Roger Ailes, who transformed Fox News Channel from a start-up into one of the nation’s most influential news organizations in under two decades, is said to be in negotiations to leave the 21st Century Fox-owned cable outlet in the wake of a bevy of sexual-harassment allegations leveled at him, according to a person familiar with the situation.
In a statement, 21st Century Fox said Ailes remained an employee. “Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. And the only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement,” the company said in a statement released on Twitter.
Susan Estrich, an attorney for Ailes, echoed that statement in an interview. When asked if Ailes was negotiating his departure with 21st Century Fox, she said, “There are a lot of ideas floating around, but no final decision has been made by anybody.” When asked if Ailes wanted to stay at Fox News, she said, “Roger wants Fox News to be successful. The most important thing for Roger is that Fox News continues to be the number-one cable network.”
Ailes and 21st Century Fox may still be hammering out the terms of his departure, said the person familiar with the matter, but Ailes has not had much of a presence in the offices of Fox News and has not been contributing a great deal to meetings about news coverage. “Today is the day they reached the decision to part ways,” this person said. “Everyone there wants clarity, because you have the stars of the network in Cleveland.” Fox News has a strong presence at the Republican National Convention currently underway in Ohio.
Ailes, who built a business that throws off millions of dollars in revenue, could depart under a cloud. Gretchen Carlson, the former “Fox & Friends” anchor who left the network in June, filed a lawsuit in New Jersey earlier this month alleging Ailes had harassed her and derailed her career. Ailes had in a previous statement denied the charges. More women came forward alleging similar treatment by Ailes during his time as a producer in the decades before he set up shop at Fox News.
A final blow seemed to come on Tuesday: a report in New York magazine alleging that Megyn Kelly, one of the network’s primetime stars, had been the victim of unwanted sexual advances in her earlier days at the network. Those claims have not been independently verified, but the report seems to have played a role in determining the viability of Ailes’ tenure.
In a prepared statement, Estrich disputed the New York report. “Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly. 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,” said Estrich, a partner at the Quinn Emanuel law firm, in a prepared statement.
Ailes is believed to be working under a contract with a term that expires in 2018.
The parent company faces a risk: Fox News has in its time become an influence on everything from the daily news cycle to the U.S. presidential election. Donald Trump’s willingness to spar verbally with veteran politicians first became evident at a Republican debate broadcast by Fox News last year. Anchor Bill O’Reilly continues to snare some of the biggest audiences in cable, even though he has been on the air in one form or another since 1996.
There are questions as to whether some of the network’s top stars would stay at a Fox News led by someone other than Ailes. Both Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly have contracts that expire in 2017. The Financial Times reported earlier today that Kelly, O’Reilly and Sean Hannity have clauses in their contracts that would allow them to leave the network if Ailes did as well.