The Chairman couldnt survive a career-ending sexual harassment suit, but his DNA is baked into the Tv news company and its$ 1bn yearly profits
As the 40 th Republican National Convention unfolded in Cleveland with all the subtlety and dignity of an episode of American Ninja this week, Roger Ailes, the man whose news as info-tainment style most informed Donald Trumps coronation, watched his legacy turn to ash.
That the chairman of Fox News should lose his chore as the most Foxian of Republican nominees was crowned was an irony few could miss. And with the battle for the White House just get into full swing the timing for Fox, and the Republican Party, could not be worse.
But the man known simply as the Chairman could not survive a career-ending sexual harassment suit brought by former Fox host Gretchen Carlson, a suit that has brought further complaints into the illumination, one allegedly from star anchor Megyn Kelly.
Now the big question is how will Fox survive the ousting of a human who has defined the channel and much of US media for close to 20 years. Fox has been the lead cable news network for 58 consecutive quarters. This years election madness pushed its average primetime viewership in the first half of the year to 2.2 m, the highest in its history.
We all thought Roger was pretty much untouchable, said one former Fox News producer, who spoke on the standards of anonymity. It seemed like he would never leave, that he would die in his office chair.
There were tears in the office for some as the news was announced. Others, including the sons of Foxs controlling stockholder Rupert Murdoch, may have let on a sigh of relief. But no one at Fox underestimates the challenge ahead.
Its hard for people there to imagine anything without Roger, says David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR and a longtime Foxologist. They[ at Fox] almost all uniformly say that. In fact, they speak of Ailes like a sky deity. We never thought he would be taken down, says another ex-producer, because the ship largely runs on dread( and respect) for Roger.
In the short term, life inside Foxs 1211 Avenue of the Americas HQ will carry on as usual. But learning about the inner workings of Fox is not unlike reading about Stalinist Russia or the Church of Scientology. The Chairmans channel is a profitable and political juggernaut that functions as a projection of Ailess ego , not to mention his id. He didnt merely build Fox News, so they say, he is Fox News.
The network will have a power vacuum like never before, one of the former producers says. Ailes leaves behind a command structure that has depended on his direct, attain that obsessive, involvement for two whole decades. According to longtime Fox watcher Gabriel Sherman and author of Ailess biography, The Loudest Voice In The Room, Ailess cabinet of true disciples has disintegrated in recent years, but his stamp on Foxs culture is indelible.
I would compare it to Apple, post-Steve Jobs, said another ex-employee. I guess Roger has cooked enough of his Dna in the company and installed enough like-minded people that the company can run for a while with him gone.
But not if the Murdoch clan has anything to say. And son, do they. The unplanned Ailes exit is a massive opportunity for Ruperts sons James and Lachlan to ultimately take control of the one rascal territory in the family empire.( Lachlan is executive co-chairman of News Corp and 21 st Century Fox and James is CEO of the larger 21st Century Fox, attaining him the favored child .)
Both sons have clashed with Ailes and was concern that the social conservatism he injected into Fox will cause long-term damage by putting off a new generation of spectators. The average Fox News viewer is 68 , older than CNN or MSNBC.
Most of Foxs money comes from carriage fees the money cable companies pay to get onto into viewers homes. As millennials increasingly cut those cables and get their news online those revenues are likely to shrink. Folkenflik said Fox was lagging behind CNN in its transitioning to the digital realm, coasting on brand recognition to score big numbers on social media.
But for now Fox News is still raking in over$ 1bn in earning each year. The Murdochs may assure Ailess operation as a freakshow, but it prints so much money that not one of them has had the guts to rein it in.
What CNN did was extraordinary. What Fox News did was singular, says Folkenflik, comparing CNNs invention of cable news with Foxs grotesque perfection of it. Fox is a behemoth. Earnings are staggering and it has unrivaled political influence, admittedly almost exclusively in one party.
That is not something the Murdoch friends, despite their well-known disdain for creepy Uncle Roger, are looking to disrupt.
After Ailess defenestration, Murdoch himself took the helm on Thursday presenting just how important the network is to his empire. But the 85 -year-old is unlikely to want to remain acting boss forever. While Ailes was in the job most people including him had assumed hed succumb in the office. Succession planning was done in a whisper. But there is an unofficial shortlist of names to replace Ailes: Bill Shine, a Fox News original( he came aboard making Hannity in 1996) and senior executive VP, would probably keep the channel on cruise-control as Republican agitprop, though several familiar with Foxs internal politics says that he absence the requisite charisma and vision.
The alternative way would be to pick person like Jay Wallace, executive vice-president of news and editorial, a man who one of the ex-producers said would probably steer Fox gently toward CNN-territory. Maybe itll be Jesse Angelo, CEO and publisher of the New York Post.
What may worry the younger Murdochs is whats behind doorway number three. As Ailess lawyer told the Hollywood Reporter: Exit agreements can take all kinds of different forms, including agreements that provide for continuing roles. So theres a lot of negotiations going on.
Staying on as a consultant, which he will do until 2018, and perhaps even ruling things from the shadows would not be out of place in Ailess biography. Back in his days as Nixons media consultant and the GOPs premier political consultant, Ailes actually favor the freedom and plausible deniability that came with consultant gigs, quite wisely in the case of Nixon.( Theres no doubt the Fox suits are debating a non-compete clause to fend off Ailes starting another network to bite the Murdochs in the ass. Dont put it past him .)
Before anyone has the leverage to assert the throne, however, its likely that neither the brothers Murdoch nor the Ailes clique will have the upper hand until statute firm Paul, Weiss issues its Fox-commissioned report on the Carlson case: everything depends on what the law firm determines and if the Murdochs are confronted with a culture of sexual pathology that goes beyond Roger Ailes, theyll have no choice but to clear house.
Then theres the related question of on-air talent: the network colossus Bill OReilly, several sources say, may not be that friendly with his boss, but he is loyal. When I interviewed Ailes acolyte Sean Hannity earlier this year, he had nothing but praise for the greatest boss in the world. Combine that with the fact that hes a massive radio superstar in his own right, and Hannity is a much more probable walkout.
But its Foxs newest hotshot Megyn Kelly whos the most inscrutable of the bunch. This years steely-eyed faceoffs against Donald Trump stimulated her a global sensation, and shes made it clear she knows it, hinting unsubtly at a possible departure.
No matter who takes the mantle , no matter who sticks around, and no matter whether the network bides rightwing pitbull or turns milquetoast, some things that Ailes created at Fox News are with us to stay. Some of them are cable news innovations, like the peripheral creep at the lower end of your screen during a broadcast, the overwrought graphics and the increasing gameshow ambiance of American politics.
His other contributions are less innocuous: the constant, feverish villainization of Muslims. Apocalyptic fear-mongering around as the RNC reminded everyone this week revolutionary Islamic terrorism. The gleeful marketing of the Iraq war. Breakthroughs in weaponized PR, designed not only to defend a company from journalists but to kill careers and divide and conquer internal disagreement. The transformation of TV news into a 24 -hour perpetual paranoia machine.
Roger Ailes may be out, but the Chairwoman mark on the 21 st century is merely beginning.
Fox News did not respond to a request for commentary for this article.
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