Journalists are highly competitive, but every once in a while, a reporter is so far out ahead on a continuing story that all the rest of us can do is acknowledge the obvious.
So it has been with New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman and the fast-moving story of the sexual harassment claims against the now-deposed head of Fox News, Roger Ailes.
Thus, senior New York Times editor Lydia Polgreen’s comment last week on Twitter:
“MVP award this week must go to @gabrielsherman, who was ahead of everyone on Ailes despite a broken arm.” (Sherman broke his arm at the Republican National Convention.)
And thus CNN media reporter Brian Stelter’s tweet: “Tip of the hat to @gabrielsherman — he was alone & out front on this story.”
Sherman, 37, has clearly led the reporting of this saga, which began July 6 with former Fox host Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against her former boss, claiming that he harassed her for years. Since then, many women have come forward with similar stories of how Ailes used his power to pressure women for sex.
Fox News has been notoriously secretive about its inner workings, aggressively managing its public image.
“Now the curtain is fully open, and it’s incredibly creepy, dark and disturbing,” Sherman told me this week.
After Carlson filed suit, Ailes immediately and vehemently denied her charges, as he has with all the harassment claims against him that have followed. He has insisted that Carlson was retaliating against him because she was fired for poor ratings and that he helped many women’s careers at Fox. (I interviewed Carlson last week.)
Ailes’s defense was quickly met by a Sherman story quoting six women, two by name, giving detailed accounts of Ailes harassing them, going back decades.
Fox’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, run by Rupert Murdoch and his two sons, authorized an internal investigation, and it wasn’t long before Ailes was forced out. (That was the development that both Polgreen and Stelter were specifically noting.)
Other news organizations, including The Washington Post and the New York Times, have done strong work on this story, but Sherman has owned it. I asked him, and two of his editors, how that happened.
Their answers can be summed up succinctly: deep sources and dogged persistence.
Sherman’s sources inside and around Fox News date back to the reporting of his 2014 Ailes biography, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” and he has kept working them and developing others.
“It’s really remarkable what he’s done — he’s exposed a corporate culture of sexism, harassment and misogyny,” said the magazine’s executive editor, Lauren Kern.
The latest chapter is the distressing story of Laurie Luhn, a Fox News booker, who said that Ailes harassed and psychologically tortured her for 20 years. Sherman got an anonymous email a few days after Ailes was deposed; Luhn, it turned out, was thinking of telling her story, despite a 2011 settlement with Fox of more than $3 million and its strict non-disclosure agreement. After some conversation, she agreed to talk, despite the risks.
Sherman and his wife, Jennifer Stahl, an editor at ProPublica who has helped Sherman with research and editing of his book, then hopped a flight to Los Angeles. Over the next two days, he questioned Luhn for 11 hours, and soon five editors and a lawyer were ushering the story into publication Friday afternoon.
It was especially tricky, not only because of the legal implications of her settlement, but because Luhn struggles with mental health problems and has been hospitalized. Sherman and his editors told me they went to great lengths to corroborate every possible detail of her story.
Adam Moss, editor in chief of New York magazine, praised Sherman for an unusual combination of traits: “He is both absolutely persistent and very sensitive. He has been careful and empathetic all along the way.”
Sherman doesn’t think for a minute that the story has run its course. Carlson’s suit has to play out, and so do the leadership changes at Fox News. So far, Rupert Murdoch has taken the helm of the news organization that he and Ailes founded together 20 years ago as a conservative alternative to mainstream media and that has had a profound effect on American politics.
Will 21st Century Fox examine the roles of those in Ailes’s inner circle who may have enabled or ignored what was happening? And what’s the status of the internal investigation? (Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti referred my questions to 21st Century Fox; the company has not responded.)
Sherman is hopeful “that enough questions have been raised that if the Murdochs really want to change the culture, they will clean house.”
There’s a lot that is unknown, Sherman said, and added what should come as no surprise to anyone: “I’m continuing to report the story.”
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan