The small-town newspapers in New York's Hudson Valley that Fox News chief Roger Ailes owns with his wife Elizabeth are in a staff revolt after employees caught Ailes spying on them with News Corp. security goons.
In 2008, Roger Ailes purchased the Putnam County News and Recorder in rustic Putnam County, New York to start feathering his retirement nest. The idea was that he and Elizabeth would retire to their 9,000-square-foot redoubt in nearby Garrison, N.Y., and Roger would live out his days as the gentleman publisher of a sleepy small-town newspaper. (He bought another paper, the Putnam County Courier, a year later.)
But it was not to be. Ailes—who installed Elizabeth as the day-to-day manager of the papers while he finishes his tenure at Fox News Channel—has run the papers with the singularly paranoid and abusive management style he brings to all his projects, resulting in the defection of his hand-picked editor and two top reporters earlier this month after Ailes told them he'd had them followed, and their private conversations surveilled, to catch them saying mean things about him. The spying followed years of intense weirdness between the editor and the Aileses, who once asked him to personally stop a break-in at their home and who implied that, after Roger's death, he'd be expected to replace him in their marriage.
Roger and Elizabeth Ailes at a Fox News event in 2009 (Getty); Joe Lindsley (inset)
Earlier this month, the News and Recorder quietly published a note announcing the departure of Joe Lindsley, the 27-year-old combative former Weekly Standard editorial assistant that Ailes had hired in 2009 to revitalize the papers and yank them firmly rightward. The note was odd because Lindsley had been prominently featured just weeks earlier in a February New Yorker story about the Aileses Putnam County adventure, and the story portrayed Lindsley as a mini-Ailes gleefully carrying out his boss' orders and delighting Roger and Elizabeth with his muscular brand of journalism. What's even odder is that Lindsley had actually resigned from the papers in January, before the New Yorker story came out, for reasons that remain unclear but following years of what his associates describe as intense psychodrama in his relationship with the Aileses. Lindsley agreed to stay on through the end of April for a lengthy transition period, and Roger's behavior during that transition—including having him followed—suggests that a deep rift had emerged. At some point during the first week of April, Lindsley abruptly cut his transition short and quit outright, as did two of his young reporters, T.J. Haley and Carli-Rae Panny.
The reason, multiple former employees say, is that in late March, Ailes confronted the three staffers and accused them of badmouthing him and Elizabeth during their lunch breaks. Small towns being what they are, Lindsley, Haley, and Panny frequently drove several miles north of the News and Recorder's Cold Spring, N.Y., office to privately have lunch in another town. When Ailes accused them, he knew which restaurant they frequented, leading the three to believe that Ailes wasn't merely bluffing and that he'd actually had them followed.
After Lindsley quit for good, things got weirder. He was driving to a deli in Cold Spring for lunch earlier this month when he noticed a black Lincoln Navigator that seemed to be following him, according to several sources familiar with the incident. Lindsley drove aimlessly for a while to make sure he was being followed, and the Navigator stayed on him. Then he got a look at the driver, who was a News Corporation security staffer that Lindsley happened to know socially. Lindsley continued on his way and later called the driver to ask if he was following him. The answer was yes, at Ailes' direction.
Roger and Elizabeth Ailes' compound in Garrison, NY
Ailes owns the papers personally; they have nothing to do with News Corporation. It's unclear why News Corporation shareholders were paying for security guards to tail former staffers for Ailes' unrelated vanity projects.
It's also unclear why Ailes and his wife cared so deeply about what a few of their twenty-something Putnam County staffers thought of them. But former employees say the couple seemed to be unduly preoccupied with the tiny papers, and seemed to devote more energy to paranoid delusions of intrigue there than the far more consequential responsibilities that weighed on Roger. "They obsess about the Putnam papers more than Fox News or world events," says one former staffer.
They were equally obsessed with Lindsley. Before he resigned, several sources say, the Aileses dealt with him with what one former staffer describes as "an inappropriate level of intimacy." While no one suggested any romantic entanglements, several sources familiar with the relationship say Lindsley was alternately—and confusingly—treated like a member of the Ailes' family and a member of their household staff. He was so close to Elizabeth that he regularly attended church with her on Sundays in Roger's absence. Indeed, in what associates describe as an exceedingly awkward moment for Lindsley, Elizabeth once joked to him that she was grooming him to replace her husband: "When Roger dies, you're going to have some special responsibilities around here."
On the other hand, they would pepper Lindsley with capricious, bizarre, and occasionally dangerous chores. Last winter, not long before Lindsley tendered his resignation, the burglar alarm in the Ailes' Garrison estate went off while Roger and Elizabeth were away. Roger's first call after the police was to Lindsley, several sources say. Ailes asked him to rush to the home to let the police into the gate that blocking driveway, but when Lindsley arrived before the police, Ailes ordered him to enter the home in an effort to scare off the intruder. Speaking to Lindsley on his cell phone, Ailes led him around the darkened house, telling him which rooms to check and which lights to turn on to startle the burglar. It turned out to be a false alarm.
Contacted for comment on the story, a Fox News spokeswoman said, "We don't have anything to do with the paper, but we will forward your email to Roger." UPDATE: Moments after we published this story, we received the following statement from Elizabeth Ailes.
These rambling allegations are untrue and in fact not even reality based. The paper hoped for Joe's success in spite of his personal habits and lack of performance, which included getting the weekly editions out late and over budget for three months. There's a sad disconnect between his claims of undying gratitude and his current state of agitation.
As evidence of that "undying gratitude," Elizabeth sent us a scan of a Christmas note Lindsley sent to her and Roger in December 2010. It reads in part: "Thanks for everything you've done for me. I've learned much and I continue to enjoy the whole adventure.... Thanks also for the generous bonus, the Ireland trip, and everything else—the list is long, including all the excellent home-cooked meals!" She also, for reasons that aren't clear, forwarded an e-mail she received from Lindsley on Saturday saying, "I have received numerous calls from John Cook of Gawker during the past few days. I am not responding but it sounds like he is talking to a lot of people in Putnam. He sounds like an asshole."
All told, including the most recent departures, more than 10 full-time and freelance staffers have left the Ailes' Putnam County papers in the last 10 months, insiders say. In addition to the aforementioned instances of surveillance, several former employees told Gawker that they had reason to suspect that their e-mail was being read and that rooms in the News and Recorder offices were bugged—Ailes, who is notoriously obsessed with his personal security, has the building thoroughly wired with video cameras. As if to underscore the message that the Aileses are all-seeing, the single unisex bathroom in the papers' headquarters features portraits of Elizabeth and Roger on the walls, watching you, while you poop.
[Photo of Ailes, top, via AP]