Magazine article Variety

The Final Straw for Ailes at Fox News

Magazine article Variety

The Final Straw for Ailes at Fox News

Article excerpt

JUST ONE YEAR AGO, Roger Ailes'future at Fox News couldn't have seemed rosier.

His star anchor, Megyn Kelly, was about to launch a series of news specials that executives believed might propel her to the same heights enjoyed by Barbara Walters. His network was on the cusp of broadcasting Republican presidential debates that would garner huge ratings. And he had enough confidence in his position that when James and Lachlan Murdoch were named to executive positions at the network's parent, 21st Century Fox, he told Variety he expected to continue to take his marching orders from their father, Rupert Murdoch. "My job is to report to Rupert, and I expect that to continue," Ailes said.

Now Fox News is on the verge of losing its chief architect and guiding force. As of July 19, Ailes and 21st Century Fox were in talks that would strip him of his post; the conditions of his exit are reportedly being negotiated, including a possible $40 million payout.

The revelation followed days of seemingly unrelenting pressure in the form of damaging news leaks, the latest of which suggested that Ailes may have sexually harassed Kelly 10 years ago. But even prior to that, the Murdochs were close to forcing Ailes out; one report said they had given him until Aug. l to resign.

Gretchen Carlson, a Fox News anchor who left the network in June, lit the spark for the imbroglio. She filed charges earlier this month alleging that Ailes propositioned her sexually and derailed her career after she complained about treatment of women at the cable-news network. Ailes denied her allegations, countering that Carlson was seeking revenge after her contract wasn't renewed.

Susan Estrich, Ailes attorney, told Variety on July 19 that Ailes continues to work for Fox News under his current employment contract - a statement echoed by the media conglomerate. Asked if Ailes was negotiating his departure, she said, "There are a lot of ideas floating around, but no final decision has been made by anybody?

An Ailes exit would raise all kinds of thorny issues for the Murdochs. Fox News is the company's most profitable division, and its power among viewers helps 21st Century Fox gain placement for its many other TV networks, including FX and Fox Sports 1, on cable and satellite systems. Three of Fox News' key anchors - Sean Hannity, Greta Van Susteren, and Bill O'Reilly - are believed to have contracts -* <- with clauses that free them to depart the company if Ailes were to leave, raising the possibility of an on-air exodus with serious ratings consequences.

While Ailes saw at least a dozen current and former staffers publicly support him, another line began forming behind Carlson in the days after her lawsuit was filed: Multiple women gave interviews to New York magazine in which they shared their own allegations of sexual harassment against Ailes that go back decades. But throughout these dueling testimonies, the focus increased on Kelly, who maintained silence as her representatives were in talks with the network over the possibility of her continuing to work there.

But when a report surfaced July 19 alleging that Kelly had also disclosed a sexual harassment incident to investigators conducting an internal review of Ailes at the Murdochs'behest, Ailes'fate appeared to be sealed.

Estrich issued a statement later that day denying Ailes' inappropriate behavior toward Kelly. "Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn KellyT she said. "In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her to achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him. …

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