with the rollicking events of the past month. During periods of crisis, reporters and producers tend to bury their heads in their stories, rallying around one another in their commitment to their work. But there is only one topic on people’s minds at Fox News these days: Ailes.Sentiment in the newsroom is generally split between those who proclaim surprise (particularly regarding the sheer number of women who have alleged that Ailes harassed them) and those who feel professional relief—not all of them women. Ailes was gender-blind when it came to relentlessly pushing his talking points and admonishing those who did not follow along. Still, others said they remain fearful that even discussing Ailes at all could result in some form of punishment.
One staffer expressed to me an even greater fear: that, without Ailes, Fox News’s future is in an existential crisis. Under Ailes, the network had operated rather independently from its parent company, 21st Century Fox. Now, many staffers worry that they will be monitored more closely by “the Boys,” as James Murdoch, the C.E.O. of 21st Century Fox, and his brother, Lachlan, its executive chairman, are still known within the company. Indeed, many have feared for years that James Murdoch has little interest in his father’s core media assets—television, print, and movies—and remains more focused on a technological future. (A person close to James and Lachlan Murdoch dismissed both of these notions as “pure craziness” and said that the two view transforming the company as “a real calling.” This person also added that no one at the company need fear reprisals for discussing Ailes and insisted that the brothers want to foster an environment of “total trust and respect.” Meanwhile, in an August 3 conference call, Lachlan said that Fox News would not change its fundamental political character.)A sale of Fox News, which generates some $1 billion in annual profit, seems unlikely. A massive culture change, however, seems probable. Some Ailes loyalists who remain affiliated with Fox News find themselves in a particularly difficult spot. They are anxious to distance themselves from him, even as they anticipate their own ouster from the network, a Fox source told me. Several of them, who worked for Ailes in a personal capacity but were on Fox’s payroll, were dismissed last week, according to one senior Fox employee.
But perhaps the biggest object of curiosity in the newsroom these days is the internal investigation currently being conducted by the law firm Paul, Weiss. The investigation originally focused exclusively on Ailes, but as allegations from at least 20 women have mounted—including Gabriel Sherman’s revelation that Fox paid Laurie Luhn, a former booker, $3.15 million in a settlement agreement—it has expanded to other Fox News executives. “A number of the women raised serious issues about individuals beyond Roger Ailes, who, while not as crass as Ailes, were nonetheless enablers,” said one individual briefed on the investigation. “There can be fairly raised a question: whether the atmosphere at Fox is welcoming to women absent wholesale changes in senior leadership.”
Throughout the underground newsroom, many believe that the Boys’ handling of the investigation will determine whether they are serious about changing the culture of Fox News or simply trying to make the whole mess go away.