As Rupert Murdoch seeks to stabilize #Fox News in the wake of #Roger Ailes’s ouster, a crucial question remains unanswered: How was Ailes able to spend millions of dollars to settle sexual-harassment claims without setting off alarm bells?
According to three highly placed sources, part of the answer is that there were few checks on Ailes when it came to the Fox News budget. “It was the culture,” one Fox executive said. “You didn’t ask questions, and Roger wouldn’t entertain questions.” One former News Corp executive explained that because Fox made more than $1 billion in annual profits, the funds that were used for settlements amounted to little more than “a rounding error.”
But with Ailes gone, Fox executives are now looking closely at how Ailes spent Fox money. And what they are discovering is that, beyond the sexual-harassment claims, Ailes was also able to use portions of the Fox budget to hire consultants, political operatives, and private detectives who reported only to him, according to a senior Fox source. Last week, according to the source, Fox News dismissed five consultants whom Ailes had hired to do work that was more about advancing his own agenda than Fox’s. One of the consultants, Bert Solivan, ran negative PR campaigns against Ailes’s personal and political enemies out of Fox News headquarters, a source said. A Fox News spokesperson confirmed, “Solivan was recently informed that his services were no longer needed.” Solivan, who had previously worked for Fox News as a general manager of the channel’s website, did not respond to requests for comment.
According to one highly placed source, Solivan worked out of what Fox insiders called “the Black Room,” an operation Ailes established around 2011 to conduct PR and surveillance campaigns against people he targeted, both inside and outside the company. The “Black Room” was located on the 14th floor of the News Corp building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas, a quiet part of the office that housed Fox News Latino and some marketing and promotions employees. Fox employees Ken LaCorte and Jim Pinkerton — veteran political operatives who’ve worked with Ailes since the 1980s — also worked with Solivan, the source said, adding that Ailes’s personal lawyer and Fox contributor Peter Johnson Jr. advised the team. (In an email, Johnson denied any involvement in “Black Room” campaigns, saying, “The only online campaign I’m aware of is yours, attempting to create a truth from a fiction with this account.”)
Targets of the campaigns included journalists John Cook and Hamilton Nolan, who have aggressively covered Ailes for Gawker. According to one source, private detectives followed Cook around his Brooklyn neighborhood, and Fox operatives prepared a report on him with information they intended to leak to blogs. (According to the source, one proposed line of attack claimed that Cook — whose wife, Slate news director Allison Benedikt, is Jewish — was anti-Semitic.) “I’m honored to be among Roger Ailes’s enemies,” Cook said.