The hits just keep on coming for former Fox News head Roger Ailes, with a report that he used Fox funds to run a “Black Room” operation at the company’s headquarters where investigators and political operatives investigated and plotted against the executive’s personal enemies.
According to Gabriel Sherman, writing for New York Magazine, an investigation is under way at Fox looking into how Ailes spent millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment lawsuits with virtually no oversight, which might have set off alarms.
Mixed in with those dollars were payments to private investigators — including a company owned by Fox News regular Bo Dietl — to investigate the lives of Fox employees who sued the company as well as journalists who were taking a hard look at the news network.
According to sources who spoke with Sherman, Ailes had free rein to spend part of Fox’s $1 billion in profits on whatever he wanted with no questions asked.
“It was the culture. You didn’t ask questions, and Roger wouldn’t entertain questions,” one Fox executive explained, with another saying the money used for investigations and settlements were dismissed as a “rounding error.”
Picking through the wreckage after Ailes was dismissed over extensive allegations that he sexually harassed employees for years, investigators are now looking at a series of outside consultants who were doing Ailes’ private dirty work for him.
What they have uncovered is his unfettered ability to divert funds from the Fox budget to hire consultants, political operatives, and private detectives who only reported to him. Last week, Fox News reportedly dismissed five consultants whom Ailes had hired to work on his personal behalf.
Among Ailes’ targets were Gawker editors John Cook and Hamilton Nolan — who were subjected to private surveillance — as well a former Fox employee Andrea Mackris who filed a highly publicized sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox star Bill O’Reilly in 2004 that was reportedly settled for $10 million.
According to Sherman, Ailes set up the “Black Room” command center on the 14th floor of the News Corp building, where operatives conducted research and surveillance campaigns against his enemies inside and outside the company.
Investigators working for owner Rupert Murdoch are now looking into how Ailes was able to spend the money without any oversight.
Sherman reports that Fox News CFO Mark Kranz approved budget expenditures, and that general counsel Dianne Brandi approved contracts. Both execs have said that they were unaware of surveillance and online attacks conducted on Ailes’ behalf.
Susan Estrich, a spokesperson for the now deposed media executive has denied the allegations, saying they “are totally false.”