Roger Ailes plummeted from the heights of political and media power in only 15 days, brought down by a star he had created and tried to destroy. CEO of Fox News since its inception in 1996, Ailes built the news organization into a right-wing juggernaut whose influence and profitability is the envy of every other network. Ailes’s fall is mythical: he fell precipitously, brought down by one of the many women he allegedly exploited and intimidated during his entire tenure at Fox News.

Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson fit into Ailes’s—and consequently, Fox’s—desired mold: she is blonde and beautiful, a former Miss America. But she is no bimbo, despite her on-air persona. She is a classical violinist and an honors graduate of Stanford University who studied at Oxford University as well. Carlson showed her mettle when—tiring of what she alleges were Ailes’s continuing demands for sexual favors and his retaliation when she refused to accede—she worked with a lawyer to prepare a lawsuit against the Fox CEO, charging sexual harassment and retaliation. Ailes has denied the charges.

When the news broke that Carlson was suing Ailes for sexual harassment, Gillian Thomas, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project who specializes in sex discrimination, was dubious. “It’s not unusual for someone of his prominence to get a free pass from management,” Thomas told me. “A Gretchen Carlson is worth a lot less to a company like Fox than a Roger Ailes is.”

Why was Thomas proved wrong? Why did Carlson succeed in felling the magnate, who resigned within days of her filing suit against him, against all expectations? After all, Gabriel Sherman, one of Ailes’s biographers, had reported many of the abhorrent charges against Ailes made by women who worked or applied for work at Fox. “The Fox News working environment seemed designed to make sure such stories never surfaced,” wrote Margaret Sullivan in The Washington Post. “When Carlson, a former Fox News host, filed her complaint, a hushed-up culture of nondisclosure agreements and arbitration clauses were [sic] exposed.”

Moreover, there was a bitter power struggle between Ailes and Lachlan Murdoch, the oldest son of Rupert Murdoch, the creator of Fox News. “Gretchen Carlson’s Sexual-Harassment Lawsuit May Allow Murdoch Sons to Finally Oust Roger Ailes From Fox News,” wrote Sherman.

Sullivan points out that “the times — and Fox executives — have changed. With the vastly increased power and presence of Rupert Murdoch’s sons, James and Lachlan, Fox seems intent on joining the modern era.” She notes that “We live in the post-Cosby era. It’s a long way from the 1990s, when Anita Hill’s credible claims against Clarence Thomas and Paula Jones’s against Bill Clinton gained plenty of traction but left the powerful men in their top-of-the-world perches. No longer.”

Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica, notes that there has been “a significant generational turnover—sexual harassment is seen as a big deal by many more people (men as well as women) than it once was.”

Related: “Because of Sex

Finally, the evidence against Ailes has reached a critical mass. Carlson’s claims and Sherman’s reporting are now backed up by the testimony of at least 25 women.  Megyn Kelly, Fox’s star anchor, the woman who stumped Trump with her sharp questions, has also come forward with similar charges.

“Fox turned the investigation over to an outside firm, and that firm found extensive corroboration. They couldn’t smear Carlson as a lone, disgruntled former employee. I would think Megyn Kelly’s name on that roster made a huge difference, too. Carlson was out, but Kelly wasn’t,” Thomas wrote to me.  The women’s advocate added, “It’s a huge fall from grace, and very satisfying to boot.”

I couldn’t agree more.

 

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.