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Has Roger Ailes Hacked Americans' Phones for Fox News?

We know the shady dealings of Rupert Murdoch's UK papers, but what have the Fox News executives been up to on Murdoch's dime?
 
 
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The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for their e-mail newsletters here.

 “Has 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 executive 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 News Corp. US shareholders’ suit in Delaware already targeting the company for nepotism adding  British phone hacking as evidence of a corporate culture “run amuck.”

But rumors have floated in the press and on the Internet about possible phone hacking in that special-security-clearance-only bunker at Fox HQ for years.

 

Dan Cooper was one of the people who helped create the Fox News channel with Roger Ailes, and was fired in 1996. In 2008, Cooper  wrote on his website that David Brock (now head of Media Matters) had used him as an anonymous, on-background-only source for an Ailes profile he was writing for  New York  magazine. Before the piece was  published [5], 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 New York headquarters, was what Roger called the Brain Room. Most people thought it was simply the research department of Fox News. But unlike virtually everybody else, 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 early 2008 that Cooper was massively “disgruntled” (which appears to be true) and that “potentially the most explosive among Cooper’s many lurid claims, assuming anyone believes them” arose from his phone-records allegation. “A Fox News spokeswoman says there’s no truth to the claim that the network has the capability to snoop through phone records,” Bercovici noted, adding, “Leibner says it’s ‘not true’ and that he didn’t fire Cooper as a client.”

Cooper’s long post, called “Naked Launch,” which also served as a book proposal, is as much about him as it is about Fox News.

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, who helped design its specs. `It’s where the evil resides.’ ”