Roger Ailes on Thursday resigned as chairman and chief executive of Fox News Channel following allegations of sexual harassment, an abrupt end to his 20-year reign over America’s most lucrative and powerful cable news channel for conservatives.
Ailes, 76, who has been chairman and CEO of Fox News since 1996, faces sexual assault charges from Gretchen Carlson, who worked at Fox News for more than a decade.Carlson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, reported that 20 additional women have reached out to her firm to report being harassed by Ailes as well. Prominent Fox News personality Megyn Kellythis weekcame forward and said Ailes sexually harassed her 10years ago.
According to Carlson’s lawsuit, “Ailes has unlawfully retaliated against Carlson and sabotaged her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”
One of the ways Ailes retaliated was by firing Carlson in June, the suit states, as well as by “ostracizing, marginalizing and shunning her after making clear to hear that these ‘problems’ would not have existed, and could be solved, if she had a sexual relationship with him.”
Carlson’s lawsuit also states that during a meeting to discuss her “discriminatory treatment,” Ailes said, “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’ biography “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” by Gabriel Sherman, also details sexual harassment claims from various women, including Randi Harrison, who was in her twenties and was to be hired as a segment producer. Harrison allegedly told Ailes that his salary offer was too low. “If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want I will add an extra hundred dollars a week,” Ailes reportedly said.
Other allegations include Ailes asking women to take naked photos of them, asking them to turn around so he could look at them from certain angles and making sexually charged comments.
Ailes’ history of sexual harassment is not new, according to the biography. Sherman’s book shares stories from people at newsrooms from CNBC to Fox News where Ailes regularly demanded that on-air female personalities show more skin, stop wearing pantsuits and show off their legs. In one case, Ailes bought a glass anchor desk specifically to show the hosts’ legs.
According to one senior executive, Ailes “had admiration for [former Fox host Catherine Crier’s] legs,” the biography states. The executive said, “In one meeting, Ailes barked, ‘Tell Catherne I did not spend x-number of dollars on a glass desk for her to wear pant suits.'”
Carlson has had a successful career. She was crowned Miss America in 1989 and graduated from Stanford, with honors, with her sociology degree one year later. She began her career doing local news in various states and in 2000 became a correspondent with CBS, where she ultimately became co-anchor of the Saturday edition of “The Early Show.”
In 2005 she left CBS and began her 11-year career with Fox News. A year later she joined the cast of “Fox & Friends” as a co-anchor. After her run on “Fox & Friends” Carlson was given her own show, “The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson.” In addition to her accomplishments in the media, Carlson is also an accomplished violinist and a best-selling author.
Megyn Kelly, who moderated several Republican presidential debates duringthe 2016 campaign, is one of the most high-profile Fox News personalities who alleged sexual harassment from Ailes. Kelly graduated from Syracuse University with a political science degree and from Albany Law School, with honors, with her J.D. She worked for ABC affiliate WJLA-TV, where she covered major national events, before joining Fox News in 2004. Today Kelly hosts “The Kelly File,” which, according to her Fox News bio, is the number two program in cable news. Prior to “The Kelly File,” she hosted “America Live” and co-anchored “America’s Newsroom.”In 2014, “Time” included her in its list of 100 most influential people.
While Ailes will no longer have an official position with Fox, he will serve as an informal adviser to Rupert Murdoch, founder and chairman of News Corp. and 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News. Murdoch will step in as interim CEO. Ailes will receive a severance package of about $40 million.
According to a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan in 2015, 1 in 3 women has been sexually harassed at work. 38 percent of who said they were harassed by a male manager. Only 29 percent of women reported their harassment, and just 15 percent said they felt their report was handled fairly.
Ailes initially called Carlson’s lawsuit “a retaliatory suit 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.”
But according to Carlson’s lawyers, her “total viewership was up 33 percent year to date and up 23 percent in the key demographic.”
And Advertising Age seconded her Nielsen ratings, which cite “better numbers than any of its rivals on other news networks.”
In his resignation letter Ailes wrote, “Having spent 20 years building this historic business, I will not allow my presence 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.”
Impact on the Election
Fox News has served as a powerhouse for conservative politicians and viewers. Commentators and hosts have included Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich. Ailes also served as an adviser for several Republican presidents, including George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Ailes’ departure leaves questions about the impact this will have on the election and, more specifically, the Republican Party. Michael Wolff, a columnist for the Hollywood Reporter who has also done media coverage with USA Today, called Fox “The Republican voice” and said it has been “for a very long time now.”
“I think Fox News and Roger Ailes have been the most important influence in the Republican Party and conservative movement for more than a generation now,” Wolff said in an interview with MSNBC at the Republican National Convention. “I mean, I don’t think that you can really overestimate how pervasive and how truly profound Fox has been.”
“Fox is Roger Ailes,” he added.
Fred Barnes, executive editor of “The Weekly Standard,” reported to NPR the impact Fox News had on conservative media and politics.
“[Conservatives] were so used to thinking that the media was completely barren as far as they were concerned,” he said. “There was nothing there for them. It was all for liberals. And then Fox comes along and they really glommed on it.”
“Fox has dominated not just conservative viewers but has shaped the modern Republican Party,” said Donna Brazile, a CNN commentator and Democratic Party strategist, at the RNC. “Ailes has played an outsized role in making sure conservative views and viewpoints got into the mainstream.”
Reuters material was used in this report.