A former Fox booker has come forward with her story of over twenty years of sexual harassment by Roger Ailes, former Fox News chief. Ailes resigned from Fox after Gretchen Carlson, followed by other women—including Fox’s Megyn Kelly—said that they had been sexually harassed by Ailes (some decades ago, some more recently). Ailes is to receive more than $40 million in payout from 21st Century Fox.
What distinguishes the former Fox booker, Laurie Luhn, from most of these women, according to the New York Magazine piece that shared Luhn’s story, is that she went along with what Ailes wanted, “because he was powerful, because she thought he could help her advance her career, because she was professionally adrift and emotionally unmoored.”
The piece—penned by Gabriel Sherman, author of The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News—and Divided a Country—was quick to take off and make the social media rounds. It’s been described as a “horrifying must-read,” “a study in horror,”and “the saddest, most awful story.” And it is horrifying and horror and saddest and most awful, but those words do not communicate the impact of the piece itself (which, Sherman writes, involved careful corroboration and investigation by New York and Sherman himself).
Luhn met Ailes while campaigning for George H.W. Bush in 1988 and asked him for professional advice and help
One Saturday morning right before Labor Day, she introduced herself to Ailes in the elevator at the campaign headquarters. “I’m Laurie Luhn, and I got to see the ads. I’d love to learn how to do that,” she recalled saying. A few days later, she said, Ailes called out to her as he walked by her desk: “If there is ever anything I can do for you, let me know.”
Three years later, after he put her on “a $500 monthly retainer to do ‘research,’” he brought her to a hotel suite and made her dance for him.
Luhn put on the black garter and stockings she said Ailes had instructed her to buy; he called it her uniform. Ailes sat on a couch. “Go over there. Dance for me,” she recalled him saying. She hesitated. “Laurie, if you’re gonna be my girl, my eyes and ears, if you are going to be someone I can depend on in Washington, my spy, come on, dance for me,” he said, according to her account. When she started dancing, Ailes got out a video camera. Luhn didn’t want to be filmed, she said, but Ailes was insistent: “I am gonna need you to do better than that.”
He put the footage of her dancing in a safe-deposit box “just so we understand each other.”
She followed Ailes to Fox in 1996 because, she said,
“I was programmed,”…Even today, she said, “sometimes the Stockholm syndrome with Roger slips back, and I am still a little girl trying to impress Daddy Roger.”
At Fox, “the hotel meetings resumed” and she moved up the ranks. By 2006, hotel meetings had been replaced by regular phone sex, and Luhn was expected to find young, beautiful women and send them Ailes’ way.
Luhn denied ever setting Ailes up with her staff for explicitly sexual purposes, but she did send them in for private meetings with him where she knew they could be exposed to sexual harassment. One woman who worked for Luhn and spoke only on the condition of anonymity said that Luhn sent her to an after-hours meeting with Ailes in his office.
Eventually, Luhn was demoted. Her emotional state worsened. She had a mental breakdown. Ailes responded by instructing her to cut off contact from everyone she knew and telling her exactly how to respond to all emails.
In 2011, after a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt, Luhn “signed a $3.15 million settlement agreement with extensive nondisclosure provisions.” She has risked that settlement to tell Sherman her story.
Ailes’ lawyer, Susan Estrich, did not respond to request for comment on the piece itself, but has since issued a statement saying that Ailes denies the allegations and suggesting that Luhn is “the subject of journalistic exploitation.”
The journalist in question tweeted, after the publication of the piece, “Reporting this story made me even more outraged Ailes walked away with $40 million payout from 21st Century Fox.”