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Roger Ailes May Be Done but the Debate Has Just Begun

If the Murdochs were hoping the removal of Roger Ailes from Fox News was going to bring to an end the controversy that has enveloped the organization, they were sorely mistaken.

Days after the the CEO’s golden parachute began making its $40 million descent to the curb outside his company’s Manhattan headquarters, yet another revelation of sexual harassment rocked Fox News. And this one holds the possibility that a scandal seemingly contained to one person could have a ripple effect that may be broader than even 21st Century Fox.

Reports from The New York Times and New York magazine Saturday made clear that Ailes wasn’t the only Fox News executive who may have sexually harassed female on-air talent. They detail a number of other incidents including the 2006 story of former Fox News correspondent Rudi Bahktiar. She accused Brian Wilson, an executive at the network, of pressuring her to sleep with him in order to secure a promotion. He denies the harassment took place.

Perhaps Bahktiar’s story, if true, shouldn’t be surprising. It’s only logical to assume that if the CEO of an organization behaves boorishly, he might tolerate–and maybe even encourage–such impropriety from his lieutenants.

But in fairness to Fox News and Ailes, it’s entirely possible the latest revelations have nothing to do with him. It makes for a compelling narrative that further demonizes this controversy’s villain to suggest he bred his minions in his own lecherous image. But so far these new reports don’t seem to suggest too strongly that Ailes somehow encouraged or inspired someone like Wilson.

Awful as the stories told about people other than Ailes at Fox News, it’s entirely possible that if you look back at any company of Fox News’ size over a period of years, you’ll find enough incidents of impropriety. What may seem egregious in isolation may not statistically be the case. Fox News may be no different than any other company in terms of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment.

On the other hand, lieutenants around Ailes at Fox News, like his No. 2 programming exec Bill Shine and general counsel Dianne Brandi, are being implicated of a “cover-up” for Ailes’ sins by New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman in an appearance Sunday on CNN.

What threatens to take this beyond Ailes and beyond even Fox News is that as the list of women who have allegations to make against the CEO–now 25 deep–gives more women like Bahktiar the courage to come forward, we may be on the cusp of something much bigger than what just occurred on real estate owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Think of the world as a series of concentric circles, with Ailes at the center. The ring immediately around him would be lieutenants like Wilson. But then are still more rings going outward: 21st Century Fox, the TV news business, the entertainment business, even all of corporate America. If Fox News may not really be any different than any other organization, think of all the women who may have been victimized going back decades who were intimidated into silence that are going to be newly inspired to follow the example of Gretchen Carlson, to speak out in order to make sure that justice is done.

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