Roger Ailes, the 76-year old cofounder and CEO of Fox News is on his way out in a shakeup that could radically alter America’s most popular cable news channel.
The former Republican presidential campaign advisor turned conservative media giant was accused last month of sexual harassment and other misconduct by former Fox & Friends cohost Gretchen Carlson after Fox News abruptly declined to renew her contract.
Carlson alleges that Ailes made “sexually-charged comments” to her, including “lewd innuendo, ogling, and remarks about Ms. Carlson’s body.” Carlson filed suit, charging she was wrongly terminated following her complaints about ongoing harassment. The suit also claims that Ailes had made “demands for sex as a way for her to improve her job standing.”
On Tuesday another bombshell was unearthed when New York Magazine revealed reports that one of Fox News’ top prime-time hosts, Megyn Kelly, had also accused Ailes of sexually harassment in the past.
Kelly, the host of The Kelly Files, has praised Ailes in the past, yet according to the report claimed that Ailes had harassed her early in her career at Fox News. No details on the alleged harassment have been revealed.
But close to a dozen other female hosts at Fox News have gone public slamming accusations against Ailes and praising him for his work at the cable news network.
Nevertheless reports have emerged that Rupert Murdoch, founder and owner of Fox News parent company Twenty-First Century Fox, is pressing Ailes to step down as CEO.
Ailes’ attorney acknowledged that the CEO is in the “advanced stages” of negotiations with the network’s parent company, suggesting his departure is in fact likely.
After 20 years at the helm of Fox News, it’s unclear what the shakeup means for the network. A number of the channel’s top prime-time hosts have close ties to Ailes and even included clauses in their contracts allowing them to depart should Ailes leave the network. Bill O’Reilly, Greta Van Susteren, and Sean Hannity may all be poised to quit Fox News if Ailes does indeed retire.
More than 20 women have accused Fox News chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment in confidential conversations with the attorneys representing former Fox host Gretchen Carlson, her legal team said on Wednesday.
The accusations have poured in at a steady clip by phone and email since Carlson filed an explosive sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes two weeks ago. In her lawsuit, Carlson claims that Ailes propositioned her for sex and then fired her when she refused.
According to her legal team, the new accusations range in time from Ailes’s current tenure at Fox News all the way back to his role in the 60s as executive producer on The Mike Douglas Show. Almost all of the 20-plus women claim they experienced Ailes’s harassment firsthand. Only a handful reached out as witnesses. In a few cases, said spokesman John Garger, the accusations are as “severe” as those in Carlson’s lawsuit. He declined to share more details.
“The messages are still coming in,” he said.
Carlson’s 6 July lawsuit shocked the media world with claims that Ailes – one of the most powerful executives in media – sabotaged her career after she rebelled against his “constant and severe sexual harassment”. The 11-year anchor and former Miss America was removed from the highly rated Fox & Friends show in 2013 and fired from the network in June – two events Carlson claims were part of a series of retaliatory humiliations.
“I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better,” Ailes said, according to the lawsuit. Among the other offences set out by the suit Ailes was accused of “ogling Carlson in his office and asking her to turn around so he could view her posterior”.
Ailes has categorically denied Carlson’s accusations. But the past weeks saw several signs that the network he turned into a ratings behemoth was cooling in its support. Members of the Murdoch family, which owns Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, through a trust, reportedly gave Ailes a deadline of 1 August to resign or be fired. The Drudge Report published what appeared to be an outline of Ailes’s potential exit package, which included a $40m payoff.
And on Tuesday, Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine revealed that Megyn Kelly, the undisputed star of the Fox News lineup, had accused Ailes of sexual harassment to investigators 21st Century Fox hired to conduct an outside inquiry.
Kelly’s was not the first allegation of harassment to surface in the wake of Carlson’s lawsuit. Other accusations surfaced almost immediately. A former Fox News contributor told the Huffington Post that in a meeting, Ailes “asked me to turn around so he can see my ass”. A former Fox News employee told the Daily Beast: “One time he asked me if I was wearing underwear, and was he going to see anything ‘good’.”
Sherman published the accounts of six women who claimed harassment by Ailes. One was Kellie Boyle, a Republican consultant who met Ailes in his role as a major Republican power broker. Boyle claimed Ailes pressured her for sex in exchange for a job opportunity, saying: “You know if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys.”
Several women accused Ailes of harassment while he was producing The Mike Douglas Show. A former model, who gave Sherman her account anonymously, claimed Ailes exposed his genitals and told her, “kiss them”, and chased her around his office when she refused.
Ailes has flatly denied these and other allegations, including an accusation of harassment that appeared in Sherman’s 2014 biography. In a statement, Ailes called Carlson’s suit “retaliatory for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup … This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”
Ailes’s personal counsel and spokespeople for 21st Century Fox have not replied to requests for comment on the claim that his accusers now number more than 20.
Carlson’s legal team appears confident that more accusers will emerge.
“Gretchen’s legal team started hearing (mainly through calls and emails) from people with their own stories of harassment almost immediately the day that the lawsuit was filed and first reported on,” Garger said.
The lawyers believes Ailes has several other accusers with whom they haven’t spoken, he added. Some allegations published by the Daily Beast, for example, bear no resemblance to the 20-plus accusations they have already fielded.
That would bring the number of women who are publicly or anonymously claiming to be victims of Ailes’s sexual harassment to nearly two dozen.