New allegations surrounding the behavior of former Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes suggest he had a relationship with a subordinate for years while running the 21st Century Fox-owned cable-news outlet, and that some senior executives at the network may have helped him manage it.
The report, posted Friday by New York magazine, alleges that Ailes continued a sexual relationship with Laurie Luhn, a woman he had begun an association with prior to his employment at Fox News, and gave her various jobs at the network involving booking and event planning. Ailes left the network earlier this month in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment leveled at him by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson in a lawsuit filed in New Jersey and after the network’s parent company opened an internal review to look into the matter. Ailes has denied Carlson’s allegations. In the New York report, Luhn said she had been involved with Ailes for more than two decades and also tried to lure other women to be propositioned by the executive.
“Roger denied these allegations in 2011 and he denies them now. He wishes Ms. Luhn well,” said Susan Estrich, an attorney who has been representing Ailes, in a statement. “Based on her statements, it is disturbing that she is the subject of one reporter’s journalistic exploitation.” A spokeswoman for 21st Century Fox said the company declined to comment on the article.
Luhn told New York that she agreed to Ailes’ requests for many years, in exchange for help with her career and for money and jobs. During her time at Fox News, she earned as much as $250,000 a year, the magazine reported, while Ailes protected her from other employees who took a dim view of her presence. In 2011, she received a $3.15 million severance agreement from Fox with strong non-disclosure clauses, the magazine said. Despite the binding legal agreement, she said she came forward after the Carlson allegations surfaced. “The truth shall set you free. Nothing else matters,” she told the author of the piece, Gabriel Sherman.
The allegations in the article are shocking and lurid. According to Luhn’s account, she met Ailes in 1988 when she was 28 and he was nearly 50. Fox News Channel would launch in 1996. Her sexual encounters began in 1991, she told New York. In one detailed recollection of an encounter she had with the executive early on in their relationship, she recalled dancing for him in a private room after putting on a black garter and stockings. After getting on her knees in front of him, she recalled, “he began speaking to her slowly and authoritatively, as if he were some kind of Svengali: ‘Tell me you will do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it. At any time, at any place when I call. No matter where I call you, no matter where you are. Do you understand? You will follow orders. If I tell you to put on your uniform, what are you gonna do, Laurie?'”
Luhn likened her experience with Ailes to “psychological torture,” New York reported.”He’s a predator,” she added.
The article is likely to put more pressure on Fox News Channel, which is in the midst of a leadership transition. Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox and its guiding force, is now supervising Fox News as its chairman and interim CEO. He is working with veteran Fox News executives Bill Shine, senior executive vice president of programming; Jay Wallace, executive vice president of news and editorial; and Mark Kranz, the network’s chief financial officer, who are running the outlet on a day-to-day basis.
Shine is named in the New York article as being among the network’s senior executives who may have had a hand in helping Ailes manage Luhn. In the rticle, Shine denied an allegation that he reviewed Luhn’s emails while Ailes put her up in a hotel after she had experienced a nervous breakdown. Shine would also arrange “booking meetings” when Luhn worked for Fox News in Washington, D.C., and Ailes wanted her to come to New York City, the article said. A person familiar with the situation said Shine had no knowledge of an intimate relationship between Ailes and Luhn and supervised booking matters and called her to New York on legitimate business matters. The article suggested Dianne Brandi, Fox News’ executive vice president of legal and business affairs, worked to help negotiate a settlement with Luhn after she alleged sometime in late 2010 or early 2011 that Ailes sexually harassed her.
The episode has put new scrutiny on Fox News Channel, which over the course of two decades has transformed from a start-up aimed at giving voice to conservative viewpoints on current events into a giant media outlet that carries outsize influence on the daily news cycle and Republican Party policy. Megyn Kelly, one of the network’s biggest stars, is said to have come forward as part of the review, even as a bevy of Fox News anchors, including Geraldo Rivera, Bill O’Reilly, Maria Bartiromo and Greta Van Susteren, either defended Ailes or said they were unaware of any sort of culture at the company that tolerated such behavior. Ailes has denied that he harassed Kelly.
Since Ailes left, Fox News has run print ads touting its ratings performance during its broadcasts of the Republican National Convention. In the ads, the network ran a slogan, “Fair, Balanced & Unafraid,” which also appears most days as part of a sign off from anchor Bret Baier on the Fox News program “Special Report.”
Carlson’s efforts are continuing. Her attorneys had no immediate comment on the New York article, but the former anchor, who alleged that Ailes derailed her career at Fox News and propositioned her after she complained about how women were treated, is making public appearances. On Friday, she announced that she would on Saturday host the Miss You Can Do It Pageant, an event created for girls and women with special needs.