Fox News Channel has experienced ongoing turmoil over the last year as allegations of sexual harassment forced out the network’s chairman, Roger Ailes, and ratings king Bill O’Reilly. The latest casualty, the network’s former co-president Bill Shine, was ousted due to allegations that he tried to suppress the accusations against Ailes.
According to reports, a federal investigation into Fox News is expanding.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service began their investigation in September to see if Fox News’ settlement payments to the various women who accused Ailes of sexually harassing them were hidden from investors to keep the allegations under the radar. If that were the case, then Fox News could be subject to “criminal charges under a rarely used provision of the securities laws requiring public companies to keep accurate books and records,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Former Fox News public relations chief Bryan Lewis, who used to be close with Ailes, has been granted immunity on the matter.
The probe is also looking into Ailes’ “alleged intimidation tactics” against his accusers, per the Journal. One of these tactics allegedly involved Ailes hiring a private investigator named Bo Dietl to dig up dirt on “the backgrounds of people perceived to be a threat to either Mr. Ailes or the channel” and blackmail them:
Mr. Dietl said in an interview with the Journal that he was used by Fox News to look into the pasts of Ms. [Gretchen] Carlson and Andrea Mackris, a former producer who sued Mr. O’Reilly for harassment in 2004 and received a $9 million settlement from Mr. O’Reilly. Mr. Dietl said he was hired to find information that could discredit the women’s claims.
He said he had an investigator eavesdrop on Ms. Mackris’s conversations at an establishment, in an effort to show she wasn’t under duress from alleged harassment. A lawyer for Ms. Mackris didn’t respond to a call seeking comment.
Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson first brought the sexual harassment allegations against Ailes to light when she accused him of exhibiting that behavior toward her.
National Public Radio (NPR) interviewed various employees at Fox News who claimed they were being surveilled by Ailes and his allies through hidden cameras and bugged phone lines. NPR cites the example of former anchor Laurie Dhue:
Former Fox News anchor Laurie Dhue, whose lawyer said she is writing a memoir that will include her years at Fox, has said she kept quiet about her treatment by Ailes because of fears that Lewis’ crew would find ways to harm her reputation.
Those fears were well-founded: Fox public relations staffers distributed pictures of Dhue appearing intoxicated, and planted the assertion that she was drunk on a dance floor at a black-tie affair, according to the Washington Post’s then-gossip columnist, a Fox News staffer and a third person present who witnessed elements of the incident. Dhue was privately struggling with alcoholism at the time — which Fox’s public relations team knew.
The Journal also notes that Laurie Luhn, who was once the Fox News director of corporate and special events and is one of Ailes’ accusers with whom he reached a settlement, claimed that Shine attempted to use any means necessary to stop her from airing her accusations against Ailes to the media, including “calling her father to arrange her placement in a psychiatric-care facility in Texas against her wishes.”
Other Ailes accusers include Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky and former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros, who is filing a lawsuit against Ailes and Fox News.
It’s also worth noting that attorney Preet Bharara had been leading the probe until he was fired in March by President Donald Trump, although it’s normal for an incoming president to replace U.S. attorney holdovers from the previous administration.