In addition to harassing his female staff, former Fox CEO Roger Ailes reportedly used corporate funds to run smear campaigns against journalists and others. Some of the operatives were familiar on-air names such as Andrea Tantaros and Bo Dietl.
Today’s reporting from Gabriel Sherman reveals that one of the results of Ailes’ disgraced departure from Fox News is new scrutiny over how he spent corporate funds. During his tenure, Ailes seemingly had a blank check that enabled him to make payouts for sexual harassment claims. But, apparently, Ailes also freely used money for “Black Room” operations:
[…] Ailes was also able to use portions of the Fox budget to hire consultants, political operatives, and private detectives that reported only to him, according to a senior Fox source. 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. One of the consultants, Bert Solivan, ran negative PR campaigns against Ailes’s personal and political enemies out of Fox News headquarters, a source said. A Fox News spokesperson confirmed: “Solivan was recently informed that his services were no longer needed.” Solivan, who had previously worked for Fox News as a general manager of the channel’s website, did not respond to requests for comment.
According to one highly-placed source, Solivan worked out of what Fox insiders called “the Black Room,” an operation Ailes established around 2011 to conduct PR and surveillance campaigns against people he targeted both inside and outside the company. The “Black Room” was located on the 14th floor of the News Corp building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas, a quiet part of the office that housed Fox News Latino and some marketing and promotions employees. Fox employees Ken LaCorte and Jim Pinkerton, veteran political operatives who’ve worked with Ailes since the 1980s, also worked with Solivan, the source said, adding that Ailes’s personal lawyer, and Fox contributor, Peter Johnson Jr. advised the team. (In an email, Peter Johnson denied any involvement in “Black Room” campaigns, saying, “The only online campaign I’m aware of is yours attempting to create a truth from a fiction with this account.”)
So, in addition to serving as Ailes’ personal lawyer and likely stand-in, as a "legal analyst" and guest host on Fox News, Peter Johnson’s duties appear to include assisting in going after those on Ailes’ enemies list.
You may also recognize the name “Jim Pinkerton” as a long-time Fox guest. He is also the guy reportedly behind Ailes' Fox-shilling blog, The Cable Game. The site went dormant for a while but was revived of late. By coincidence, its most recent post is dated July 10, 2016. That’s shortly after Gretchen Carlson filed her bombshell sexual harassment lawsuit that started Ailes’ downward spiral and shortly before it was reported that it was only a matter of time before Ailes would be fired.
Some of the bigger “Black Room” targets were Gawker staffers; the former editor of the Ailes-owned Putnam County News & Recorder, Joe Lindsley; and Sherman, himself. And here’s where you might recognize some more familiar names. From Sherman’s report, with my emphases:
In April 2011, Lindsley had a falling out with Ailes and quit the paper along with two co-workers. Ailes assigned private investigators to follow Lindsley around Putnam County. He also 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, two sources said. Meanwhile, Solivan posted negative comments about Lindsley on blogs, a source said.
I was also the target of an operation, a highly-placed source told me: In 2012, while I was researching a biography of Ailes, 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. One source also said private investigators employed by Fox contributor Bo Dietl were instructed to follow me and my wife. (Dietl’s firm was used to track Andrea Mackris, the producer who accused Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment in 2004, the source said). When reached by phone, Dietl said: “I have no real comments. I love Roger Ailes. He built one of the great news channels out of nothing. He’s a very successful guy.”
Investigations into Ailes’ use of Fox’s funds may incriminate other executives not only in these activities but also as having helped to cover up Ailes’ sexual harassments via payments of hush money, e.g.
But for me, it’s the media malpractice, stupid. Sherman tweeted earlier today that Ailes’ smear campaigns are further proof that he "created Fox as an anti-journalism organization.”
That’s a key point, in my opinion. And just as important is the fact that it appears at least four talking heads presented to us as analysts – and in the case of Tantaros and Johnson, sometime hosts – were all in.
Watch O'Reilly warn Hillary Clinton that "we'll have something to say about it" if she doesn't stay away from "smear merchants," from the April 13, 2015 O'Reilly Factor above.
Crossposted at Newshounds.us