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Murdochs To Remove Roger Ailes Amid Sexual Harassment Claims


With news of an upheaval at the Fox News Channel the chairman of News, Roger Ailes, is being ousted. That's what Fox News sources have told NPR's David Folkenflik. A former FOX News anchor recently sued Ailes for sexual harassment. Today, New York Magazine reported that more women have come forward to accuse Ailes of making unwanted sexual advances, among them Fox News star Megyn Kelly. David joins us now to talk more about his reporting.

And, David, first just tell us what we know at this point about the Ailes situation.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, representatives of the Murdoch family - Rupert Murdoch has two sons, Lachlan and James - are negotiating an exit package for Roger Ailes. They are seeking to oust him. They've decided his position is untenable. The deal is not done. 21st Century Fox, the parent company, has put out a statement saying that Roger Ailes is still on the job and that there is no operating agreement except the one that is his contract and that it's still in effect. But, you know, this appears very much to be the end game and that those sources we mentioned have said that, you know, the ouster is imminent.

CORNISH: Walk us back here on the issue of Megyn Kelly. We know that the lawsuit is with Gretchen Carlson. How did these Kelly accusations surface?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the parent company of Fox News, 21st Century Fox, decided to make a show of the fact that it was taking seriously the allegations that Carlson had raised, even as it expressed full confidence in Roger Ailes and, in fact, another anchor named in the suit but not filed - named as a litigant in the suit, Steve Doocy, who she accused of sexism and of harassment. And that review involved a very powerful New York City law firm called Paul Weiss. And once you're doing an outside review, the - it becomes a much tougher investigation to control.

Folks who've advised Rupert Murdoch for years told me that in the old days such a review would have probably been done by an inside lawyer and certainly been taken and then the findings found, perhaps some money paid out to the complainant, and that later on that that report would've been filed in a discarded file cabinet somewhere. This time around it seems like it's being taken seriously indeed. Part of that is that the Murdoch sons are not fans of Roger Ailes. But in addition, you know, this is a serious complaint that could make the company liable and open to lawsuits. In this particular case so far, Gretchen Carlson has not sued the network but just Ailes himself.

CORNISH: When it comes to Megyn Kelly, obviously she emerged as one of the stars of the network. When - once her name sort of surfaced in all this, is that being looked at as kind of at a tipping point here?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think it's a huge thing. I think was the nail in the coffin, really, sort of the end of the game and the end of the road for Roger Ailes. She is the star of Fox News. She is the most visible woman on the network. And even if Bill O'Reilly has slightly larger viewership, she's seen as the future of the network. And for her to make these accusations even in a private setting, as opposed to in the public setting of court, I think undercuts his standing entirely. You know, if the CEO and chairman of FOX News is allowed to continue when his chief female anchor and star has accused him of sexual harassment even if that is said to have occurred a decade ago, very hard for the parent company to look away. Very hard for people to look at Fox News as a place where you understand what the corporate management would represent.

CORNISH: Finally, can - kind of thinking of this more, what would Fox News look like without Roger Ailes at the helm?

FOLKENFLIK: Fascinating question. They really have not planned very well. They've thought about it for a long time. Roger Ailes is 76. He's just shy of 20 years at the founding in late 1996 of Fox News. He's really been the animating and creative force propelling Fox News' audiences, its success, its political influence and its runaway profits, about a billion a year contributed to the bottom line of 21st Century Fox. You know, of all people, more than any specific star on Fox, you know, Roger Ailes has been seen as the invaluable figure. And he has ensured that there's no real person to replace him.

So either you go in the model more that James Murdoch might like of something like the kind of cable channel they have abroad in Sky News, which is, you know, upbeat, quick, fast, a little racier perhaps than the BBC or CNN, but not unrecognizable from that and very different than a much more ideological flavor, conservative flavor that you see on Fox News. Or you might see somebody trying to open up a triptych, light the incense and every morning try to summon the spirit of Roger Ailes to tell him or her what the heck to do with your network.

CORNISH: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.