The Tarnish That Could Finish Bill Shine, ‘The Butler’ Of Fox News
The longevity of Bill Shine as co-president of Fox News is threatened by his reputation as Roger Ailes’s henchman. Just what did he know about the sexual and racial scandals rocking the station?
The 61-year-old Clemente—who refused to comment for this article, and was fired five days after Fox News’s founder and chairman resigned in disgrace last July—privately called Shine “The Butler,” according to sources.
That moniker—along with other epithets that the right-leaning cable outlet’s employees regularly attached to Shine, such as “henchman,” “enforcer,” and “executioner”—defined his role as Ailes’s right arm with a two-decade history of unquestioning loyalty and subservience.
Shine’s reputation as Ailes’s facilitator in all things is now threatening his longevity as Fox News’s co-president, the dearly desired promotion he finally received a few weeks after Ailes’s abrupt departure.
On Friday, the Hollywood Reporter suggested that Shine’s tenure is drawing to a close, and that his bosses “have put out feelers” for a replacement—preferably a woman.
The questions surrounding Shine are also not helpful to the efforts of Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, which owns 39 percent of Sky PLC, to acquire the remaining 61 percent of the highly profitable European television and internet platform; British regulators have delayed their recommendation on whether to approve the transaction, originally scheduled for May 15, reportedly in order to consider the mounting allegations against Fox News.
Among Shine’s detractors inside and outside of the cable network, including half a dozen Fox News veterans who spoke to The Daily Beast, speculation is rampant that “The Butler” did it; namely that Shine knows more than he has admitted about the toxic goings-on behind the camera—the subject of a federal investigation into company payments of millions of dollars in alleged hush money to cover up workplace misconduct, and multiple lawsuits claiming sexual harassment, retaliation, and racial discrimination involving Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and others at the network.
“Putting aside their unbelievably false protestations of innocence,” said New York lawyer Judd Burstein, who has filed two lawsuits against Shine, Fox News general counsel Dianne Brandi, and others on behalf of fired on-air personality Andrea Tantaros, “the only way to fix this is for the Murdochs to clean house”—a reference to Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James, who run Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox.
Burstein added that Shine’s denials don’t pass the smell test. “There is just no way,” he said. “If Roger Ailes or Bill O’Reilly had done this once or twice—maybe. But when it’s piling up and piling up, you’ve got to think to yourself, how is this possible unless people were helping them?”
Several Fox veterans cited Shine’s reported hands-on role in helping Ailes out of a sticky situation with Laurie Luhn, a former Fox News events planner and talent booker who claimed to have been Ailes’s sex slave for many years.
Suffering from acute depression, she was paid $3.15 million in a 2011 severance package that included an “iron-clad” non-disclosure agreement, according to New York magazine.
The 53-year-old Shine, the target of several public campaigns in recent days calling for his sacking, has denied knowledge of or culpability in any misconduct, and Fox News didn’t make him available for an interview or respond to a request for comment.
But it’s hardly a hopeful sign that Lachlan and James Murdoch have conspicuously refused his pleas for a statement of continued confidence and support, according to New York magazine.
So far, Shine’s only public defender at the network is his close friend Sean Hannity, who plucked him out of obscurity 21 years ago, bringing him to Ailes’s fledgling cable operation to run Hannity & Colmes when Shine was a lowly producer at Newstalk, a fringe startup featuring radio hosts, after bouncing around local television stations on Long Island, where both men live and have often shared the commute into Manhattan.
Tweeting with the hashtag #Istandwithshine, Hannity predicted on Thursday that if Shine loses his job, “that’s the total end of the FNC as we know it. Done.”
In a subsequent tweet, directed at New York magazine national editor Gabriel Sherman, Hannity added: “Somebody HIGH UP AND INSIDE FNC is trying to get an innocent person fired. And Gabe I KNOW WHO it is.”
Hannity has refused to reveal the identity of Shine’s supposed “high up” enemy, if such a person exists, although several industry sources are guessing it could be 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch, who reportedly pushed for the April 19 firing of Bill O’Reilly and also took the lead in forcing Ailes’s exit.
James couldn’t have been pleased last September to read Sherman’s account of an incident in which Shine laughed appreciatively when Ailes spotted the younger Murdoch smoking a cigarette on a close-circuit security screen, and quipped: “Tell me that mouth hasn’t sucked a cock.” (When the anecdote was published, Shine asserted through a spokesperson that he didn’t recall the incident, and on Thursday 21st Century Fox didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
In Shine’s defense, he has not been known among women at Fox News—a workplace rife with “whispers of a lot of people having affairs,” according to one veteran who, like others who spoke to The Daily Beast, requested anonymity out of fear of retribution—to flirt, leer, demand hugs and kisses, make lecherous comments, or otherwise engage in the sort of inappropriate behavior ascribed to Ailes and O’Reilly.
During meetings in his second-floor office with on-air female talent, Shine strikes a professional mien, generally sitting behind his desk rather than getting up close and personal, à la Ailes, on a sofa in a cozy corner.
Shine was also the executive who most often communicated Ailes’s occasionally harsh critiques to various on-air personalities about their television presentations—usually complaining about something they said or didn’t say, and at one point demanding that a female anchor never again wear a certain pair of shoes on camera.
Often Shine would claim the criticisms were his own, but added, “Roger feels the same way.” Sometimes, however, he’d give the bad news grudgingly, and hint that he was only following orders.
But if Shine didn’t suspect his boss’ misconduct, “I think it was willful blindness,” said the Fox News veteran, noting that Ailes tended to meet with his on-air talent alone, behind closed doors, with no witnesses, “and to get to Roger you had to get through, like, three gatekeepers.”
A longtime Fox News producer—who also requested anonymity—was blunter concerning Shine’s role.
“I cannot imagine him being ignorant of that at all,” the producer said. “He’s part of that…In my opinion, Shine”—and other Fox News executives—“are these fucking cover-up artists. They have run roughshod over so many good, nice people for the benefit of these scumbags.”
The producer recalled a September 2014 meeting for which Shine summoned staffers of The Five, shortly after panelist Eric Bolling made a misogynistic joke on the air about the first female fighter pilot from the United Arab Emirates participating in an attack on ISIS in Syria.
Public disgust with Bolling was unrelenting and he had been forced to apologize for quipping: “Would that be considered boobs on the ground?”
Shine, this person recalled, then proceeded to heap blame not on Bolling for his ugly remark but on the producer in the control room who neglected to press the red delay button.
Meanwhile, Shine’s friendship with Hannity—who, by most accounts, is the most powerful person at Fox News since O’Reilly’s departure, with a direct line to Donald Trump—has been essential to preserving his position as the channel’s co-president along with Jack Abernethy.
Shine’s relationship with the Fox News star was briefly frayed in the summer of 2013, according to witnesses, when Hannity apparently expected Shine to argue Ailes out of plans to bump Hannity from 9 p.m. to the less attractive 10 p.m. slot in order to accommodate Megyn Kelly’s prime-time program.
“Hannity was utterly cocky about it, telling everyone, ‘I’m not moving,’” recalled a Fox News insider. “No one could figure out why he was so confident about this.” After the announcement of the prime-time shakeup, “Hannity was angry,” said the insider. “Clearly Shine had only so much power.”
Until now, and especially under Ailes, Shine managed to survive and thrive at Fox News, dispatching his chief rival, Michael Clemente, with relative ease. Clemente boasted sterling journalistic credentials from his decades as a top producer at ABC News, but Shine—who was in charge of Fox News’s profit center, Fox & Friends and the prime-time opinion programming, including the ratings-dominant O’Reilly Factor—had been present at the creation.
Clemente, however, was a newcomer when he joined the top-rated cable outlet in February 2009 to supervise the hard-news “fair and balanced” daytime programming.
Shine and Clemente cordially despised each other, and Ailes, said witnesses, enjoyed pitting them against each other. But he was never certain of Clemente’s fealty.
Still, in early 2016 during the Republican primary season, Clemente thwarted Shine’s attempt to install Hannity as the moderator of a GOP presidential debate.
His victory came after what sources described as an ugly, profanity-laced shouting match between the two men—their veins bulging out of their necks—during a formal planning session.
Clemente insisted that Fox News debates be moderated not by opinion-mongers like Hannity, who was already embracing the Trump candidacy (for which he later appeared in a promotional video), but by solid journalists like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace.
Clemente’s triumph was short-lived. In April 2016, Ailes essentially demoted him from running the news operation to overseeing a newly created long-form documentary unit. Three months later, Shine disbanded the unit, and Clemente was out the door.
The Butler, for now, remains lord of the manor, but maybe not for much longer.