Rupert Murdoch Calls "Bullshit" on Report of Diminished Role for Fox News' Roger Ailes

Rupert Murdoch Serious - H 2016
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Rupert Murdoch Serious - H 2016

When asked by Fortune if Ailes is "taking a backseat" at Fox News, Murdoch says: "It's bullshit. Absolutely." New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman stands by his reporting but a Fox News spokesperson asks, "What 'reporting'? His byline should be changed to Shermanonymous."

Rupert Murdoch is refuting a published report that he has upped his presence at Fox News as Roger Ailes has become "a diminished force" at cable's top-rated news network.

"He seems detached and removed," an anonymous Fox source told New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman, a frequent chronicler of Fox News. Sherman's piece, published Wednesday night, relies on "four high-placed Fox sources," according to the article.

Murdoch responded by praising Ailes in a tweet before Thursday's Republican debate on Fox Business Network, and he addressed the article directly in an interview Friday with Fortune magazine.

"He's got an agenda," Murdoch said of Sherman. Asked by Fortune if Ailes is suddenly "taking a backseat" at Fox News, Murdoch said, "It's bullshit. Absolutely."

Last year, Ailes signed a multiyear contract to remain chairman and CEO of Fox News and Fox Business Network. Sherman writes that it bothered Ailes when 21st Century Fox issued a press release clarifying that Ailes would be jointly reporting to Murdoch and his two sons, Lachlan and James, who were recently elevated to executive co-chairman and CEO, respectively.

"Since that stinging public rebuke, executives have noticed Rupert around the Fox News hallways. 'He's marking his territory,' one person briefed on the matter told me," writes Sherman. He also writes that, since June, Murdoch has been attending Ailes' "secretive afternoon" gatherings where "some of the most sensitive decisions about running the channel are discussed."

A Fox News insider disputes that characterization, telling The Hollywood Reporter that Ailes conducts two editorial meetings daily, and nowadays Murdoch typically attends the second one simply because he thrives on the news business.

"I stand by my reporting," Sherman tells THR.

In response, Fox News spokesperson Irena Briganti says, "What 'reporting'? His byline should be changed to Shermanonymous," referring to the anonymous sources Sherman has used when writing about the network.

"Fox hosts and producers tell me Ailes has been a somewhat diminished force at the network," Sherman wrote.

"It's not true," Murdoch tells Fortune. "When I go down to [Ailes], he's always talking to talent or fixing things or making decisions about debates. He's, you know, got a great and loyal team, but he's totally involved."