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Embattled Fox News chief Roger Ailes is negotiating an exit from the top job at the network he founded more than 20 years ago and built into a force in media and conservative politics. But no deal is in place and the specifics are still being hammered out as parent company 21st Century Fox continues its internal investigation into sexual harassment claims, his lead lawyer Susan Estrich says in a brief interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Estrich, a partner at Los Angeles’ Quinn Emanuel firm in addition to a Fox News contributor and a law professor (Disclosure: I was a student of Estrich’s at USC Law School more than 10 years ago), declined to comment on the specifics of the sexual abuse allegations made by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, as well as other women who have come forward since Carlson sued earlier this month. And she says Ailes, 76, could even become a Fox News consultant if and when he leaves his current job.
What is the status of Ailes‘ negotiations?
I think a lot of people are talking to other people.
Specifically, what does Roger want now?
He wants Fox News to continue to be the No. 1 news station and the No. 1 cable station in the company. That’s what he really wants most. He spent 20 years building this place. He cares deeply about his future and like anyone who builds something, he wants it to endure and continue to succeed long, long after he’s gone. And I don’t mean gone from Fox News, I mean gone gone! He’s got a lifelong commitment to wanting to see what he built succeed.
But obviously it likely is not possible for him to stay in that role, so what does he want from an exit agreement?
Well, who knows? And as you know, exit agreements can take all kinds of different forms, including agreements that provide for continuing roles. So there’s a lot of negotiations going on.
Meaning he would stay on in some kind of consultancy?
Or something like that. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen here, but somebody was telling me that’s how things worked out in the London situation.
Are you referring to the hacking probe?
Yeah, yeah. A reporter told me that. I didn’t even know the way the Murdochs handled [that]. [Rebekah Brooks] couldn’t keep her position, but they kept her on as a consultant or whatever it is. There’s lots of flexibility, but no deal has been reached. The review that they’re doing is still ongoing. I’m still trying to find out who all these anonymous women are so that we can respond. Fundamental fairness. If people are making accusations, you have to be able to know who they are and be able to respond. We are in the middle of a process and it is ongoing.
Is that draft of a separation agreement that Matt Drudge posted real?
I don’t know. I mean, there are lots of drafts going around. I’m not going to say it wasn’t somebody’s draft. All I can say is it doesn’t reflect the state of play at this time because there is no term sheet, there is no agreement, there is no deal, and the review is ongoing.
Why, if the review is ongoing, would there be an active negotiation for him to leave?
I can’t answer that.
OK. What’s Roger’s mood like right now?
I think his mood is OK. Roger is a tough guy! He’s been around. Most people don’t survive in this business. He’s been around through, I don’t know, five presidents! (Laughs.) He’s taking this in. He’s responding. I think his greatest frustration is that I’m the one talking to you instead of him! Through an internal review, you have to let the lawyers do the talking. So if Roger’s frustrated about anything it’s that he can’t go out there and specifically address and deny charges. We have to do it through the process, and that’s why you’re talking to me.
Do you think that his resolve is to maintain his job in any scenario?
I can’t speak for that.
You don’t think he’s come to the realization that it’s over?
I don’t know and I don’t think anybody knows.
Would Roger insist on a no-noncompete situation so he could go elsewhere?
I can’t comment on that.
Specifically with Megyn Kelly, were you blindsided by her apparent comments to the investigators?
I think everybody was surprised because Roger has spent the last 10 years helping Megyn Kelly become the star that she is.
Does he feel betrayed by her?
No. He simply says he never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly and that they had enormous amounts of encounters over the years in which he consistently helped her become a stronger and more popular, more successful television anchor. You look at what she said about him in her book and every place else. She’s repeatedly said how terrific he’s been as a mentor.
Do you think we’ll hear from Roger himself soon?
I have no idea. You would hear Roger himself if I let him, but I got him locked in [his office]. The standard practice for an internal review is that you don’t make public comments, particularly in a situation where we don’t even know who is making what allegation. The review is ongoing and we have not had the opportunity to have a full briefing on it and present additional evidence.
How do you think the substance of the review is being leaked?
If you figure that one out, would you please call me?