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At Fox News, Turmoil Rages on as Bill Shine Exits

At a time when Fox News Channel is trying to move forward, the 21st Century Fox-owned network simply can’t seem to get out of its own way.

Fox News co-president Bill Shine became the latest high-profile executive to be ousted at the cable news network, following allegations that he covered up incidents of sexual harassment against anchor Bill O’Reilly and former chief Roger Ailes, who left the network last summer. Suzanne Scott, who had been executive vice president of programming, was named president of programming.  The parent company did not fill Shine’s role.

This latest shakeup is telling of the turmoil within the network, given the public show of support given to the exec by Rupert Murdoch, who was recently spotted taking Shine and co-president Jack Abernethy to a prominent Manhattan restaurant for lunch. And when rumors first emerged of Shine’s exit, anchor Sean Hannity went on a tweet storm defending him, and threatening if it were true, it would be “the total end of FNC as we know it.” He not only suggested he, too, might leave the network, but also suggested that he, too, might take legal action, tweeting: “A lot of time with an army of attorneys. Topics include: libel, slander, defamation, tortious interference. Stay tuned.”

It’s been a rough week for FNC, which also saw 11 current and former Fox News employees file a racial discrimination lawsuit against Fox News in State Supreme Court in the Bronx (the network “vehemently denied” the claims). Diana Falzone, another FNC employee, filed a suit alleging gender and disability discrimination. And Jesse Watters, a co-host on “The Five,” took a “vacation” after sparking controversy with remarks about Ivanka Trump that were interpreted as being disrespectful and misogynistic.

Solid Start
Nielsens for Tucker Carlson’s first week in the 8 p.m. hour approached Bill O’Reilly’s.
$3.6m Total viewers for Bill O’Reilly’s final broadcast of “The O’Reilly Factor”
$3.2m Total viewers for Tucker Carlon’s first broadcast in O’Reilly’s time slot

Most seriously, a federal investigation into the possibility that payments made to former employees were not accounted for properly continues to gain traction.

“Fox News Channel needs to stabilize the ship, and have a few weeks in which they can broadcast news and not be the subject of news,” said Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. “Every Fox News Channel mistake or awkward remark will be amplified in the current climate.”

Kelly O’Keefe, an advertising professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, suggested top executives refocus the network and open up a more “respectful” on-air dialogue.

In its first full week without “The O’Reilly Factor,” Fox News made some progress in the ratings, if not on the scandal front. Tucker Carlson has thrived in O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. roost. “The Five,” now at 9 p.m., fared well against a surging Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. And Fox News this week is launching new programs: a panel show at 5 p.m. and a refocused hour for Martha MacCallum at 7 p.m.

But Fox News Channel has to manage for the future as well as the present. O’Reilly has indicated he might like to take his current project — a daily podcast — to a rival media outlet. That’s likely to spark new chatter about someone setting up a far-right news network to court people who have stuck faithfully with Fox News.

Fox executives, at least publicly, have focused on the network’s on-screen programming, while critics remain vigilant about off-screen offenses. Until viewers show signs of pulling away, Fox News is likely to soldier on, hoping that winning the ratings battle will feed its efforts in its larger war. In the meantime, more turmoil is likely. “Things that would have passed without an eyebrow being raised a year ago will now get heightened scrutiny,” McCall said.

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