Scandal continues to dog channel following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against its former chairman in his final year
The death of the former Fox News president Roger Ailes on Thursday is being mourned at the network he turned into a television and political behemoth, and by figures including the former US president George HW Bush.
His passing may do little, however, to change the scandals bombarding Fox News – many of them alleged to be of his making.
Ailes, a formerly all-powerful executive who steered Fox News to ratings dominance and to its formidable role in shaping the modern Republican party, died less than a year after being forced out of Fox, and just as the network was beginning to enter a ratings decline.
Ailes’ final year of life was dominated by a wave of sexual misconduct accusations that continues to roil Fox News today.
In an explosive lawsuit she filed 6 July 2016, the former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson accused Ailes of constant, on-the-job sexual harassment and of firing her when she refused to start a sexual relationship.
Carlson’s accusations inspired dozens of women to come forward with similar stories. Among them were multiple former Fox News anchors who said his behavior cost them their jobs, women he encountered in show business in the 1960s, and Megyn Kelly – at the time, one of Fox News’s brightest stars.
The onslaught threatened to rock Fox News to its core. Taken together, the women’s stories painted a picture of an all-powerful executive who terrorized female employees while the Fox News corporate echelon looked the other way.
21st Century Fox, the cable news network’s parent company, hired a New York law firm to investigate the allegations. And on 21 July, Ailes accepted a forced resignation – and an exit package reported to be worth $40m.
Ailes denied ever having acted inappropriately.
Ailes’s downfall continues to reverberate at Fox News. His departure was followed by those of a handful of top deputies who stand accused of covering up his alleged sexual misconduct with threats, demotions, and secret payouts.
In April, the Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, host of the network’s top-performing show, followed Ailes out the door amid a storm of similar accusations, which he also denied. The network, the New York Times revealed, had paid a string of secret settlements to several women who had accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment and lewd behavior.
According to a recent report by New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, employees at Fox complain that besides a reshuffling of positions at the very top, not much has changed inside the network culture that spawned dozens of sexual – and racial – discrimination complaints.
Today, at least two women have active litigation against not just Ailes but the Fox News Network and Bill Shine, the Fox News co-president who is accused of helping cover up Ailes’ alleged harassment. (Shine resigned under pressure this month.)
Julie Roginsky, an on-air contributor and occasional guest host, sued Ailes, Shine, and other top executives in April, saying Ailes made advances toward her and demoted her after she rejected him.
The former Fox News anchor Andrea Tantaros is also suing Shine and Ailes, as well as the network, over claims that they surveilled her and hacked her computer and cell phone after she publicly accused Ailes of harassment. Tantaros sued Ailes for sexual harassment in August, a lawsuit that has been moved to arbitration.
Attorneys for Tantaros and Roginsky did not immediately respond to requests for comment on how Ailes’s death could affect their litigation.
Ailes seemed to escape the financial ramifications of his alleged misconduct. By September 2016, Fox News had settled with three accusers. One was Carlson, whose lawsuit the network settled for $20m, even though her suit named Ailes and not the company. Attorneys for Ailes have said he didn’t contribute to that settlement.
Fox News is facing other lawsuits unlikely to be significantly affected by Ailes’ death.
Some of those lawsuits, including a hostile work environment suit brought by a local Fox reporter, Lidia Curanaj, claim harassment by Ailes but don’t name him as a defendant.
Douglas Wigdor, the attorney for 21 alleged victims of racial and sexual harassment at 21st Century Fox, said Ailes’s death would not affect the legal process.
“In terms of our cases, I don’t see his sudden passing having any impact as, to the extent relevant, our clients will still be able to testify about his conduct, which presumably will be more difficult for Fox News to counter given that his testimony was not secured by sworn testimony to date,” Wigdor said.
Ailes is not named as a defendant in that suit.
Lisa Bloom, who represents the Fox contributor Wendy Walsh in her sexual harassment accusations against O’Reilly, says Ailes’s death will have no impact on her clients.
“Let all his victims now be ungagged for the true, full reckoning of his life, and let them return to the jobs they were driven out of when they stood up for their rights,” she wrote in an email.