Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, and chairman of Fox Television Stations, has resigned from his role effective immediately. The move, not unexpected, comes two weeks after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment suit against her ex-boss.
Today’s announcement effectively ends Ailes’ 20-year career as founder of Fox News Channel, the powerful news network and political force that, for the past two decades, has billed itself as the “fair and balanced” antidote to the “lamestream liberal media.”
In today’s announcement, no reason was given for Ailes’ resignation, with a $60M parachute, according to a source. Also conspicuously absent from the announcement is a statement from Ailes. But, in a letter from Ailes to Murdoch Sr., shared with Drudge Report, Ailes said “I take particular pride in the role that I have played advancing the careers of the many women I have promoted to executives and on-air positions,” and that he was resigning so as not “to become a distraction from the work that must be done every day to ensure that Fox News and Fox Business continue to lead our industry.”
Though the company made no mention of an ongoing relationship with Ailes, in his letter he pointedly said he looks “forward to continuing to work with you as an adviser in building 21st Century Fox.”
Today’s announcement does include glowing testimonials about Ailes from Murdoch, who is exec chairman of 21st Century Fox, as well as from his sons, Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch, 21st Century Fox’s executive chairman, and CEO, respectively, who were said to haves advocated for Ailes’ removal.
“Roger Ailes has made a remarkable contribution to our company and our country,” Rupert Murdoch said. “Roger shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly over 20 great years. It is always difficult to create a channel or a publication from the ground up and against seemingly entrenched monopolies…His grasp of policy and his ability to make profoundly important issues accessible to a broader audience stand in stark contrast to the self-serving elitism that characterizes far too much of the media.”
No mention was made of a long-term succession plan; Murdoch said he is taking over “with the support of our existing management team under Bill Shine, Jay Wallace and Mark Kranz.” research firm SNL Kagan estimates that
The operation Ailes oversaw is enormously important to 21st Century Fox. Fox News generated $2.3 billion in sales last year, which was a 14% build from 2014, according to SNL Kagan.
Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch said in the announcement they join their father “in recognizing Roger’s remarkable contributions to our company.”
“Our talented Fox News and Fox Business colleagues, up and down the organization and on both sides of the camera, have built something that continues to redefine the cable news experience for millions of viewers. We are enormously proud of their accomplishments.”
In their statement, the sons added pointedly, “For them, as well as for our colleagues across our entire organization, we continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.”
Ailes, who in June 2015 had signed a multi-year contract to continue running Fox News, Fox Business Network, and Fox Television Stations that was reported to expire in 2018, had thought this year would be a victory lap. The 20th anniversary of the highly successful FNC is coming up, and a presidential election is spiking ratings. Instead, his career at the company was derailed by Carlson’s lawsuit, and as more women came forward in a New York Magazine article saying he’d harassed them as well in his pre-Fox days.
The political power broker’s sudden fall comes less than two weeks after Carlson filed her suit, claiming she was let go from the network after spurning Ailes’ sexual advances. And it comes just days after a report the network’s brightest new star Megyn Kelly told investigators for 21st Century Fox that she too had received unwanted sexual advances from Ailes when she was starting with the network in its Washington bureau.
Ailes, who was blindsided by the lawsuit, has denied the charges, saying Carlson’s contract was not renewed because of her show’s anemic ratings.
21st Century Fox had issued a statement a couple hours after word of the lawsuit got out, saying it had launched an investigation, adding, “We take these matters seriously.” Soon thereafter, Ailes issued his own statement, saying “this defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.” Not long thereafter, Fox News reps began facilitating the hook-up of reporters interested in covering the situation and on-air talent they said had come to them expressing a desire to publicly express their support of Ailes. That list included Greta Van Susteren and Maria Bartiromo, but conspicuously did not include Kelly.
The story began to snowball Tuesday when Matt Drudge linked a headline to a second New York Magazine story, alleging Kelly had been interviewed by 21st Century Fox’s investigators at Paul, Weiss, detailing how she had been the recipient of unwanted sexual advances from Ailes about a decade ago. Drudge used a headline about Kelly twisting the knife in her boss. The posting of that blog, and its headline, by the extremely popular and influential conservative blogger caused media reporters to sit up and take notice.
Investigators had been reaching out to interview current and former employees of Fox News; but they also were looking into whether Ailes had pressured those current employees to speak out on his behalf. Ailes reps had insisted the anchors who have spoken out on his behalf did so at their own volition and were not pressured.
“Roger Ailes, a nefarious genius, is the most important non-office holding political figure of the last 20 years,” Carl Bernstein said yesterday of the man who served as a media consultant to three Republican presidents, including Richard Nixon, before launching Fox News.
“He has influenced America, as no non-politician has. He is the ultimate cultural warrior of the right,” Bernstein continued. “He has put this organization together that claims to be fair and balanced when it is neither. It is an advocacy so-called news organization. And he has built an empire of both intellectual conservatism, and a movement conservatism, that has undermined liberalism in this country in a way that no other force has.”
Heading everyone’s short list for any long-term succession plan is Shine, EVP Programming at Fox News and Fox Business. Many lists made in the walk-up to today’s announcement also included CBS News chief David Rhodes, who launched his TV news career at Fox News before its ’96 launch, rising to VP. But he’s under contract at CBS until 2019.
Meanwhile, the contracts of on-air talent Bill O’Reilly, who anchors the network’s most watched program The O’Reilly Factor, and of Van Susteren and Sean Hannity are said to include clauses enabling them to walk should Ailes leave. Kelly, meanwhile, is in contract renewal talks.