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Fox News Channel During The Conventions: On-Air Success, Off-Air Crisis


On the air over at the Fox News Channel, it's pretty much business as usual during this summer political season. This favorite of conservatives won top ratings during the Republican National Convention and scrutiny from critics for how it covered the Democrats. Off the air, Fox News remains shaken by crisis and almost daily revelations about the behavior of its recently departed chief, Roger Ailes. He was ousted amid a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former host Gretchen Carlson. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from New York City.

And, David, over the weekend, New York magazine dropped another bomb.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, what a bombshell it was. New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman, who's been out in front on a lot of this, interviewed a former Fox News booker named Laurie Luhn. She's notable for two reasons. One was that she said Roger Ailes coerced her into a sexual relationship and sexually harassed her for two decades. And she identified herself by name. Only a handful of people who have done so - have done so by name, even as a greater number of women have come forward.

The second, really more notable thing is that she says she acquiesced to Ailes' demands. A lot of women say that they were sexually harassed by him. But she said she willingly gave in to his sexual advances, increasingly, in some ways, ferocious, because she sought to advance her career in television. Luhn said that she felt, in a sense, helpless to prevent this. She felt dependent on Ailes for almost everything she achieved professionally.

MONTAGNE: Well, what does this tell us, if anything, about the way in which Fox News operated until this scandal broke open?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, if to credit this story - and there are certain elements that seem to have been verified, although Roger Ailes' attorney denies the account on his behalf. Bill Shine, a senior executive who was helping to run the network at the moment - he oversees programming, particularly the prime-time opinion programs. Bill Shine seems to have acted, in a sense, to be somebody who solicited female companionship for Roger Ailes over the years, and that's deeply troubling. 21st Century Fox has indicated they're not looking at the larger culture of behavior at Fox News or more executives than Roger Ailes himself, who's now, of course, out of the network. But this article seemingly puts Bill Shine right in the middle of the mix.

Also, if you look at the general counsel, Dianne Brandi, who approved a more than $3 million settlement for this complaint to go away - she says Roger Ailes denied this to her when these issues came up several years ago. But she certainly agreed to a significant payout to ensure privacy of this and has paid out other settlements to a producer who credibly accused Bill O'Reilly of harassing her, to a Fox News journalist who accused the man about to become Fox News' Washington bureau chief of sexually harassing her some years ago. You know, it sounds as though, in some ways, corporate monies have been paid to ensure that bad behavior by executives have been hushed up.

MONTAGNE: Rupert Murdoch has taken over running Fox News for now. He's the executive co-chairman, of course, of the parent company, 21st Century Fox, and the network's founder. How bold is he likely to be?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it depends how bold he wants to be, The New York Times reporting today that he's enjoying running Fox News. And he certainly loves a challenge, and he enjoys the influence that Fox News helps afford him in this country. The real question about the boldness of changes would be how much change his sons, Lachlan and James Murdoch, are pushing for.

He has ceded a fair amount of power at the company to them, as he wants to transition to the next generation of Murdochs. And the real question is how much they want to modernize the culture of the place. If you dispense with all the people who know how to run the place, you potentially jeopardize all the success in ratings and profits that Fox News has been able to generate.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.


MONTAGNE: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. 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.
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