12.01.11

NYPD Gives Fox News Special Protection

Fox News’s Midtown Manhattan studios get 24/7 protection from the NYPD, stiff security the other news networks say they’ve never enjoyed.

When Occupy Wall Street protesters marched past media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s posh 5th Avenue penthouse during the “Millionaires March” on October 11, they were accompanied by a “very light police presence” according to a reporter at the scene. But down at Rupert’s News Corp. headquarters on Sixth Ave.–which has never been a terrorist or protest target of any significance–the media empire is guarded by a 24-hour-a-day New York Police Department security detail seven days a week, a patrol that one security expert estimated costs the city at least half a million dollars a year.

No other news network gets comparable NYPD protection, although a police department spokesman suggested in an email to the Daily Beast that they did. As best we could decipher a rationale for this extraordinary sentry at the gates of the Fox empire, it appears to be fueled by the security obsession of Fox News chief Roger Ailes.

The Daily Beast has observed at least two, and up to three officers patrolling the News Corp. plaza with one or two police cars stationed in front of the 45-story building on a regular basis. A security guard inside the lobby of the News Corp. building said that the police presence out front “has nothing to do with Fox News,” and is there simply because it’s a “high-profile” area. Yet cops who spoke with The Daily Beast said that they are posted at the site to protect Fox News as part of a counterterrorism initiative. Most officers explained that Fox News is a sensitive location, and one even referred to it as a “political” network. Some ex-Fox News employees attribute the patrol to the “paranoia” of Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne, when asked why Fox News receives the protection when other media networks do not, responded in an email to The Daily Beast, “Each of the networks gets police coverage to varying extents based on threat information.” But interviews with security officials at other major networks–including CNN, CBS, ABC, and NBC–revealed that the NYPD does not provide any security details to these locations. Instead, they contract security guards from private vendors, employ their own security staff and, in some cases, hire a paid detail of off-duty or retired police officers, whose cost is incurred at the network’s expense.

A security manager of ABC News who requested anonymity said that the NYPD may occasionally send an officer in the case of a protest, but doesn’t ever recall a 24-hour security detail. “I would love the special favors,” he said. When asked if CBS–located four blocks north of News Corp. headquarters–foots the bill for its own security measures, a security supervisor who declined to give his name replied, “of course.” A security official at NBC, which sits just around the corner from the News Corp. building at Rockefeller Center, said that the NYPD officers patrolling their premises are hired by the network as paid details. Press offices for the news networks declined to give official statements due to the sensitive nature of security operations, but one office said, “It’s pretty common practice these days to have a company pay for additional detail to provide additional security at any given time, depending upon the events that are happening at the studio at the time,” and added that the NYPD officers who provide security for them are “a paid detail that we pay for.”

‘In a post-9/11 era, is no one allowed to ask the question, why is this [police] detail here? Or is everything just tip-top secret and can’t be elaborated on?’

Accounts vary as to how long the NYPD security detail has been stationed in front of the two-million-square-foot tower. One police officer said it’s definitely been more than a year. An ex-Fox News employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the NYPD presence has been there since the network got underway in the mid 1990s. Dan Cooper, who was hired by Fox in 1994, and was fired shortly after he helped launch the news network two years later, said that he does not remember a 24-hour NYPD security detail in front of the building at that time.

Ailes, who works out of News Corp. headquarters, is notorious for his obsession with security. A May 2011 Rolling Stone profile on the media mogul described how Ailes requested that bombproof glass be installed in his office windows, and is “convinced that he has personally been targeted by Al Qaeda for assassination.”

Cooper, who worked closely with Ailes at the time, was with him at the News Corp. building when he requested the bombproof glass. “He’s just a really deeply paranoid individual who, for whatever reason at this point, is afraid of things that go bump in the night,” Cooper said. “I don’t know why a terrorist, domestic or international, would target Fox News. I can’t even begin to imagine. And I think really what we’re talking about isn’t so much Fox News,” he said. “I really think we’re talking about Roger Ailes’ physical person. I think it’s Roger worried about what’s going to happen to him. And this has been the case since he was hired, his fear of his personal safety.”

Last August, John Cook of Yahoo News’ The Upshot reported that Ailes is licensed to carry a firearm in New York City (as is fellow Fox employee Sean Hannity). Gawker reported in April of this year that the police responded to calls at the Ailes home in Putnam Valley, New York, 10 times since 2009, most of which were classified as “security checks.” And New York Times journalists David Carr and Tim Arango wrote in a January 2010 profile on Ailes that “it was clear in the interview that the 9/11 attacks had a profound effect on Mr. Ailes. They convinced him that he and his network could be terrorist targets.” The article also stated that Ailes said he had been frequently threatened.

Ailes, who sold former Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Senior to the American public as a campaign consultant before taking over Fox News, has long been known for his tight relationships with public officials, as has Murdoch. News Corp. secured a $20 million tax break when the news network moved into the Sixth Ave. building in 1996, and then mayor Rudy Giuliani went to extra-legal lengths to get Fox a spot on the cable dial in New York even after a federal court rebuked his efforts. It’s also worth mentioning that New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s son Greg has worked for Ailes’s network since 2002, as a White House correspondent and co-anchor on Fox and Friends Weekend--filmed at the media empire on Sixth Ave.--and since 2008 at Good Day NY, which is filmed on the Upper East Side.

Browne, the NYPD spokesman, did not respond to the question of whether Fox News has had terrorist threats, or if the public has a right to know. The Daily Beast’s request to know if the News Corp. building is on New York City’s current list of terrorist target locations also went unanswered. Lou Anemone, who created a vulnerability list of New York City’s top 1,500 terrorist targets during Giuliani’s first mayoral term, said that the News Corp building “was not in the list as of June 10, 1998.”

The NYPD website for the city’s counterterrorism initiatives states that the bureau conducts “daily assessments to determine which hotels, museums, landmarks, and other attractions merit additional protection,” which suggests that the official protocol for determining the level of police coverage Fox News receives would be discussed by the department on a daily basis.

Whether the NYPD is there for Ailes or as part of a counterterrorism initiative, one thing is certain: the 24-hour security detail carries a hefty price tag for a city strained with massive budget cuts and a vast reduction in police staff. In fact, by June 2012, the NYPD will comprise the smallest police force the city has had since its high-crime era in 1992.

Eugene O’Donnell, professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice estimated that a round-the-clock patrol staffed by a minimum of two officers costs the city at least half a million dollars a year, a “conservative estimate” that does not account for benefits or additional policemen.

“There are always questions when public money is being used that collide with this whole idea that there are legitimate reasons to not disclose why it’s being used, or how it’s being used,” he said. “It’s sort of a collision between the public’s right to know and their maintaining that they don’t publicly discuss security. I think that’s what they’re basically saying–they don’t publicly discuss security.

“And obviously,” O’Donnell said, “the important question would be, if they don’t discuss it with you, who do they discuss it with? Or is it the fact that they don’t discuss it with anyone, such as the council or some other oversight body? Is it just something that they have carte blanche to do as they see fit?

“The larger question of all is,” he said, “in an era of terrorism, is there no scrutiny at all of these things? And it sounds like there’s not. In a post-9/11 era, is no one allowed to ask the question, why is this detail here? Or is everything just tip-top secret and can’t be elaborated on?”

A spokesperson for Roger Ailes declined an interview request from The Daily Beast.