The newly minted NBC and MSNBC contributor, Sherman, who penned a book on Ailes called “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” has been a thorn in Ailes’ side since he began covering cable news in 2010. Although Sherman has never interviewed Ailes, despite countless requests, he has managed to unearth more about the man who built Fox News than most of his contemporaries. In order to accomplish that, Sherman met sources at seedy outposts in odd pockets of New York, took a trip to Ailes’ hometown of Warren, Ohio, to interview his brother and made countless cold calls — so many that the reporter likened his work to “telemarketing.” That diligence has helped Sherman find former Fox News employees who claimed to have been sexually harassed by Ailes.
Returning the favor, over the years, Ailes has hired private investigators to tail the reporter and compile a 400-page dossier on him. Sherman claims he has faced death threats from Fox loyalists, and now, New York Magazine has received threats from Ailes’ lawyers of a defamation suit. Those threats have not yet materialized into a legal action.
Sherman, who spoke with Bill Grueskin, a professor at Columbia School of Journalism on Thursday night, takes it all in stride.
“Throughout the whole thing, even when it was very scary and stressful, I try to use it as more reporting because when you think about character, character is what we do, what we say but also what we do,” Sherman said. “The lengths that he was going to control his narrative and suppress my reporting, I just treated that as him revealing himself and this was one of his tactics. I tried to keep my head down.”
The reporter said that what makes the Ailes story unique is that the former Fox chairman and chief executive officer created a culture of harassment and put in place levers for it to be covered up.
“I think sexual harassment is not unique to Fox. It’s unfortunate and hopefully this story and the post-[Bill] Cosby story will help change this, but it’s pervasive throughout all corners of American life. If you look at some of the landmark lawsuits that have been filed on Wall Street where female executives have experienced harassment at big banks and other TV networks had it, Hollywood has it. I think what’s unique to Fox though is the degree to which Ailes was able to use all levers to cover it up and to enable it. Most large TV networks and companies aren’t run with the iron-fisted control of one ceo.”
Although Rupert Murdoch, Ailes’ former boss, has denied knowledge of the harassment, Sherman remained skeptical.
The reporter echoed a statement sent by Fox parent company, 21st Century Fox, denying Murdoch’s knowledge — even after Sherman asked about a $3 million settlement check made out to former Fox employee Laurie Luhn, who has alleged that Ailes harassed her.
“I’ve reviewed a copy of her $3 million settlement check and I’ve asked how does a company sign a $3 million severance check for sexual harassment and you not ask questions? For whatever reason, they say that amount of money is not enough to get up to the corporate Murdoch suite,” he said. “I think the more likely answer is that he knew Fox was the Wild West culture, the boys’ club. All you have to do is watch the network and see the way women are portrayed on television in the revealing clothes that they wear and the camera angles to know that this is a hyper sexualized culture that Ailes ran.”
Now that Ailes is out at Fox, Sherman mused that the network would likely lose viewers if the ex-ceo formed a splinter network with Republican nominee Donald Trump, as rumor suggests. In that scenario, Sherman envisions Sean Hannity and perhaps Bill O’Reilly leaving Fox. Megyn Kelly, Fox’s lone female prime-time anchor, then would become central to maintaining the network’s audience, a somewhat ironic twist.
The scenarios clearly delighted the reporter, who gave a shout out to New York Magazine editor in chief Adam Moss and executive editor Lauren Kern, for pushing his reporting and storytelling to a new level.
“I don’t want to let them down,” Sherman said of Kern and Moss, before turning to a question fielded by Grueskin on what the reporter would ask Ailes if he ever gets an interview opp.
“What are your regrets?” Sherman said with certainty.