Man alive. Matt Drudge must have friends in some very high places to be able to get his hands on something like this.
Drudge has since deleted that tweet but this is what it looked like before. Interesting but unconfirmed, right? Nope: Fox News confirmed to the Daily Beast that Ailes is leaving. The man who built FNC, the most influential person in conservative media and arguably the most influential conservative in America outside of government, is gone. The only thing that comes to mind to grasp the magnitude of it is a royal death. Who will rule the Kingdom now?
Fox News has for years claimed that New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman’s stories about the network are thinly sourced, axe-grinding liberal garbage. Well, Sherman claimed yesterday based on two sources that the Murdochs — Rupert included — had decided amid an investigation into the sexual harassment claims against Ailes that it was time for him to go. Today Sherman doubled down and claimed that it was none other than Megyn Kelly, the network’s biggest star, who had told investigators that Ailes had made advances to her earlier in her career:
According to two sources briefed on parent company 21st Century Fox’s outside probe of the Fox News executive, led by New York–based law firm Paul, Weiss, Kelly has told investigators that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances toward her about ten years ago when she was a young correspondent at Fox. Kelly, according to the sources, has described her harassment by Ailes in detail…
According to two sources, Monday afternoon lawyers for 21st Century Fox gave Ailes a deadline of August 1 to resign or face being fired for cause. Ailes’s legal team — which now includes Susan Estrich, former campaign manager for Michael Dukakis — has yet to respond to the offer. Ailes has also received advice on strategy from Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, sources say…
Meanwhile, the Paul, Weiss lawyers are attempting to interview former Fox employees who have stories of harassment but haven’t spoken because they signed settlements with Ailes’s Fox attorney, Dianne Brandi. 21st Century Fox is now waiving the NDAs to allow women to speak.
I wonder if that last bit explains the suddenness of Ailes’s departure more than Kelly’s alleged testimony against him does. If the dam is about to break on women accusing Ailes publicly, Fox needs to run as far away as it can. Maybe terminating Ailes ASAP is their way of ending the Paul, Weiss investigation entirely. Women may still come forward, especially if Gretchen Carlson wins her fight to have her harassment claims against Ailes heard in court instead of in confidential arbitration, but at least he won’t be a Fox employee when they do.
Stand by for updates. There is literally nothing I can imagine that’s closer to a total revolution in modern American conservatism than Roger Ailes going down on the same day Donald Trump is formally nominated for president.
Update: The plot thickens. Drudge’s front page has gone from “EXCLUSIVE: AILES LEAVES FOXNEWS; $40+ MILLION PARACHUTE” to “AILES FOXNEWS DRAMA.” This is now at the top of his page:
STATEMENT: ‘Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly. In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her to achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him’…
That’ll be a big point in the pushback against Kelly’s alleged claims against Ailes. She’s praised him many, many times during her career. Why would she do that if he harassed her? WaPo spoke to a law professor who specializes in sexual harassment law:
You can go back to the Anita Hill case. It wasn’t civil litigation; it was the Senate hearings, regarding confirmation of [Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas. But at the time, people criticized Anita Hill for speaking to the FBI because they said, “Look, you’ve been complimentary of this man. How can you now say he did the monstrous things you claim he did?” So let’s look at why any complainant in a situation like this would find him — or herself in this situation. There are several reasons. First of all, it may be that the complainant truly found wonderful qualities in her boss. And those qualities may exist. Human beings are complex animals. … Some claimants truly do like their bosses — except for the sexual harassment. And they try to make the best of a difficult situation. Case in point: Anita Hill followed Clarence Thomas from the Department of Education to the EEOC.
Update: Strange things are afoot at the Circle K. Not only has Drudge backed off but now Fox News is scrambling to retreat from its confirmation to the Daily Beast. New from DB editor Lloyd Grove: “Fox initially confirmed Drudge’s report to The Daily Beast, and subsequently walked back that confirmation.” Why would the network confirm Ailes’s departure and then un-confirm? What could be happening?
Tapped-in media reporter Brian Stelter is also getting mixed signals from sources. This is bizarre. Also bizarre: Drudge is a Fox ally usually, but earlier today his front page looked like this.
Why was Drudge all-in on Sherman’s sensational Kelly story, then all-in on Ailes leaving, and now suddenly retreating?
And will Kelly address any of this tonight? The convention is a good excuse, I suppose, to say there’s too much real news happening to waste airtime on Fox drama.
Update: What would Ailes leaving do to the Fox line-up? A lot, potentially:
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.
That’s from the Financial Times, which claims two sources of its own who say that Ailes is headed for the exit. It could be that suddenly Megyn’s the only familiar face in Fox primetime. Or, I suppose, it could be that Kelly decides to leave Fox now because there are too many bad vibes there. O’Reilly has talked recently about retiring. Maybe we’ll end up with a three-hour block of Hannity between 8 and 11 recapping all of the day’s most important Donald Trump news.
Another theory conservatives are half-jokingly kicking around on Twitter: If Trump loses the election, he and Ailes could finally start up that Trump News venture that’s been whispered about and bring O’Reilly, Greta, and Hannity on as big names.
Update: 21st Century Fox is choosing its words carefully. Given the opportunity for a blistering “These Ailes rumors are garbage!” response, here’s what they said:
Statement from 21CF: "Roger is at work.The review is ongoing.And the only agreement that is in place is his existing" empmt. agmt.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) July 19, 2016
He’s still there. For now. There’s no agreement besides his employment contract. For now.
Update: Sounds from this NYT story like Ailes is indeed on his way out but isn’t quite close enough to the door — yet — to justify Drudge’s bombshell earlier: “Roger Ailes and 21st Century Fox are in the advanced stages of discussions that would lead to the departure of Mr. Ailes as chairman of Fox News Channel, a person briefed on the discussions said on Tuesday.”