Is Roger Ailes Out at Fox News?

Matt Furman
Roger Ailes

"Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. And the only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement," says a representative for parent company 21st Century Fox amid reports the news mogul is on his way out.

Roger Ailes will step down as chairman and CEO of Fox News, according to a since-deleted tweet on Tuesday from influential conservative media commentator Matt Drudge that included an exit document. 

Drudge, who posted what appears to be the separation agreement between Ailes and Fox News, took it down minutes after posting the document. The final day for the exec, who has been embroiled in a sexual harassment investigation by Fox News parent 21st Century Fox, is dated July 22.

Asked to confirm Ailes' exit, a Fox News spokesperson declined to comment, but a rep for 21st Century Fox says, "Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. And the only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement."

In addition, media outlets are being provided a statement from Ailes lawyer Susan Estrich, responding to a report Tuesday claiming Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had told investigators she was harassed by Ailes.

"Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly," Estrich says in the statement. "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."

 

In what could foreshadow a shake-up for the cabler, anchors Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren have contracts structured so that they could exit the network if Ailes does, The Financial Times reported, citing unnamed sources.

The unfolding drama comes just weeks after ousted anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, prompting an internal review and cascading media reports (many from women who declined to be identified) asserting similar claims. Since Carlson's suit was filed in New Jersey Superior Court (Ailes has a home in New Jersey), many prominent Fox News anchors have come forward to support Ailes including Van Susteren, Maria Bartiromo, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Martha MacCallum, Sandra Smith and Jeanine Pirro, a former New York prosecutor.

"Everyone I know at Fox News was shocked," MacCallum told The Hollywood Reporter on July 10. 

Kelly, the network's biggest female star, whose rankling of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump became a central storyline in the volatile 2016 race, has stayed silent. But on July 19, New York magazine reported Kelly has told investigators that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances toward her when she first joined the network as a legal correspondent. Kelly is currently in contract negotiations. But she has said publicly that she's unsure if she wants to stay at Fox News. 

"Loyal" and "supportive" are adjectives many Fox News employees have used to describe Ailes over the years.  

"You don't feel that your neck is on some chopping block, and if you have a weak period in the ratings or if you say something stupid you're going to get fired," Kelly told THR during a 2015 interview about Ailes. "You're not going to get fired. It would have to be really, really egregious. The people who get fired at Fox, it's never really a firing, it's usually, 'Well, it didn't work out so let me help you move on and I won't publicly humiliate you.'"

Ailes has always had a close relationship with Rupert Murdoch, who shares some of Ailes' conservative ideology and hired Ailes to execute a vision for a different kind of cable news channel. But Ailes has not forged a relationship with Murdoch's sons, James and Lachlan Murdoch, who in 2015 took over day-to-day oversight of 21st Century Fox. The new hierarchy has been a sore spot for Ailes. And as the internal review — conducted by New York law firm Paul Weiss — progressed, James and Lachlan Murdoch are said to have moved to oust Ailes.

If he is indeed out, it would be a stunning fall for one of the most prominent figures in modern media and a force in conservative politics since the Nixon administration. Since he created Fox News Channel in 1996, Ailes has run his empire with an iron fist and creative flair that has earned him a singular place in the media firmament. His model of presenting an alternative, conservative voice amidst what he views as the liberal monolith of mainstream media has made Fox News the No. 1 cable news network for more than a decade, generating more than $2 billion annually and the biggest revenue driver in the 21st Century Fox portfolio. 

When asked in a 2015 interview with THR if he has imagined a life after Fox News, Ailes answered: "No, no. What would I do?"

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