“H as Roger Ailes been keeping tabs on your phone calls?”
That’s how Portfolio.com began a post back in 2008, when a former Fox News producer charged that Ailes had outfitted a highly secured “brain room” in Fox’s New York headquarters for “counterintelligence” and may have used it to hack into private phone records.
All this week people have been looking for links between the Murdoch empire’s burgeoning phone-hacking scandal in Britain and News Corp.’s sprawling political/communications juggernaut in the United States. The links so far include a former New York City cop alleging that Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World offered to pay him to hack into 9/11 victims’ phone records, and a shareholders’ suit in Delaware already targeting the company for nepotism adding British phone hacking as evidence of a corporate culture “run amock.”
But rumors have floated in the about possible phone hacking in that special-security-clearance-only bunker at Fox HQ for years.
In 2008, a fired Fox News producer, Dan Cooper, wrote on his website that some 10 years earlier David Brock (now head of Media Matters) had used Cooper as an anonymous, on-background-only source for an Ailes profile he was writing for New York magazine. Before the piece was published, on November 17, 1997, Cooper claims that his talent agent, Richard Leibner, told him he had received a call from Ailes, who identified Cooper as a source, and insisted that Leibner drop him as a client—or any client reels Leibner sent Fox would pile up in a corner and gather dust. Cooper continued:
“I made the connections. Ailes knew I had given Brock the interview. Certainly Brock didn’t tell him. Of course. Fox News had gotten Brock’s telephone records from the phone company, and my phone number was on the list. Deep in the bowels of 1211 Avenue of the Americas, News Corporation’s headquarters, was what Roger called the Brain Room. Most people thought it was simply the research department of Fox News. But, because I had to design and build the Brain Room, I knew it also housed a counterintelligence and black ops office. So accessing phone records was easy pie.”
Media writer Jeff Bercovici, then at Conde Nast’s short-lived Portfolio, was skeptical of such claims, writing in 2008 that Cooper was massively “disgruntled” and that potentially the most “explosive among Cooper’s many lurid claims, assuming anyone believes them” arose from his phone-records allegation. “A spokeswoman says there’s no truth to the claim the network has the capability to snoop through phone records,” Bercovici noted.
Tim Dickinson relays Cooper’s description of the brain room (though he doesn’t mention anything about phone records) in his fascinating piece on Ailes that ran in Rolling Stone two months ago. “In a separate facility on the same subterranean floor,” Dickenson writes, “Ailes created an in-house research unit—known at Fox News as the ‘brain room’—that requires special security clearance to gain access. ‘The brain room is where Willie Horton comes from,’ says Cooper.
Today, Cooper stands by his story
We’ve learned quite a bit over the past week about the value of the conglomerate’s corporate denials of wrongdoing. In the British phone-hacking scandal, various company players at first denied it, then blamed it on a single “rogue reporter,” then admitted the phone-hacking was systemic, and finally admitted paying large sums of money to certain victims in exchange for their silence.
Senators Jay Rockefeller and Frank Lautenberg have called for federal agencies to investigate whether the empire has violated privacy laws in the United States.
Leslie Savan writes for The Nation magazine.