Ailes Fallout: Winners and Losers

Posted in FNC on July 21, 2016 by icn2

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.

Roger Ailes Resigns…

Posted in FNC, Miscellaneous Subjects on July 21, 2016 by icn2

Here’s 21st Century FOX’s statement

Roger Ailes Resigns as Chairman and CEO of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, and Chairman Fox Television Stations

Rupert Murdoch to Assume Role of Chairman and Acting CEO of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network

New York, NY – July 21, 2016 – 21st Century Fox today announced that Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, and Chairman of Fox Television Stations, has resigned from his role effective immediately.

Rupert Murdoch will assume the role of Chairman and acting CEO of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.

Rupert Murdoch, Executive Chairman, 21st Century Fox, said:

“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.

Fox News has given voice to those who were ignored by the traditional networks and has been one of the great commercial success stories of modern media.

It is always difficult to create a channel or a publication from the ground up and against seemingly entrenched monopolies. To lead a flourishing news channel, and to build Fox Business, Roger has defied the odds.

His grasp of policy and his ability to make profoundly important issues accessible to a broader audience stand in stark contrast to the self-serving elitism that characterizes far too much of the media.

I am personally committed to ensuring that Fox News remains a distinctive, powerful voice. Our nation needs a robust Fox News to resonate from every corner of the country.

To ensure continuity of all that is best about Fox News and what it stands for, I will take over as Chairman and acting CEO, with the support of our existing management team under Bill Shine, Jay Wallace and Mark Kranz.”

Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch, 21st Century Fox’s Executive Chairman, and CEO, respectively, said:

“We join our father in recognizing Roger’s remarkable contributions to our company. Our talented Fox News and Fox Business colleagues, up and down the organization and on both sides of the camera, have built something that continues to redefine the cable news experience for millions of viewers. We are enormously proud of their accomplishments. For them, as well as for our colleagues across our entire organization, we continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.”

Ailes Departure Collateral Damage…

Posted in FNC on July 21, 2016 by icn2

New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman writes about an ancillary issue in the Roger Ailes separation story…

As Roger Ailes battles the Murdochs over the terms of his exit from Fox News, he’s doing so without a key weapon in his arsenal: Fox spokesperson Irena Briganti.

Briganti — who is feared both inside and outside Fox as Ailes’s public-relations enforcer — has been told by 21st Century Fox executives that she is not allowed to communicate with Ailes or the press about his status at the network. Her sidelining comes after New York reported that she has been criticizing Megyn Kelly to reporters.

Briganti’s silencing by the Murdochs is leading to speculation inside Fox News that she will be forced out along with Ailes. “When Roger leaves, she’s gone,” one executive briefed on the talks said.

Ailes Out? Not Out? Didn’t Harass Kelly? Matt Drudge is Losing It…

Posted in FNC on July 19, 2016 by icn2

This is what I was in the middle of writing when all hell broke loose…

The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove confirms a Drudge report that Roger Ailes is gone from FNC as of Friday…with a $40 million buy out…

But before I could decide to hit publish several things happened:

1) First Drudge dropped the story and the PDF separation agreement.

At that point I put posting this on hold…

2) Then Drudge dropped the Ailes Out headline.
3) Then Drudge put up a statement from FNC from parts unknown which appear to be Susan Estrich that Ailes never harassed Megyn Kelly.
4) Then the Daily Beast, which had independently confirmed the Ailes out story added this…

Fox initially confirmed Drudge’s report to The Daily Beast, and subsequently walked back that confirmation. Additionally, Drudge replaced a headline touting the buyout with a new one on “Fox News Drama,” including a statement from the network: “Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly. In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her to achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him.”

What happens next? Who the hell knows!

Update: Now NPR’s David Folkenflik is citing two sources that Ailes is indeed out…

Roger Ailes being ousted as chairman/CEO of Fox News, two sources at Fox News channel tell NPR. No official confirmation to NPR yet.

Bartender!

Update 2: 20th Century FOX has put out a statement

Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. The only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.

Update 3: CNN’s Dylan Byers and Brian Stelter have new info

Fox News CEO Roger Ailes is in talks with 21st Century Fox that will likely lead to his departure following allegations of sexual harassment.

However, contrary to some news reports on Tuesday, “there is no deal,” Ailes’ attorney Susan Estrich said.

“When there is an agreement, if there is an agreement, 21st Century Fox will make an announcement,” Estrich said.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the conversations, the negotiations could conclude as early as Tuesday night, but may take longer.

FNC Sues Charter…

Posted in FNC on July 19, 2016 by icn2

Politico’s Kelsey Sutton writes about FNC suing Charter Communications over the latter’s sneaky contract musical chairs…

Fox News is suing Charter Communications for breach of contract and fraud, the second major dispute a TV channel has filed against the telecom company since its acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

In the suit, Fox alleges that Charter, which acquired Time Warner for $60 billion in May, “is illegally seeking to apply Time Warner Cable’s channel-carriage rates to carry Fox News and its sister channel Fox Business Network in all its homes,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Fox News says that Charter is attempting to use the terms set forth in an old agreement with Time Warner Cable, not a newer agreement struck with Charter in 2014, in order to benefit from more favorable contract conditions. The cable channel is suing for fraud and breach of contract.

Et tu, Ann?

Posted in FNC on July 19, 2016 by icn2

The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grimm has Ann Coulter kicking Ailes while he’s down…

“That’s it?” Coulter said when HuffPost described the allegations to her. “Oh boy, I have better details than that, from every woman who has ever been employed by Fox, which I have not.”

Walking away down the sidewalk, she turned and called out, “Thank you, that was great news!”

Ailes: Collateral Damage Control

Posted in FNC on July 19, 2016 by icn2

The Financial Times’ Matthew Garrahan and Anna Niccolaou have some new things to add to the story. The article confirms Gabriel Sherman’s “out by after the GOP convention” story and the authors report that Ailes is furious with the Murdochs.

But the intriguing tidbit which is revealed in the article is that the contracts for O’Reilly, Hannity, and Van Susteren all have “Ailes escape clauses”…meaning if Ailes is not running the show, they can leave.

I don’t see this as a consideration though some might. If the accusations have any validity, 20th Century FOX’s hands are tied. You just can’t have healhty corporate governance with that kind of ethical cloud hanging over the company. Can you imagine the corporate culture at play if 20th Century FOX decided to retain Ailes in order to prevent a talent exodus…what kind of message that would send to every single female employee at FNC? And the kind of legal jeopardy it put the entire corporation in?

No. If the allegations are true…and that’s still not an automatic despite the circumstantial optics being displayed…20th Century FOX has no choice…remove Ailes and roll the dice that there won’t be a talent exodus.

I’m not convinced there will be a big exodus. O’Reilly is close to calling it a day already so he’s gone either way soon enough. Hannity and Van Susteren? Where are they going to get a bigger broader TV platform than where they currently are? Newsmax TV? HA! Hannity’s exit is all the more unlikely if Bill Shine were to take over for Ailes because those two go way back.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t people who would leave…or more to the point…that there aren’t people who wouldn’t be allowed back on the air if Ailes was no longer there. There are definitely people we’d never see again on a non-Ailes run FNC.

Also worth considering is who would be allowed to remain in their current executive positions in a non-Ailes run FNC. You’re not going to install a new President at the network and expect they’ll be completely comfortable with the current arrangement. Not even Shine. I can think of a few who could be looking over their shoulders if Ailes isn’t in charge.

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