The Roger Ailes era at Fox News Channel is now over. It had been obvious for a week that Ailes was about to be dumped from the network he largely created in the wake of a festering sexual harassment scandal. However, it became official on Thursday afternoon, just hours before the final night of the Republican National Convention.
Officially, Ailes resigned. However, his departure was anything but voluntary. After an internal review of allegations that he’d sexually harassed former anchor Gretchen Carlson and several other staffers expanded into a broader review of his stewardship, parent company 21st Century Fox gave him an ultimatum–resign by August 1, or be fired. He opted to resign, effective on Thursday.
At around 4 p.m., several Fox News staffers gathered in the newsroom, where they were told that “the new boss is going to walk through the door.” It turned out to be Rupert Murdoch, the f0under and longtime co-chairman of 21st Century Fox. He will take over as chairman of both Fox News Channel and sister network Fox Business Network, and will also serve as acting CEO of both networks until a permanent successor can be found.
In the official announcement of Ailes’ departure, Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James, praised Ailes’ “remarkable contribution” over the last 20 years. However, if there was any doubt that Ailes had been dumped, one source close to the proceedings said that he’d been barred from entering Fox News’ headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on the Murdochs’ orders.
Ailes’ ouster was more or less preordained after an internal review of Carlson’s allegations revealed broader concerns about the way he ran Fox News. They were so egregious that the Murdochs–including Rupert, who has been a close friend of Ailes for decades–all agreed he had to go. However, they disagreed on when to pull the trigger. James, who is CEO of 21st Century Fox, wanted Ailes out right away. However, Lachlan, who is co-chairman of 21st Century Fox along with his father, wanted to wait until after the GOP convention.
However, James’ view prevailed after Megyn Kelly reportedly came forward to say she’d been harassed as well. Soon afterward, Ailes was told that he would not be allowed to stay on. Negotiations on his departure continued throughout the week. However, New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, who first broke the story that Ailes was about to be dumped, tweeted that a major sticking point was that the Murdochs wanted Ailes to admit he’d screwed up.
Right now negotiations have broken down over language in press release. 21CF wants Ailes to "accept responsibility for errors in judgement."
— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) July 19, 2016
No such admission was found in the official release.
However, Sherman discovered one sign that the Murdochs are serious about changing the culture at the network. The network’s longtime public-relations hatchet woman, Irena Briganti, has been ordered not to say anything about Ailes’ departure to the press or to Ailes.
Reportedly, a number of Ailes’ alleged victims didn’t come forward sooner out of fear that Briganti would trash them in the press. Sherman reported that she’d tried to do just that with Kelly; apparently that prompted the Murdochs to tell her to cool it. Briganti has been part of the public relations staff at Fox News since it launched in 1996, and has been notorious for pestering anyone who writes or says anything less than fawning about the fair and balanced network.
The younger Murdochs–especially James–have long been displeased with Fox News’ image. However, if the network’s top hatchet woman was gagged on the day its founder was dumped, then there may be reason to believe that its days as a Republican agitprop machine masquerading as a news organization are over.