Ailes Fallout: Winners and Losers
Winner: Gabe Sherman – Derided for years as an opportunist and a liar, Sherman showed once and for all that his cadre of sources inside FNC and 21st Century FOX are undeniably real. Nobody else came close to chronicling this story. It doesn’t excuse some of the stuff he wrote in the past which for me took on too much of a “personal vandetta” feel to some stories…but it does make his fiercest detractors have to swallow hard and re-examine their stance. Which leads me to…
Loser: Joe Concha – If Sherman can be accused of going over the top in his Ailes/FNC obsession…not an implausible accusation in my mind…Concha can be accused of having just as bad an over the top obsession with knocking Sherman down. It’s one thing to fact check someone. It’s another to come after someone like Sherman with that much hostility. While I could stand with Concha on the periphery of some of the things he had to say about Sherman, the totality of his aggression just didn’t add up for me. Even this week when writing up Sherman being out in front of the story Concha not only said that this story would make or break Sherman, something I also wrote, he had to go back and blast him again over issues which some aren’t the slam dunk he makes them out to be.
Well Sherman wound up being right and right with the sources Concha used to ridicule.
Winner: Gretchen Carlson – This is both conditional and temporary. Even though everyone knows Ailes resigned because of what her lawsuit triggered, the victory for her here is mostly superficial and short term.
Nothing in today’s announcement from 21st Century FOX of Ailes’ resignation references sexual harassment, save for those vague words the Murdoch brothers said about “we continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect” in their statement that was part of the release.
That’s it. If Sherman was correct that haggling over an admission of guilt or acknowledgement of wrongdoing of some sort is partly what held up Ailes’ resignation, I would score this as a big victory for Ailes. There’s nothing in this statement that Carlson could use in a courtroom to help her case. So, while her actions wound up getting Ailes ousted…the long term goal is the lawsuit and this doesn’t help that.
Loser: Neil Cavuto – Plenty of people came out supporting Ailes; that in itself is not a problem. Just because someone allegedly was a sexual harasser doesn’t mean everyone knows about it or had first hand experienced it. So it’s entirely plausible for people to have divergently alternate experiences with someone.
What sets Cavuto’s response apart from the rest is his position in the company. He’s an executive. His visceral reaction (“sick”) to this story carries different weight if he’s an executive than if he’s just talent. I’ll give Cavuto the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t consider the ramifications because of his role as an executive (though he really should have because any executive worth their salt needs to). But, optically, it nevertheless is a very bad look for Cavuto…
Winner: The Murdoch brothers – Ailes has been their nemesis for decades. They finally got him out.
Loser: The Murdoch brothers – If a now Ailes-less FNC starts dropping in the ratings or talent and/or exec staff starts leaving, they’ll be blamed for pushing Ailes out.
Loser: Trusted Ailes advisers and staff – Ailes staffed his network not only with staffers you would call loyalists but people who could be charitably characterized as “toadies”. With him gone, they lose their protection. Many of them could be gone within a year. If not sooner.
Loser: FNC contributors who appeared on the air solely because they had connections to Ailes. There are a few who could be seeing their last days on the air now.
Loser: Media writers – FNC just got a little duller. A little less interesting to write about. As did cable news as a whole. Jeff Zucker now takes over as the most polarizing cable news network President but he has nothing on Roger. Media writers will miss having Ailes around because Ailes always made things interesting.
Winner: Media writers – Potentially. Depends on what happens to FNC’s PR department now that Ailes isn’t around. If I created a drinking game where you had to take a drink if you found a media writer who didn’t have a worst ever most caustic experience with FNC PR over the most insignificant thing…well…you may not be opening that bottle for a while. Losing Ailes could translate into a company wide culture change as it potentially sheds that paranoid bunker mentality stance Roger Ailes actively drove.
Loser: Rupert Murdoch – It must make him sick no end to see Ailes have to go out and go out like this. So much of 21st Century FOX’s performance is now based on that cable news monolith Roger Ailes built…and built without Murdoch needing to meddle the way he would routinely meddle in his newspapers in decades gone by. Ailes was trustworthy. Ailes was dependable. Losing Ailes, like handing the controls over the James and Lachlan, is just another sign that it’s really not his ship anymore.
Winner: Corporate sexual harassment responsibility – Even if there’s nothing to Carlson’s suit, the exposure of this story and Ailes’ resignation has put sexual harassment in the forefront of HR departments country-wide.
Loser: Megyn Kelly – Potentially, depending on how things play out internally at FNC. It is clear that there is a sizeable contingent inside FNC who never experienced the alleged side of Roger Ailes that Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit over. As I said earlier, I find this outcome to be entirely plausible. But Carlson is an ex-FNC employee. Megyn Kelly isn’t.
If it’s true that Kelly came forward to talk about incidents of harassment with Ailes (I’ll ignore the stories that she allegedly also counseled others), this could create quite a rift between those who experienced Ailes alleged harassment and those who did not. Kelly, being the highest profile female talent for the network, will automatically be a figurehead for that. It’s hard to predict how corporate culture reacts to news it had no idea existed as a possibility.
Say what you will but the fact that 21st Century FOX forced Ailes out with Rupert’s blessing in just a few days screams volumes about what Paul, Weiss may have turned up in its investigation. Ailes doesn’t just fall on his sword for the greater good as is being made out here in his letter. He’s too much a fighter.
All of this has the potential…and I said potential mind you…to create some resentment toward Kelly. Ailes’ dismissal isn’t the end of this story. It’s just the beginning as HR has to manage this situation very carefully to keep the newsroom from tearing itself in two.
Update: I spent some time thinking about this and I don’t think I was clear enough on a couple of points regarding Kelly. I think I didn’t make it clear enough that Kelly should not be the victim of any blowback for co-operating with Paul, Weiss regardless of what her testimony was. I was exploring the possibility of a schism that could develop between those who experienced one side of Ailes and those who allegedly experienced another side of Ailes not seen by the former. As such Kelly, with her stature as FNC’s most high profile female talent, would automatically rise to the top as the leader whether she truly lead or not. It’s not fair to her but it is what it is. I don’t think I parsed this very well earlier.
This is a very delicate phase FNC now enters in to. A cable news network isn’t your typical corporate structure. You have ego driven talent, territorial EPs, and domineering high strung executives thrown into a 24/7 pressure cooker environment. There are leaks, agendas, vendettas, grudges, alliances, and cliques galore with too many people looking to preserve their public persona and the stature it carries. As such, a cable news network seems to me to be a more susceptible environment for developing that kind of schism than your typical corporate structure…especially if the alleged perp is the guy who has been the only authority figure they’ve ever known while working there and everyone owes their position to him to in one way or another.