The long rise and very quick fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes

For 20 years, the man at the helm of Fox News was it's CEO and founder Roger Ailes. On Thursday, Ailes stepped down after former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment suit against him. Jane Hall, associate professor at American University’s School of Communication, and Ken Doctor, media analyst for Newsonomics and Columnist for Politico, sit down with Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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    Next: a big shakeup in television news, and a media and political bombshell, as Roger Ailes is ousted as the head of FOX News.

    Jeffrey Brown reports.


    It all unfolded quickly, in a matter of weeks, after former FOX anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment suit against Roger Ailes, longtime head of FOX News.

    Ailes denied the charges. But 21st Century Fox, the cable network's parent company, hired a law firm to conduct an investigation. According to Carlson's lawyers, 20 or more other women then came forward with claims about Ailes' conduct, including Megyn Kelly, one of the network's star anchors.

    Publicly, many other prominent on-air personalities at FOX, including Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren, backed Ailes and said they were unaware of any inappropriate behavior.

    Rupert Murdoch issued a statement late yesterday without referring to the harassment charges, saying that: "Roger Ailes has made a remarkable contribution to our company and our country. Roger shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly over 20 great years."

    Roger Ailes, now 76, has been an influential figure for decades in Republican politics, as an adviser and strategist to Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He created FOX News 20 years ago and built it into the most-watched cable news channel.

  • BRIT HUME, FOX News:

    More news is on the way, fair, balanced and unafraid.


    Promoted as an alternative to traditional mainstream media. It has been a huge moneymaker for its parent company, and a target for critics of its conservative tone and team.

    Ailes said this in a 2004 interview with C-SPAN'S Brian Lamb:

  • ROGER AILES, Former FOX News Executive:

    Well, we have changed the business a little bit. I think FOX News has come on the scene and identified itself as fair and balanced. We try to do that every day. I think others, instead of trying to get more fair and balanced, probably are offended by that or worried about it.


    Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, will now decide on a successor to Roger Ailes and the future of the network he built.

    And joining me now, Jane Hall, a journalism professor at American University who previously served as a media reporter for The Los Angeles Times and commentator at FOX News, and Ken Doctor, who writes on the media business for Politico and on his blog, Newsonomics.

    Welcome to both of you.

    Ken, let me start with you.

    You watched this all unfold. Was it the accumulation of charges? What in the end led to Roger Ailes being ousted?

  • KEN DOCTOR, Media Analyst, Newsonomics:

    It was. It was.

    And it's an extraordinary event, as you laid out, and it's almost operatic to have it happen, the final parting, on the day of the Trump acceptance. It was a culmination. It was clearly a frat boy kind of culture that has been characteristic of FOX News for a long time, and that's not going to change overnight.

    So now the Murdochs are going to have to face that question. And we know the Murdoch sons are in charge of the business for the first time. Roger Ailes had kind of pushed them off. And they're going to have to confront both the workplace question of, what kind of workplace is it? Is it a "Mad Men" workplace or a 20th century workplace? And some significant business issues ahead.


    Well, before we look ahead, Jane Hall, why now? Because some of this had been out there. There was a biography of Roger Ailes by Gabe Sherman a few years ago. What do you see happening? What was your reaction?

  • JANE HALL, American University:

    Well, I think — I hope that it means that the world has changed.

    The younger Murdochs didn't particularly like Roger Ailes, but I think the fact that so many women, including, reportedly, Megyn Kelly came forward — Ailes has denied this. And we have to say that, of course.

    But with the accumulation of these charges, I think that this is not something that you can countenance in a modern media organization. He ruled and invented FOX News. And I think they do face the kinds of challenges that Ken is saying.

    But I do hope it means that someone would be investigated, that they took this seriously. It's been so much a part of our culture that women who were sexually harassed — even go back to Anita Hill's charges — were not taken seriously. So I'm hopeful this means that even a powerful person can be investigated for this.


    Jane, you wrote an op-ed today in The New York Times.




    And you wrote of FOX as a perfect reflection of Ailes himself. In what sense? In what sense did he come to help shape political discourse?


    Well, he is a brilliant television producer. And he created the jazzy graphics on the screen. He hired Bill O'Reilly. He brought in a number of people. He brought Megyn Kelly on board.

    He had a great eye for talent. What I think has happened is his fair and balanced slogan is really not accurate. They have pounded home lines like government takeover, Obama is soft on terrorism, Hillary is crooked. As I said in the piece, I don't think we would have Donald Trump if we didn't have Roger Ailes.

    But the network is absolutely a reflection of his vision. The only other person I can think of is Roone Arledge, who created ABC News and ABC Sports, who has had the same kind of impact. He merged politics, though, and a kind of bifurcated take-no-prisoners style that I think has hurt our discourse.


    Well, so, Ken Doctor, come back to this question of, what happens next? Do key people stay? Does the network change course or change style?


    Well, I think we will have an interview leader.

    Yesterday, when Rupert Murdoch made his statement, we actually had an 85-year-old replacing a 76-year-old, which has got to be an interim situation. FOX has to get through the election. It is by far the number one network. This is its election. But that is four months away.

    I think we will see an interim leader who will come in there and soothe the waters. This company had the same issue, Dow Jones, just a couple of years ago. And they did that, and they did it well.

    But then they really have to look, as we get into 2017, of what's the nature of cable news. And we're going to see major changes, as we're seeing live-streaming of things like the Republican Convention all over the place. We are going to see other sites from BuzzFeed and The New York Times be able to do the same thing that FOX and CNN are doing.

    And, of course ,the business model is changing because the bundle, buying 250 channels and paying a dollar a month for FOX, which is what most of us pay, is being replaced.


    Right. It's changing, but, Ken, no denying the success of FOX News. Right?


    Huge success, $1.5 billion a year in profit, and that's 20 percent of the profit of 21st Century Fox.

    So they are going to handle this very carefully. And they have got contracts coming up for some of their major personalities. Let's remember that four months ago Donald Trump said to somebody, well, if the election doesn't work out, there is Trump News Network. And now he can hire Roger Ailes to run it.


    And, Jane, just in our last minute here, 9.3 million viewers last night, had the highest viewership of the convention night last night.


    It did. They're still a powerhouse.

    I will point out that their average age has been creeping up and it was already in the mid-60s. They are not growing a younger audience. And I think that is a problem. And CNN used to not do so well because they didn't have the true believer base. But they have been gaining on them.

    It's not a sure thing that they will continue to do this. They have a base that is extraordinary.


    And just very briefly, that younger generation that you were talking about coming in of leadership, do you see any potential change in its course, I mean, for FOX News?


    For FOX News?

    I have heard different theories. One is they're going to — everybody who is closely associated with him may leave. Maybe they will bring in somebody new. The fact that he said he was going to be an adviser, I wouldn't be surprised if he goes to work with Donald Trump. He sort of created Donald Trump inadvertently. It may be a marriage we might see.



    Jane Hall, Ken Doctor, thank you both very much.



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