Roger Ailes Negotiates Exit From Fox News Amid More Sexual Harassment Claims

Network chairman and chief executive in talks with Rupert Murdoch after Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson and other women accused him of sexual harassment.

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Half a dozen women have come forward alleging that Roger Ailes sexually harassed them. Photograph: Fred Prouser/Reuters

The Guardian Tuesday 19 July 2016 14.05 EDT

Roger Ailes is in negotiations with Rupert Murdoch to quit as chairman and chief executive of Fox News following a string of allegations of sexual harassment from some the channel’s highest-profile female news anchors.

Ailes could collect as much as $40m in severance pay, according to a leaked copy of “separation agreement” published by the Drudge Report on Tuesday. However, the company denied that Ailes had left the company.

A 21st Century Fox spokesman said: “Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. The only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.”

No further information was available. Ailes’s exit could come at the end of the Republican national convention this week, as the date of his departure on the leaked document is 22 July.

Murdoch, whose family owns the news channel as part of 21st Century Fox, is said to have given his longstanding friend, and one of the most powerful executives in news media, his marching orders on Monday after Kelly, 45, told investigators that Ailes, 76, sexually propositioned her early on in her career.

Kelly is Fox News’s highest profile star. The allegations, reported by New York magazine on Tuesday, follow a lawsuit from another former high-profile Fox journalist, Gretchen Carlson, who alleged that she was demoted and had her pay cut after refusing to sleep with Ailes. While other Fox journalists rushed to Ailes’s defence following Carlson’s suit, Kelly has been noticeably silent.

Ailes has categorically denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers have called Carlson’s suit “defamatory” and “false”. “This is 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,” Ailes’s lawyers said after the suit was filed.

Ailes, a former adviser to presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, had been clinging on to his job following Carlson’s allegations, which he denied. But after complaints from other current and former female Fox News employees, Murdoch hired a New York law firm to conduct a wider investigation into Ailes’s alleged sexual misconduct.

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Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch in 2007. Photograph: Rex Features

Some former Fox News employees have been prevented from speaking about alleged harassment at the hands of Ailes due to non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) they signed upon leaving the channel. The company has now waived the NDAs, allowing the women to report their concerns to lawyers investigating claims against Ailes, according to New York magazine.

21st Century Fox refused to comment on Tuesday. On Monday, following reports that Ailes was on the brink of being fired, the company issued a terse statement saying: “This matter is not yet resolved and the review is not concluded.”

The New York magazine story, written by Ailes’s biographer Gabriel Sherman, said: “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 lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. Aileshelped Murdoch found Fox News 20 years ago. He is said to be seeking advice about his predicament from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Kelly shot to global fame last year when she challenged Trump about his treatment of women. During a live Republican presidential candidates debate in August she said: “You’ve called women you don’t like, ‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs’, ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals … You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”

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Soon afterwards Trump told CNN in an apparent menstruation reference: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

Trump threatened to skip a subsequent debate held by Fox this January if Kelly were present. Ailes, at the risk of the ratings Trump was bringing to the debates, refused to remove Kelly from the panel. Trump skipped the debate. Eventually, Ailes brokered a truce between the presidential candidate and the network. Trump appeared in a one-on-one interview on Kelly’s primetime show this May. The interview was widely received as a series of softball questions.

Kelly, who this week is hosting Fox News shows live from the Republican national convention in Cleveland, was not available for comment on the allegations.

No one from Fox News would speak to the Guardian about the latest allegations on Tuesday. Two private security guards, along with a Cleveland police officer, were guarding the cable news channel’s compound at the Republican national convention in the Huntington Convention Centre.

The Guardian was escorted out of the room by a Fox News staff member, who covered her identification badge and declined to give her name. “I have no idea where she is,” the employee said, when asked if she knew of Kelly’s whereabouts. “You should not be in here.”

Since Carlson filed her lawsuit against Ailes earlier this month, about a dozen female Fox employees have spoken out publicly in support of the channel’s chief executive and his treatment and attitude towards women. It has been suggested that the pro-Ailes campaign has been spearhead by Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Fox anchor who has been filling in on Carlson’s former afternoon time slot.

Carlson claims her contract was terminated after 11 years at the network, after she rebuffed Ailes’s sexual advances and complained about widespread discrimination in the newsroom.

During a meeting with Ailes to discuss Carlson’s concerns about “severe and pervasive sexual harassment”, he allegedly told her: “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.” He allegedly went on to say: “Sometimes problems are easier to solve that way.”

Ailes denies the allegations and said in a statement at the time: “This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”

This week, as accusations against Ailes grew in number, Ann Coulter, the conservative firebrand and frequent Fox News guest, said publicly that she had heard sexual harassment allegations “from every woman who has ever been employed by Fox”.

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