How devious is former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes? Following his July resignation, amid an internal inquiry into his serial sexual harassment (and worse) of female employees, a clearer picture of the infamously vindictive Nixon aide’s tactics has begun to emerge. For instance, according to a report this morning from Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine, he used Fox News resources to secretly spy on reporters critical of him and his network—including two employees of Gawker Media:
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.
Sherman, who wrote a book about Ailes in 2014, has produced a series of damning scoops—so far unchallenged by Fox News or its parent company, 21st Century Fox—detailing Ailes’ decades-long history of predatory behavior and sudden fall from grace in the wake of sexual harassment claims from former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson.
His latest report confirms a story Cook himself had heard in 2013 from a former Fox News executive. As Capital New York reported in 2014, that executive told Cook that private investigators, acting under orders from Ailes himself, had placed him and his family under surveillance. “Cook was asked” by the executive, the site reported, “if he takes his kids, then aged 2 and 4 (he’s since added another to the family), to Prospect Park for picnic lunches.”
Even at the time, this wasn’t out of character for Ailes. In 2011, Cook and fellow Gawker staffer Hamilton Nolan reported that security officers for Fox’s former parent company, News Corporation, had been caught spying on employees of Ailes’ hometown paper, the Putnam County News & Recorder, after Ailes began to believe that they were complaining about his and his wife’s management style in private. “It’s unclear why News Corporation shareholders were paying for security guards to tail former staffers for Ailes’ unrelated vanity projects,” Cook and Nolan noted. Sherman’s story today reports that “Ailes assigned private investigators to follow [former PCNR editor Joe] Lindsley around Putnam County,” and that Ailes once “asked Fox host Andrea Tantaros, whom Ailes had once seated next to Lindsley at a dinner party at Ailes’s home, to contact Lindsley and report back on his whereabouts.”
According to Sherman, Fox News operatives also “prepared a report on [Cook] with information they intended to leak to blogs,” including accusations that Cook is anti-Semitic.
Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, appears to be in the process of unwinding Ailes’ private war room. “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,” Sherman says.
Gawker reporters and former PCNR staffers were not the only targets of Ailes’ spying operation. Sherman writes that “Fox operatives set up web pages to attack my reputation, and Fox funds paid for Google search ads against my name that linked to the sites.” He also claims that Ailes enlisted longtime Fox contributor Bo Dietl to spy on him and his wife, Jennifer Stahl, who collaborated on Sherman’s 2014 biography of Ailes.
Dietl, along with representatives for Ailes and Fox, denied Sherman’s report. But there is existing evidence suggesting that Dietl is in the business of smearing people whom Ailes regards as enemies. As documented by Gawker in 2014, Dietl’s private investigations firm, Beau Dietl & Associations, was involved in preparing and spreading negative rumors about Wendi Deng, who was married at the time to Ailes’ boss, Rupert Murdoch—and who served as a rival power center to Ailes in the Murdoch universe.
The News Corp executive chairman has long struggled—along with his sons Lachlan and James—to rein in the worst excesses of Ailes and Fox News. The elder Murdoch now works out of Ailes’ old office, on the second floor of the News Corporation building in Manhattan.
Ailes’ attorney, Susan Estrich, told Sherman that the surveillance and smear campaign allegations were “totally false,” and Fox News chief financial officer Mark Kranz and general counsel Dianne Brandi both denied to Sherman that they had any knowledge of Ailes’ black ops. But in 2014, Dietl told Gawker that he had been “in touch” with Brandi regarding claims that his firm was spreading dirt on Deng.