Former Fox News boss Roger Ailes sexually abused a string of female presenters, writes TOM LEONARD


Summoning his female stars to his office, he would insist that they ‘do a twirl’ for him, tottering and turning obediently on their sky-high heels in their tight-fitting dresses under his wolfish, greedy gaze.

Remember that television is a ‘visual medium’, he would tell them and he needed to assess them.

If he thought they could do with losing a bit of weight or that their looks were in need of pepping up, then this large, balding lump of a man would bluntly tell them so.

The 20-year reign of Roger Ailes ended in 2016 when presenter Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit alleging he sabotaged her career after she refused his sexual advances. Nicole Kidman stars as Gretchen Carlson in Bombshell, as seen above

The 20-year reign of Roger Ailes ended in 2016 when presenter Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit alleging he sabotaged her career after she refused his sexual advances. Nicole Kidman stars as Gretchen Carlson in Bombshell, as seen above

They had to grit their teeth and bear it, for such was his power to make or break their career. 

From the unluckier ones, he demanded considerably more than a twirl, offering career heaven or hell depending on whether they succumbed to his lecherous advances and perversions.

Several women described how he would insist they appear before him in their underwear — suspender belts and garters compulsory. 

Another claimed he made her engage in sadomasochistic sex with another woman as he watched. 

If she wanted to get ahead in her career, he reportedly told a young hopeful, she would have to occasionally give him — and his friends — sexual favours.

No, it wasn’t Harvey Weinstein, nor even Bill Cosby, but thrice-married Roger Ailes, the all-powerful American TV mogul and head of Fox News — Donald Trump’s favourite channel — whose name will soon be as well-known in the UK as it is here across the Pond.

Ailes is pictured with third wife Elizabeth in 2015. There are obvious parallels between Weinstein and Ailes — played in the film by John Lithgow

Ailes is pictured with third wife Elizabeth in 2015. There are obvious parallels between Weinstein and Ailes — played in the film by John Lithgow

The weekend saw the British release of Bombshell, the Oscar-nominated film starring Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie, which has caused quite a stir in America — especially among female audiences who are flocking to see it.

It has earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Theron, 44, who plays Megyn Kelly, a news anchor at Fox News for more than a decade, and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Robbie, 29, as a young and ambitious Fox journalist who falls victim to Ailes’ predatory instincts (her character, Kayla, is a composite of several of Ailes’ accusers).

Theron, along with Kidman, 52, as fellow Fox presenter Gretchen Carlson, play Ailes’ blonde nemeses, the women responsible for bringing down a monster.

At last the #MeToo Movement is having its on-screen moment.

It is too early, and possibly too sensitive, to dramatise the Harvey Weinstein scandal — the disgraced movie mogul has only just gone on trial, after all — so Hollywood has turned to the next best thing.

Ailes, who died aged 77 in 2017, was the bullying TV maestro who — with Rupert Murdoch’s money — turned Fox News into America’s most popular and most influential cable news network.

No institution, arguably, has wielded as much power in conservative politics, which was fitting as Ailes was, as a former Republican election adviser, dubbed the ‘wiz behind the curtain’. 

He was instrumental in putting Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush into the White House, teaching them how to use TV to best effect. 

(He was also informal counsel to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and has been credited with first identifying and then mobilising the ‘forgotten’ voters who, dismissed and despised by the liberal elite of Washington and the east and West coasts, delivered Trump’s victory.)

Ailes devoted his later career and his undoubted TV genius to winning not elections, but the cable news ratings war. 

In doing so he relied heavily on an army of identikit, women presenters whose chief asset was clearly not — in his view — their journalistic acumen.

Those allowed in front of camera were invariably blonde and skinny and caked in make-up. 

He banned women wearing trousers on-screen and insisted they wear dresses that accentuated their legs — ‘I like legs,’ Ailes would say — introducing glass desks so male viewers missed nothing.

Indeed he was so fixated with women’s legs, he once angrily phoned the duty producer to complain about the camera’s view of a newsreader.

‘Move that damn laptop,’ he ranted. ‘I can’t see her legs!’

Megyn Kelly, who left Fox in 2017, had no involvement in the new film but had her say when she recently posted online a video in which she discussed it with fellow Ailes accusers. They agreed it was generally accurate, if a little too easy on the predator

Megyn Kelly, who left Fox in 2017, had no involvement in the new film but had her say when she recently posted online a video in which she discussed it with fellow Ailes accusers. They agreed it was generally accurate, if a little too easy on the predator

There are obvious parallels between Weinstein and Ailes — played in the film by John Lithgow (Winston Churchill in The Crown). 

Ailes was also a foul-mouthed, volcanic-tempered tyrant who used his physical bulk to intimidate. He got away with it for years because he was successful, powerful and feared.

He took the Fox viewership from 17 million in the mid-Nineties to 87 million households by 2015. 

However, his 20-year reign ended in 2016 when presenter Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit alleging he sabotaged her career after she refused his sexual advances.

Two years earlier, a startling biography of Ailes by journalist Gabriel Sherman had unearthed various tawdry details about him.

It included a TV producer, Randi Harrison, who said Ailes, while in a previous job at rival network NBC, offered her an extra $100 (£77) a week ‘if you agree to have sex with me whenever I want’. She left their meeting in tears.

Fox, which conducted a campaign to smear the unauthorised book before it came out, dismissed the charges as ‘false’ and complained it never had the chance to ‘fact-check’ it. 

However, the revelations — which Ailes immediately denied — were shocking.

Such was Ailes’ importance to Fox News though, that the crisis blew over. A cohort of Fox News women presenters even united to back Ailes — donning ‘Team Roger’ T-shirts.

But when Gretchen Carlson filed her lawsuit, Rupert Murdoch started to take note and launched an external investigation. 

She had been a Fox star since 2005, and for eight years co-host of the flagship morning show, Fox & Friends.

The former Miss America for 1989 (‘It must not have been a good year,’ Ailes once remarked bitchily), was also an accomplished journalist, a graduate of prestigious Stanford University and a talented violinist.

Now she was claiming her boss Ailes treated her like a piece of meat after she rejected his sexual advances, and, as she grew older repeatedly marginalised her at Fox, shifting her to a less prestigious afternoon slot to present her hour-long news show and finally sacking her two days after her 50th birthday.

Carlson also asserted that when she had complained about sexist treatment from one of her male co-presenters, Ailes dismissed her as a ‘man hater’ who needed to learn to ‘get along with the boys’.

Ailes would repeatedly make sexual remarks, ‘ogling’ her, asking her to turn around so he could ‘view her posterior’ and telling her he wished they were stranded on a desert island together.

Finally, in 2015, she said they had a meeting in which he told her: ‘I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.’

Carlson conceded that she decided to sue only after realising her career at Fox was over. Ailes denied all her allegations and insisted she’d been ousted over her show’s low ratings.

That defence disintegrated after it emerged Carlson had spent a year secretly recording his remarks on her phone.

It was then that Rupert Murdoch told Ailes to resign or be sacked. Ailes was devastated, arrogantly assuming the man he had made billions of dollars for over two decades, would back him to the end, although he did get a $40 million (£31 million) payoff — just $10 million (£7.7 million) less than the total Fox would pay in settlements to his victims.

The weekend saw the British release of Bombshell, the Oscar-nominated film starring Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie, which has caused quite a stir in America — especially among female audiences who are flocking to see it. Margot Robbie, left, is pictured with Kate McKinnon in the film

The weekend saw the British release of Bombshell, the Oscar-nominated film starring Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie, which has caused quite a stir in America — especially among female audiences who are flocking to see it. Margot Robbie, left, is pictured with Kate McKinnon in the film

Carlson’s allegations had opened the floodgates and at least 23 women complained about Ailes’ sexual ‘misconduct’.

The first lady of Fox, Megyn Kelly, had stayed silent after allegations of sexual abuse and harassment first emerged in 2014. Kelly, who gave up the offer of a partnership at a top law firm to pursue a TV career, was fiercely ambitious and publicly hostile to feminism.

However, in 2016 when her bosses failed to defend her against Donald Trump — he made vile comments about her after she questioned him during a presidential TV debate — it may have prompted a change of mind.

Even his supporters recoiled when the future president said: ‘You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.’

She claimed Ailes had made ‘unwanted sexual advances’ to her a decade earlier, and later said he had tried to grab her three times and ‘I had to shove him off of me’. 

The most shocking case, though, was that of Laurie Luhn, Fox News’ former chief guest booker, who claimed Aisles ‘psychologically tortured’ her for 20 years, leaving her mentally scarred. 

Luhn, a former flight attendant, first met him in 1988. Ailes gave her money and helped her career in return for sex, usually in hotels.

‘It was always the on-my-knees routine,’ she recalled. ‘There was no affair, no sex, no love.’

It was Luhn who also claimed Ailes insisted she have sado-masochistic sex with another woman so he could watch.

He relied on her to find him new flesh, luring young female Fox staff to one-on-one encounters. ‘You’re going to find me “Roger’s Angels”. You’re going to find me whores,’ she recalled him regularly telling her.

Luhn claimed Ailes kept a compromising tape of her dancing in black garter and stockings to blackmail her with.

Of course, critics would counter that she could have said ‘no’ but like all women targeted at Fox, she risked being frozen out of the TV industry by her vindictive boss and her career destroyed.

Charlize Theron is pictured in a scene in Bombshell. Theron, along with Kidman, 52, as fellow Fox presenter Gretchen Carlson, play Ailes’ blonde nemeses, the women responsible for bringing down a monster. At last the #MeToo Movement is having its on-screen moment

Charlize Theron is pictured in a scene in Bombshell. Theron, along with Kidman, 52, as fellow Fox presenter Gretchen Carlson, play Ailes’ blonde nemeses, the women responsible for bringing down a monster. At last the #MeToo Movement is having its on-screen moment

Former Fox reporter Rudi Bakhtiar said Ailes asked her to stand up so he could see her legs during her 2005 job interview and that management pressured her to wear miniskirts on air. 

Kellie Boyle, a former Republican Party worker, claimed Ailes once told her: ‘You know if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys.’

When she pretended not to understand, he elaborated in more graphic terms.

Marsha Callahan, an ex-model, said Ailes asked her to audition for a show he was producing, insisting she wore a garter and suspender belt. He said he’d hire her if she slept with him. ‘I was a really shy girl, but I was a little cheeky, so I said, “Oh yeah, you and who else?” And he said, “Only me and a few of my select friends.” ’

A former Fox employee claimed Ailes once asked if she was wearing underwear and if he was going to see anything ‘good’. She added: ‘It’s happened to me and lots of other women. He’s a disgusting pig who’s been getting away with this s*** for 20 years.’

Bombshell is the second time the Ailes saga has been turned into a Hollywood drama. Sky Atlantic launched The Loudest Voice, starring Russell Crowe as Ailes and Naomi Watts as Carlson.

Ailes is dead and so cannot sue, but clearly the opportunity to skewer a red-blooded conservative and his TV network has proved irresistible to the liberally-inclined folk who run Hollywood, which is yet to address left-wing sexual predators with such gusto.

Some believe the seeds of the ruthless, paranoid ogre Ailes became were sown in his traumatic childhood. Growing up in working class Ohio, he suffered from haemophilia and nearly bled to death several times.

His affliction meant he was often off school, spending his time developing his obsession with TV by watching Westerns.

His father, a factory foreman, regularly beat him with an electrical cord and, according to an oft-quoted Ailes anecdote (although disputed by his brother) once encouraged him to jump out of his top bunk bed into his arms.

The boy did so but his father stepped back and let him crash to the floor. ‘Don’t trust anybody,’ his father said.

He didn’t need a second lesson. In politics, Ailes had ‘two speeds: attack and destroy’, said his Republican electioneering colleague, Lee Atwater.

Ailes married three times but didn’t become a father until he was nearly 60 and had a son.

At Fox, he relished his thuggish reputation. The swaggering showman once got so angry he punched a hole in a partition wall, later boasting someone put a frame around the hole and wrote ‘Don’t Mess With Roger Ailes’.

Megyn Kelly, who left Fox in 2017, had no involvement in the new film but had her say when she recently posted online a video in which she discussed it with fellow Ailes accusers. They agreed it was generally accurate, if a little too easy on the predator.

Some cried watching the scene in which Margot Robbie’s naive character — inveigled by Ailes’ female secretary who adored him — nervously takes the lift to his office for a deeply unpleasant encounter. 

It took them back to when it happened to them, they said. Kelly tearfully admitted she wished she’d done more to help fellow accusers. As for giving Ailes a ‘twirl’, Kelly said she’d been asked to do so.

‘God help me, I did it,’ she sighed. ‘If you don’t get how demeaning that is, I can’t help you.’

Demeaning, but nothing compared to what Roger Ailes demanded of some of her ex-colleagues.



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