Roger Ailes is heading for the exit at Fox News Channel, the influential cable network beloved by American conservatives, with Rupert Murdoch and his sons in agreement that he should leave amid allegations of sexual harassment.
The timing of the departure of the man who turned Fox News into a media and political powerhouse is unclear. Mr Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, the channel’s parent company, and Lachlan, his older son and co-chairman, would prefer to wait until after this week’s Republican convention, two people briefed on the matter told the Financial Times.
James Murdoch, Mr Murdoch’s younger son and chief executive, was pushing for Mr Ailes to go as soon as possible, those people said.
However, the likely departure of the former aide to Richard Nixon who defied the odds when he launched Fox News 20 years ago could present a big problem for the Murdochs. Three of Fox News’ biggest stars — Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren — have clauses in their contracts that would allow them to depart if Mr Ailes were to leave the network, the two people briefed on the dispute said.
This means a core team of on-air talent could follow Mr Ailes out of the door.
Mr O’Reilly said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last year that he had “no idea how the network would shake out if he [Roger Ailes] wasn’t here.”
Mr Ailes has told associates he is furious at his treatment by the Murdochs. 21st Century Fox opened an internal investigation into him on July 6, after former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit alleging that he fired her after 11 years for refusing to have a sexual relationship with him.
Mr Ailes has denied Ms Carlson’s claims and pushed to move the case into confidential arbitration. The company said this week that the investigation was “not yet resolved”.
In another blow to Mr Ailes, New York magazine reported on Tuesday that Megyn Kelly, arguably Fox News’ biggest star, told lawyers leading the internal investigation that Mr Ailes had sexually harassed her a decade ago. 21st Century Fox declined to comment and Fox News referred queries to its parent company.
The departure of Mr Ailes could have an impact on the Republican party. Supremely well connected, he has helped shape the Republican agenda for more than a decade. His channel’s blend of news and blistering opinion from its roster of prime time hosts has made it a must-watch for conservative voters, and a key outlet for candidates hoping to reach the base of the party.
The power struggle over Fox News will be closely watched by investors in 21st Century Fox, as the network contributes about a fifth of the group’s annual net income.
Mr Ailes built Fox into the most watched and most profitable cable news network in the US. It has trounced CNN in the ratings for more than a decade, making it a must-have channel for cable distributors and allowing it to report $ 1.5bn in profits last year — nearly four times that of CNN, according to SNL Financial.
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