Roger Ailes has officially stepped down from Fox News Channel, according to a statement from 21st Century Fox, the cable-news network’s corporate parent. His resignation comes after a series of sexual-harassment allegations had been leveled against him, and brings to a sudden end an era at a TV network that has become hugely influential in political circles and the daily news cycle.
Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of the parent company, will take over supervision of the network and its sibling, the Fox Business Network, as its chairman and interim chief executive, the company said. Ailes is expected to be available to Murdoch as an advisor, according to a person familiar with the situation. The executive also stands to receive the salary he was due under his last contract, which was to have expired in 2018 and paid him approximately $20 million a year.
Fox News’ parent, 21st Century Fox, had earlier this month started an internal review into charges made in a lawsuit filed by Gretchen Carlson, a longtime Fox News anchor who left the outlet in June. In that lawsuit, Carlson alleged Ailes had made unwanted sexual advances after she complained to him about treatment of women at the network. Ailes has denied the charges and sought to bring the suit under arbitration. During that review, similar allegations began to surface, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Ailes’ departure has been expected since earlier this week, when more allegations surfaced that some current Fox News staffers complained of harassing behavior. At that time, his attorney, Susan Estrich, confirmed that Ailes and 21st Century Fox were working on a separation plan.
Murdoch’s decision to supervise the operations speaks to how highly he values Fox News and its rise on the national scene. One person familiar with the company said Murdoch sees Fox News Channel as part of his legacy, and is determined to see it thrive. The operation is also a key part of the corporation, which is controlled by Murdoch and his family,and backs everything from the Fox broadcast network and the Sky satellite service. Fox News is said to throw off 20% of the company’s cash flow, according to estimates, and generates hundreds of millions of dollars every year in advertising.
“I am personally committed to ensuring that Fox News remains a distinctive, powerful voice. Our nation needs a robust Fox News to resonate from every corner of the country,” said Murdoch in a prepared statement.
The company’s announcement made no mention of allegations made against Ailes, or the status of the company’s review. The findings are not likely to be made public. Ailes has denied the sexual-harassment charges made by Carlson and others, and many prominent Fox News anchors have come to his defense in public.
Inside Fox News, however, some staffers were taken aback by the fact that Ailes made no admission of wrongdoing in the company’s release, according to one person familiar with the operation. The fact that Murdoch could turn to Ailes for advice on how to run Fox News also troubles staffers, this person said. After all, several came forward to discuss Ailes’ alleged harassment and behavior.
The company intends to “continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect,” said Lachlan and James Murdoch, Rupert’s sons and the executive chairman and chief executive, respectively, of the entertainment conglomerate. “We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.”
The news is likely to lend momentum to Carlson’s case against Ailes, which she filed in New Jersey, and which Ailes’ attorneys have hoped to move to arbitration in New York. In a statement Thursday, her attorneys suggested they would press forward. “Within two weeks of her filing a lawsuit against Roger Ailes, Gretchen Carlson’s extraordinary courage has caused a seismic shift in the media world. We hope that all businesses now understand that women will no longer tolerate sexual harassment and reputable companies will no longer shield those who abuse women,” said her attorneys in a statement. “We thank all the brave women who spoke out about this issue. We will have more to say in coming days as events unfold.”
The sexual harassment allegations tarnish Ailes’ legacy. He took Fox News from outlier status and made it a competitor to CNN and MSNBC, both of which were already on the air, fighting Time Warner Cable for carriage during Fox News’ early days. The idea was to provide news, with a view, to people who favored conservative politics. The network’s anchors took on populist issues in plain-spoken language, surrounded by crisp graphics and wrapped in a programming schedule that changed only occasionally. Indeed, the network’s primetime lineup has changed only a handful of times over two decades. At various times, Fox News has had great influence within the Republican Party, and leading politicians like Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingirch have been among the network’s contributors.
Three veteran senior executives will help Murdoch run the networks: Bill Shine, senior executive vice president of programming; Jay Wallace, executive vice president of news and editorial; and Mark Kranz, the unit’s chief financial officer.
Murdoch and the team face challenges. Contracts for Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly. arguably the stars of the network, are set to expire in 2017. The network is caught in the same whirlwind of technology, viewer migration and millennial embrace of a diversity of voices as every other entity on the set-top box. Younger viewers may not sit down for an entire evening of O’Reilly, Kelly and Sean Hannity, as their elders might. But they might watch snippets of favorite shows via streaming video and a mobile device.
Reports have also surfaced in recent days that other Fox News talent might consider leaving. Executives at the parent company don’t seem to feel that issue is pressing.
With Donald Trump about to receive the Republican nomination candidate for President of the United States, however, some of the network’s standing may be called into question. Trump has demonstrated a willingness to take to other means of communication to deliver his talking points – and he picked a fight with Kelly after she questioned him in a Fox News-televised debate last year. In recent weeks, however, Trump has made the overwhelming number of his appearances on TV-news outlets on Fox.