Reports: Fox News CEO appears headed for removal

By Paul Farhi

Fox News CEO Roger Ailes poses at Fox News in New York. Photo / AP
Fox News CEO Roger Ailes poses at Fox News in New York. Photo / AP

Roger Ailes, the former Republican political operative who oversaw the creation of the Fox News Channel and turned it into the leading voice of American conservatism, is expected to be removed from his position at the network amid a budding sexual harassment scandal, according to multiple reports.

Ailes, 76, has been chairman and chief executive of Fox from its inception in 1996, and he is often described as one of the most powerful figures in American media and politics. Under his guidance, Fox News grew into a pugnacious and popular news and opinion source, far surpassing the pioneering and more centrist CNN in ratings and profits.

The Drudge Report first broke the news of Ailes' expected departure, without citing a source; it briefly posted a document that appeared be parent company 21st Century Fox's settlement agreement with Ailes. Shortly afterwards, 21st Century Fox released a statement reading: "Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. The only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement".

The Washington Post could not independently confirm the authenticity of the document posted by Drudge.

The flurry of events came just two weeks after Gretchen Carlson - one of the conservative hosts whom Ailes elevated to star status - filed a lawsuit alleging that Ailes had sexually harassed her during her 11-year career at Fox. Carlson alleged that Ailes terminated her employment in June after she spurned his advances; Fox maintained that Carlson's contract wasn't renewed because the ratings of her afternoon program had declined.

The lawsuit, which is still pending, appears to have set off a chain of events that led to demands for Ailes' resignation from his bosses, media baron Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James. Amid an investigation of Ailes' conduct by an outside law firm, other Fox employees came forward with sexual-harassment allegations against Ailes.

The allegations provided a foundation for Lachlan, 44, and James, 43, to press for Ailes' ouster, according to people at Fox and 21st Century Fox.

The Murdoch sons, eager to assert authority over their father's vast media and entertainment holdings, were reportedly at odds with Ailes well before Carlson's suit emerged, and their efforts to dump Ailes hint at the degree of their animus. Ailes was only a few months from the end of his current contract and probably could have retired if the Murdochs had not pressed for his early departure.

His expected departure leaves unanswered questions about the future of Fox News. Megyn Kelly, one of the network's stars, will come to the end of her current contract next year and has indicated that she may leave. Host Bill O'Reilly has talked about retirement, meaning Fox could lose its two biggest draws, as well as its chief executive and guiding visionary.

It's unclear who among Fox's managers, a cadre highly loyal to Ailes, might depart, as well.

Ailes had a long career as an entertainment TV producer - he was executive producer of Mike Douglas's nationally syndicated talk-variety show in the 1960s - and used his knowledge of the medium in crossing over to Republican politics. He was a media consultant for three successful Republican presidential candidates - Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush - but retired as a political consultant after working on Richard Thornburgh's losing Senate campaign in 1991.

Ailes subsequently headed the fledgling NBC cable channel America's Talking, which was a TV version of political talk radio. The network, which was spun off from the business-news CNBC in 1994, was early launching pad for hosts Steve Doocy and Chris Matthews.

Doocy later joined Fox, where he co-hosted the "Fox and Friends" morning programme with Carlson. Matthews joined MSNBC when it succeeded America's Talking in 1996 - the same year Ailes launched Fox.

With Murdoch's backing, Ailes founded Fox as a competitor to the established CNN, often investing his creation with the same kind of partisan politics as one of his presidential campaigns. He promoted the start-up network as "fair and balanced" - a suggestion that the competition wasn't - and in time developed a stable of talented and argumentative hosts, such as O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

While Fox's news reporting generally tried to steer a middle course, there were no such restraints on the "opinion" shows, which harshly attacked liberals and Democrats. O'Reilly, an avowed independent who nevertheless took many conservative positions, became the network's biggest star via his nightly programme, "The O'Reilly Factor."

- Washington Post

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