In the wake of today’s surprise news that Greta Van Susteren had exited Fox News Channel effective immediately, chatter turned to whether it might be the start of a “key man” exodus.
FNC announced this morning that Thursday had been Van Susteren’s last day and that FNC senior political analyst Brit Hume was taking over her time slot today, through the presidential election. Van Susteren, meanwhile, took to Facebook to explain that she took advantage of that much-discussed clause in her contract allowing her to leave now, explaining her hasty exit with: “The clause had a time limitation, meaning I could not wait.”
Like Van Susteren, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Bret Baier have “key man” clauses in their contracts that allow them to leave if Fox News chief Roger Ailes departed. Which, of course, Ailes did in July, as FNC parent 21st Century Fox investigated Ailes and the network after Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes. It is unclear if the others had the same 60-day exit window as did Van Susteren.
Nearly simultaneous to FNC’s Van Susteren/Hume announcement — which took staffers by surprise, informed sources say, and which even Fox News’ media pundit Howard Kurtz conceded was “abrupt” — 21st Century Fox announced this morning Carlson had settled her lawsuit.
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With Van Susteren’s departure, focus now turns to other other show hosts, as well as well as Megyn Kelly, whose contract expires in July.
Van Susteren and the rest of the Key Man Clause gang were among those speculated to be maybe ready to take a powder in protest should Ailes be pushed out the door. But after Fox News began sharing details of the allegations Ailes was denying, those reports seemed to come to a swift end.
Van Susteren very publicly expressed her support for Ailes after Carlson filed her suit, for which Van Susteren took heat in some quarters.
But other Key Man club members did as well. Hannity, for instance, wondered, via Twitter: “So why did u stay after such ‘harassment’ asking for more airtime? If u had a new contract would u sue? I doubt it.” Hannity also tweeted, “Why did GC send handwritten notes with smiley faces asking for more airtime after the “alleged’ traumatic incident?”
(Van Susteren’s temporary replacement Hume also had tweeted a Carlson dig, suggesting that such a suit has more credibility if the person filing does so before they are let go by the network.)
Meanwhile, in marked contrast to the others on the list of People Who Might Follow Ailes Out the Door, is Kelly. She made headlines when a report broke she’d told investigators she too had allegedly experienced unwanted advances from Ailes, years ago. Kelly’s contract comes up in July, though The Kelly File host might be angling for a more interview/magazine-style show, as evidenced by her May sweep primetime special on Fox broadcast network. That special, in which she staged her made-for-TV kiss-and-make-up with Donald Trump, was exec produced by Bill Geddie, best known for exec producing Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People celebrity interview shows. The special was not an unqualified ratings success on the broadcast network.
Van Susteren, an attorney who previously hosted a CNN legal show, is interested in going to another network. In today’s announcement FNC co-presidents Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine jointly said, “We are grateful for Greta’s many contributions over the years and wish her continued success.”
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