Embattled Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, apparently on the cusp of ending a legendary media career in a whiff of scandal, is negotiating his exit from the top-rated cable network he founded 20 years ago.
“What I can say is there’s a lot of talk going on…at Fox with various people involved,” one of Ailes’s attorneys, Susan Estrich, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview. “Roger hasn’t approved anything yet. Roger and Rupert [Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox] will talk. Rupert is due back in town [New York] next week.”
The 76-year-old Ailes—who created the conservative-friendly cable network and turned it into a hugely profitable media powerhouse after several years at NBC and a storied career as a Republican political consultant—is poised to step down in the wake of a sensational lawsuit alleging sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, filed barely two weeks ago by fired Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson.
Estrich denied a Drudge Report item—later walked back by the conservative-leaning news site—which included what appeared to be a formal term sheet indicating that Ailes is planning to depart Fox News on July 22 with a $40 million “golden parachute.”
“There is no deal about anything at this point,” Estrich said. “Nobody’s got one right now,” she added concerning the generous severance package mentioned in the detailed document which Matt Drudge posted on Twitter. “We don’t know how that term sheet got there, but it is not an accurate or final term sheet about anything.”
Estrich said she didn’t know how Drudge obtained the term sheet or who provided it, but said many different draft versions exist in PDF form and Ailes has agreed to none of them.
“Roger had never seen that term sheet,” she said. “There were so many PDFs lying around.”
21st Century Fox, meanwhile, issued a statement batting down reports—stoked by a headline in The Drudge Report—that Ailes is abruptly leaving the cable network with a $40 million parachute.
“Roger is at work,” the statement said. “The review is ongoing. And the only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.”
Ailes’s departure could initially cause big problems for the network.
The Financial Times reported that Fox News prime-time stars Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren have clauses in their contracts that would permit them to follow Ailes to the exit.
Carlson’s July 6 legal action in New Jersey Superior Court—filed after her contract was not renewed and she was unceremoniously sacked on June 23—prompted 21st Century Fox to engage the blue chip law firm Paul Weiss to conduct an internal review of her allegations, and those of other potential accusers who have reportedly trekked to the law firm’s Manhattan offices to submit to confidential interviews.
Among the Fox employees reported to have talked to the Paul Weiss lawyers—and, according to New York magazine, claimed Ailes sexually harassed her when she was a cub legal reporter a decade ago—is prime-time star Megyn Kelly.
The 45-year-old Kelly—a former litigator who is one of the few high-profile women at Fox who didn’t publicly defend Ailes against Carlson’s allegations—didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Her silence provoked irritation and anger among some of the Ailes loyalists at Fox News, and New York magazine speculated erroneously that the network’s communications chief Irena Briganti gave an anonymous quote to The Daily Beast calling Kelly “selfish.” Briganti was not quoted in The Daily Beast’s story.
Estrich said in a statement: “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.”
Ailes, who the FT reported is “furious” at his treatment by Rupert Murdoch, and his sons Lachlan and James—21st Century Fox’s top executives—has staunchly denied the allegations and vowed to mount a vigorous defense against Carlson’s lawsuit, which his legal team has been seeking to push into confidential arbitration.