Roger Ailes, the embattled ex-CEO of Fox News, found himself in the news again this week, as a bombshell report broke, claiming that Ailes managed an off-the-books operation from his position at the conservative news company.
Earlier this year, allegations of sexual harassment were levied against Ailes by former Fox host Gretchen Carlson. After Carlson broke her silence, a host of other current and former employees spoke up—including the network’s brightest star, Megyn Kelly. The resulting tumult lead to an internal investigation by Fox, which resulted in Ailes stepping down from his long-time role steering the news organization.
However, it may have been a case of too little, too late to salvage Ailes’ reputation; this week, sources familiar with the investigation told Gabriel Sherman of New York Magazine that Ailes had an undercover operation hiding in plain sight at the network’s New York headquarters. In addition to using company funds to pay a series of settlements connected to past sexual harassment allegations, Ailes also had an entire staff of investigators, public relations pros, and political operatives working out of an office on the 14th floor known to employees as “The Black Room.”
Their task? Investigating the powerful CEO’s enemies (sometimes following them or their spouses), reporting directly to his personal lawyer, and rolling out negative PR campaigns against them. These campaigns, designed to punish those who stood in the way of Ailes’ goals or planned to publish pieces critical of Ailes or the network, involved things like negative PR leaks, setting up websites critical of the boss’ enemies, or seeking to deny them career opportunities.
The “black ops unit” seems to have been an open secret at Fox, with employees describing fears of phone tapping and email snooping to reporters
Sources confirmed to Sherman that at least five of Ailes’ personal cadre of investigators have been let go, as other leaders at Fox News are beginning to grasp the breadth of Ailes’ manipulation of company funds.
If true, the story could present yet another legal problem for Ailes; it is illegal for executives of public companies to spend company money—which belongs to shareholders—for personal reasons.
Ailes, who has been a fixture of American media since his days on ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ in the 60s, has not publicly commented on the story. However, his attorney issued a statement saying the allegations “are totally false.”