Roger Ailes, the embattled chief of Fox News, resigned under pressure Thursday and will be replaced on an interim basis by 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who assumed the role of Fox News chairman and acting CEO.
“Roger Ailes has made a remarkable contribution to our company and our country,” Murdoch said in a statement Thursday. “Roger shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly over 20 great years.”
The resignation — forced just two weeks after former Fox host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, 76 — ends a dramatic week of leaks and speculation about his future and the future of Fox News Channel itself. A series of reports — beginning with one in New York magazine — said an internal investigation by 21st Century Fox turned up other allegations of harassment, while the magazine first reported that prime-time star Megyn Kelly had also told the company that Ailes had sexually harassed her a decade ago. Since then, other women — including former Fox News personnel — had also said Ailes made inappropriate advances or comments, according to those reports.
Carlson’s lawyers released a statement saying, in part, “We hope that all businesses now understand that women will no longer tolerate sexual harassment and reputable companies will no longer shield those who abuse women.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Joe Peyronnin — a former CBS News executive, and the first president of Fox News, who resigned when Ailes was appointed by Murdoch in 1996 — said Murdoch will step into the role of FNC chief executive because “21st Century Fox thinks it’s important that someone with a higher stature will ensure as little disruption takes place as possible because there are enormous power and profit consequences at stake.”
Peyronnin and others have speculated that the departure of Ailes could trigger the departure of some top on-air personnel from the network.
Indeed, in his statement, Murdoch sought to allay the single concern most FNC employees have at the moment — what exactly will Fox News become after Ailes’ departure, given that the network was so closely allied to Ailes’ combative style and image over the past two decades?
“I am personally committed to ensuring that Fox News remains a distinctive, powerful voice,” he said. “Our nation needs a robust Fox News to resonate from every corner of the country.”
Nevertheless, coming just hours before Donald Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention, the firing raises numerous other questions — none that Murdoch attempted to address.
Why, for example, would Ailes have been forced out at such a moment? And why would Murdoch, who turned 85 in March, be the executive to lead FNC into the future? Moreover, his interim status leaves questions for a handful of other senior executives, some of whom began with Ailes, including Long Island native Bill Shine, FNC’s senior executive vice president, and who has widely been considered an Ailes’ heir apparent.