Roger Ailes is reportedly out at Fox News (or soon to be), today’s political climate will be his legacy
Events appear to be moving quickly after it was revealed the Megyn Kelly had told the parent company of Fox News that she, too, had faced sexual harassment from the CEO of the cable news channel
If reports are correct, Roger Ailes has been fired from FoxNews after accusations of sexual harassment, and a related lawsuit from fired anchor Gretchen Carlson. The final straw was likely the report that Megyn Kelly, one of the cable channel’s more popular anchors, told the channel’s parent company that she, too, had experienced sexual harassment from the powerful TV executive.
(Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine did the lion’s share of the reporting on this story, not only reporting on Megyn Kelly, but before that on six former staffers who also accused Ailes of sexual harassment.)
A separation letter has been published on Twitter (when has that ever happened?), and it accurate, Ailes will be paid handsomely to leave the company, and his legal representation paid for as he may still face the Carlson lawsuit and any damages that result.
But 21st Century Fox, the broadcast arm of the media giant controlled by Rupert Murdoch, said this afternoon that Ailes is still employed. “Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. The only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.”
It would be a surprising, and I suppose, shocking end to the career of the most powerful television news executive of all time. The influence of Roger Ailes far surpasses any other television executive in the history of the medium. Unfortunately, that influence was almost entirely negative to American democracy, the ability of government to function, and civility, in general. At no point since the Civil War has America been more divided, more prone to violence, and more badly educated about the world we live in live.
For conservatives, no other news outlet can compare, a Pew study in 2014 found. While liberals get their news from a wider variety of sources, those who identify as conservative rely mostly on Fox News.
The dependence on one news outlet among conservatives means that an echo chamber is created, one that extends beyond Fox News.
“In the growing social media space, most users encounter a mix of political views. But consistent conservatives are twice as likely as the typical Facebook user to see political opinions on Facebook that are mostly in line with their own views (47% vs. 23%),” Pew found. “Consistent liberals, on average, hear a somewhat wider range of views than consistent conservatives – about a third (32%) mainly see posts in line with their own opinions.”
But as conservatives circled the wagons, I fear liberals have, as well. The rise of Fox News is not the story of just a segment of American society, but all of it. Few on the left trusts Fox News, but few on the right now trusts The New York Times. That can not be a good thing, we need more voices in journalism, not select voices.
It seems as if the Murdochs have not yet successfully seized the TV station. The question is, does Ailes have access to Facetime?
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) July 19, 2016
From death panels, to Obama birtherism, to the swiftboating of John Kerry, the hand of Roger Ailes was all over Fox News. News anchors were routinely repeated the same line throughout the day, a tactic that has crept into other networks including MSNBC.
His power was absolute. Even in the face of very credible accusations against him, network on-air professions rallied around him, like officers stuck supporting a coup. They were all-in. But journalists who were not even part of the Murdoch empire have been hesitant to criticize the network or Ailes or Murdoch. TV and newspapers can be an awfully small industry, and jobs scarce. Fox News made millions in profits for Murdoch.
Now, in what direction does Fox News go, should reports be proved accurate? Does it follow the path of the Murdoch tabloids – loopy but influential, reliably hard right – or does it keep on its current path – but without the steady guiding hand of the master of “fair and balanced” right-wing entertainment/news.
“A change at the top would immediately raise questions about the role of Fox News throughout the remainder of the presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton — and beyond,” Callum Borchers of The Washington Post wrote yesterday. “While journalists such as Chris Wallace and Bret Baier strive for neutrality, many of the network’s prominent personalities are icons on the right, which has created the expectation among some viewers — politicians, included — that Fox will function as a cheerleader for GOP candidates and causes.”
Sherman reported that several of the network’s star anchors have an out clause in their contract that allow them to walk should Ailes leave. It is hard for me to believe any would exercise that clause, though. There are not alternatives to Fox News on the right, though I suppose the executives at CNN – who are certainly no longer of the talent level of Tom Johnson – might be tempted to offer one or more of them a contract.
There is already speculation as to who might succeed Roger Ailes. My answer is that no one will or can succeed him. Yes, someone might get the title, but no one will be Ailes. Instead, the sons of Rupert Murdoch will gain greater control the company – with someone, anyone, with the title of Fox News CEO.
Replacing Ailes will be like replacing Connie Mack or George Halas – they may have the title, but not the power. Ailes is/was a TV genius. Fox News’s position in the ratings, its dominance in the political discussion, its near total control of Republican politics is the proof of the genius of Roger Ailes. Sadly, not all geniuses do good deeds. Steve Jobs was considered by many to be an asshole, after all. But he set his sights on technology, not politics. I’ll continue to miss Jobs.
Note: If you think Donald Trump demands a watertight nondisclosure agreement to be signed, I can’t even imagine what such an agreement between Murdoch and Ailes might look like.