Murdochs Exploring Fox News Options as Pressure on Bill Shine Mounts
The company has quietly put out feelers for a possible new head of Fox News with the preference, say sources, that it be a woman.
The Murdochs may be preparing for a leadership change at Fox News. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Rupert Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan, CEO and co-chairman of Fox News parent 21st Century Fox, have quietly put out feelers for a new head of Fox News. And the preference, according to two sources familiar with the Murdochs’ thinking, is that the new leader be female.
The move comes as pressure is building on Bill Shine, a 20-year Fox News veteran whom Rupert Murdoch elevated to co-president, with Jack Abernethy, of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network in the wake of the ouster of founding CEO Roger Ailes last summer. Shine runs the programming arm of the media empire, while Abernethy, also a longtime Fox News executive, runs the business side of the company, including ad sales, finance and distribution. On April 24, a few days after the network dismissed Bill O'Reilly, Rupert Murdoch took Shine and Abernethy to lunch at the Central Park South eatery Marea; the outing was interpreted as a public show of support and chronicled on multiple media sties.
In December, Shine and Abernethy announced a new head of human resources. Abernethy is credited with recruiting Kevin Lord, a veteran of NBC and General Electric who most recently worked at the digital media company Tegna. On April 10, they announced the hiring of a new CFO, Amy Listerman, formerly of NBCUniversal and Scripps Networks Interactive; she is due to begin work on May 1. Former CEO Mark Kranz, who was forced out last August, has reportedly been granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation with a federal investigation into the structuring of payments to women who complained of sexual harassment.
The Murdochs have been feeling increased pressure to make good on their public statements to foster “a workplace based on the values of respect and trust.” Putting a woman in the top spot at Fox News would send a distinct message given the issues that have been roiling the network. The feelers are external; though it's possible that someone could get promoted from within.
Bill O'Reilly, the network's biggest star, was ousted April 19 after revelations of new sexual harassment settlements — some paid after Ailes’ exit last summer. O'Reilly has denied the allegations, noting that his status made him a target. Shine has been named in multiple lawsuits targeting the network, along with Ailes and O’Reilly. Andrea Tantaros, a former host on the channel, said in one of her lawsuits that she complained to Shine about sexual harassment at the hands of Ailes and Shine advised her not to cross the then-CEO. Shine has vehemently denied Tantaros’ accusations, which most recently include allegations of digital spying and cyber stalking through sock-puppet social media accounts.
Shine also has been implicated in the saga of Laurie Luhn, a former Fox News booker who has alleged a longtime, emotionally abusive affair with Ailes. As detailed in an explosive New York magazine story, Luhn said that Shine arranged her travel to New York to meet with Ailes, and he also recommended a psychiatrist when she suffered a nervous breakdown. Shine has said he did not know that Ailes and Luhn were engaged in a relationship. His name also has come up in the current racial discrimination class action suit led by anchor Kelly Wright. He is not named in the suit, but Wright claims that Shine “demonstrated an obsession with race.” Shine has denied the allegations.
When Murdoch elevated Shine last fall, the move rankled some at Fox News, especially women, who saw Shine as complicit in the sins of the past. When new payouts to women who complained about O’Reilly came to light April 1, that unease deepened, said one Fox News source. Shine was said to have been a staunch defender of keeping O’Reilly, with whom he worked for two decades. He also appeared to side with O’Reilly last fall when Megyn Kelly complained to Fox News executives about O’Reilly’s public statements admonishing her for speaking out about her personal experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Ailes. (Ailes has denied all of the allegations against him.)
Shine started his career at Fox News as a producer on Hannity & Colmes, the program Hannity hosted with the late Alan Colmes. “Bill came from the rank and file. He is a very affable, gregarious guy. He never puts on airs,” said a former Fox News staffer. One source described him as “Roger’s bag man.”
Many staffers at Fox News hold Shine in high regard, and multiple current Fox News employees told THR that Shine has been a steady hand through nearly a year of turmoil. Sean Hannity on Thursday defended Shine in the wake of a New York magazine report that suggested Shine’s days at Fox News may be numbered. “I pray this is NOT true because if it is, that’s the total end of the FNC as we know it. Done,” Hannity wrote on Twitter. He added: “Somebody HIGH UP AND INSIDE FNC is trying to get an innocent person fired.”