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More Women Step Forward To Accuse Roger Ailes Of Sexual Harassment


The sexual harassment scandal that cost Fox News chairman Roger Ailes his job is expanding. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the number of women who have said they were sexually harassed by Ailes is now in double digits, and the repercussions continue. Today, Fox announced its chief financial officer is leaving.

NPR's David Folkenflik has been covering the story. He's learned a lot about how Fox News operates. And first, David, how many more women have stepped forward? What are we hearing in the way of new allegations?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, apparently, the review has talked to more than 20 women. It's not 100 percent clear how many of them are explicitly making accusations about Ailes or about the general culture of sexual harassment, sexism at Fox News. The Wall Street Journal, of course, is controlled by the Murdoch family, as is Fox News. It could be considered a reliable source about that.

But you know, among the people who have stepped forward of late is Andrea Tantaros. She's a very prominent host of "The Five," a popular late-afternoon show. She has now publicly accused Roger Ailes of sexually harassing her. Lawyers and officials at Fox News have - have said on background that, you know, they've looked into allegations she made against other men, but that she had never previously brought forth any allegations against Ailes, who, I might add, has denied all of the many and mounting allegations against him.

CORNISH: I want to talk more about the reaction from Fox, as we mentioned - the change in leadership positions today, with the CFO leaving. And there were reports that 21st Century Fox is preparing for settlement talks. What more do you know?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I'm told that that parent company, 21st Century Fox is girding to make significant payouts to some of the women who have made these allegations and accusations against Roger Ailes. Today, Fox News, which is being led in the interim by Rupert Murdoch himself, the very head of the parent company, they've elevated Bill Shine, who had been the head of programming and an executive vice president there, to be co-president along with the guy who oversees Fox's broadcast local stations.

And in addition, they - they elevated Suzanne Scott, who's been a programming executive, to be an executive vice president. You know, those two elevations, in a sense, entrench - at least for now - into roles people who are thought of by people at Fox News as those who implemented Roger Ailes' will. So if you're looking for a vast change in the corporate culture at Fox News, it might be a little hard to see.

That said, the CFO was, in the past, I'm told by sources, involved in approving private settlements to women who had raised allegations against Ailes and others of sexual misconduct to keep their stories private. He would have had to be involved. But then again, so would the general counsel and the head of human resources. And those two executives remain on the job.

CORNISH: This story is a reminder that when it comes to sexual harassment, there are many reasons why people don't speak up. And in your reporting, you've said that this was particularly difficult at Fox. How come?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, Roger Ailes came from the world of politics and really broken-in politics in the campaigns of Richard Nixon. And he was a guy who ran, essentially, certain kinds of dirty tricks. At Fox News, we've learned in recent weeks that they essentially plotted against their critics. They figured out ways to try to discredit them, to send at times, perhaps, private investigators to learn more about them. And if you want to think about why a woman wouldn't come forward to accuse Roger Ailes of things, Laurie Dhue was an anchor for Fox News, and she once publicly, in an elevator, criticized the head of publicity for not getting her enough press.

And he managed to ensure that leaked from Fox News were unflattering photographs of her and planted the idea in the Washington Post's gossip column that she had been drunk publicly. Privately and secretly, Laurie Dhue - something they knew - she was an alcoholic. Now, she turns out to be somebody who has claims of her own to make about Roger Ailes, according to her lawyer. She's keeping it for a book. But if you think that somebody's going to be punished and embarrassed publicly for something they said about how much publicity they were saying, imagine how much punishment they might face if they would make accusations of sexual harassment against the CEO and chairman.

CORNISH: What does all this tell us about how Ailes ran things and, really, about the culture at Fox, how it operated as a result?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, when you think of a news organization, you think of there being separations between personal agendas and what you see on the air or separation between corporate agendas and what you see on the air. The revelations of recent weeks have shown that Roger Ailes really ran Fox News as though it were purely a political shop. You - you repay your allies, and you punish those who criticize you.

CORNISH: That's NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik. David, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.