Fox News nearing decision on Roger Ailes, departure likely: Sources

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Uncertainty Surrounds Roger Ailes' Future at Fox News

Fox News Channel is nearing a decision on CEO Roger Ailes' future at the network, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday evening, amid allegations of sexual harassment by a former anchor at the network.

21st Century Fox, which owns the network, disputed reports Tuesday that a decision had been reached, saying in a statement: Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. The only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement."

But sources told CNBC that Fox is nearing a decision, and the decision is likely to result in his departure from the network.

Ailes, who has been with the network since its launch in 1996 and has been credited with building the it into a powerhouse, was accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson.

Carlson's lawsuit alleges that Ailes "sabotaged her career" because she rejected his sexual advances.

PHOTOS: Roger Ailes through the years

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Roger Ailes through the years
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Roger Ailes through the years
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: In this handout photo provided by FOX News, FOX News Channel Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes is photographed November 13, 2015 at the networks Manhattan headquarters New York City. (Photo by Wesley Mann/FOX News via Getty Images)
Bill O'Reilly, tv columnist, at left, shown here with Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO of FOX tv at the Radio & TV Correspondents annual dinner held at the Washington Hilton. (Photo by Susan Biddle/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
SLUG: ST/AILES DATE: 3/23/99 NP PHOTOG: Helayne Seidman/FTWP multi use LOCATION: Fox News, 1211 6th Ave. NYC SUMMARY: Roger Ailes, president of Fox TV CAPTION: Roger Ailes, president of Fox TV, in the Fox TV control room. Original Filename: npsent.JPG ORG XMIT: ; 29
385602 07: Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, right, testifies during a hearing on election night 2000 coverage by the networks before the House committee on energy and commerce February 14, 2001 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D. C. Heads of major news organizations have converged on Capitol Hill to testify before Congress, explaining the mistaken calls made on Election Night and promising changes to prevent further errors. (Photo by Alex Wong/Newsmakers)
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 25: Chairman and CEO of the Fox News Network Roger Ailes participates in the 'America's Best Leaders: How do they lead? Where are they taking us?' National Issues Briefing hosted by U.S. News and World Report October 25, 2005 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The talk was held in collaboration with the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images for U.S. News and World Report)
NEW YORK - JUNE 26: (L-R) Variety Editor Peter Bart and Producer Roger Ailes attend a cocktail party hosted by Harvey and Bob Weinstein and Miramax Books to celebrate Peter Bart's new book ''BOFFO'' on June 26, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JULY 24: Chairman & CEO, FOX News Roger Ailes from 'Fox News' speaks onstage during the 2006 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour for the FOX Broadcasting Company at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel on July 24, 2006 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - JANUARY 08: Roger Ailes, president of FOX News, poses with his wife Elizabeth on the red carpet upon arrival at a salute to FOX News Channel's Brit Hume on January 8, 2009 in Washington, DC. Hume was honored for his 35 years in journalism. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11: Fox News President Roger Ailes attends the Hollywood Reporter celebrates 'The 35 Most Powerful People in Media' at the Four Season Grill Room on April 11, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 21: Copies of the new book The Loudest Voice in the Room are displayed at a Books Inc. bookstore on January 21, 2014 in San Francisco, United States. The unauthorized biography of FOX News president Roger Ailes written by New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman hit bookstore shelves on January 14. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 13: In this handout photo provided by FOX News, FOX News Channel Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes is photographed November 13, 2015 at the networks Manhattan headquarters New York City. (Photo by Wesley Mann/FOX News via Getty Images)
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New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer, citing anonymous sources, reported Monday that 21st Century Fox co-chairmen Rupert Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch and CEO James Murdoch had decided to remove Ailes.

A year ago Murdoch put his sons Lachlan and James in charge of Fox News. A source with direct knowledge of the situation told NBC News that the brothers wanted Ailes out even back then.

The website The Drudge Report tweeted Tuesday what was purported to be a more than $40 million separation agreement. But the tweet was almost immediately taken down.

Ailes' lead attorney, Susan Estrich,told The Hollywood Reporter Tuesdaythat negotiations are ongoing, but it's possible the CEO could stay on with the company in another role.

Asked about an exit agreement, Estrich said: "Exit agreements can take all kinds of different forms, including agreements that provide for continuing roles. So there's a lot of negotiations going on." She added, "There is no agreement, there is no deal, and the review is ongoing."

Carlson's suit quotes Ailes as telling Carlson "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," adding, "sometimes problems are easier to solve" that way.

Ailes has denied the claims and called the lawsuit "wholly without merit." 21st Century Fox said it was reviewing the allegations.

Related: Former Fox News Host Sues CEO Roger Ailes, Claims Sexual Harassment

Carlson claimed in the suit that Ailes took her off the network's popular morning show "Fox & Friends" in 2013 and reassigned her to an afternoon time slot at significantly reduced pay.

Carlson also claimed in the suit that her former "Fox and Friends" co-host Steve Doocy "created a hostile work environment by regularly treating her in a hostile and condescending way," and that when she complained about Doocy, Ailes dismissed her as a "man hater." Doocy is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Carlson worked at Fox News for nearly a decade until last month. Carlson's lawyers said her contract was terminated on June 23. Fox said her contract was simply not renewed.

Carlson most recently hosted "The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson."

Ailes in a statement after the suit was filed called the 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."

21st Century Fox, which owns Fox News, said at the time it had "full confidence" in Ailes. 21st Century Fox hired the New York law firm Paul, Weiss to investigate the case and interview others at Fox about Ailes.

The timing of the possible departure of Ailes comes at a particularly bad time, as the Republican National Convention is underway in Cleveland. Ailes is seen as playing a critical role at the network.

The Financial Times, citing "two people briefed in the dispute," reported Tuesday that major network stars Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Greta Van Susteren have clauses in their contracts that would allow them to depart if Mr. Ailes were to leave the network.

"Roger Ailes is the most important person in television news. He is the most important person in conservative movement in America," Hollywood Reporter columnist Michael Wolff — who has written about Ailes extensively and a book on Rupert Murdoch — told NBC News Tuesday.

"Fox is by far the most powerful and the most profitable news organization in the country," Wolff said. "And almost nobody can imagine what it becomes without Roger Ailes."

Since the lawsuit was filed on July 6, several other women have alleged sexual harassment by Ailes, detailed in an article in New York Magazine.

Kellie Boyle told the magazine days after Carlson filed suit that Ailes propositioned her in 1989, when she was 29 and Ailes was an influential Republican operative who had served as President George H.W. Bush's media strategist.

Boyle said she refused and later failed to get a job she was seeking at the National Republican Congressional Committee. She claimed she was later told by a friend in a high position at the RNC that "word went out you weren't to be hired."

Boyle confirmed the account to NBC News and said, "I've shared my experience to support Gretchen Carlson's courageous act and to hold Roger Ailes accountable for the disgusting and damaging way he's treated women for decades."

Ailes' personal attorney denied the claims by Boyle and others in the New York Magazine article.

"It has become obvious that Ms. Carlson and her lawyer are desperately attempting to litigate this in the press because they have no legal case to argue. The latest allegations, all 30 to 50 years old, are false," the attorney said.

Several female Fox anchors, including Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Greta Van Susteren, have stepped forward to defend Ailes.

Bartiromo was quoted in Variety as saying Ailes has been nothing but professional. Pirro and Van Susteren told The New York Times they never witnessed the behavior described in Carlson's suit.

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