In the midst of sexual harassment allegations, it appears that the departure of Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is imminent. Ailes, a former conservative political advisor, led the network to the top of the ratings during his two decades at the helm. Questions remain in his wake. How will the network be able to maintain its formula for success? And can it retain the popular anchors who helped build its reputation as the voice of the political right?
Westphal College professor Karen Curry, the executive director of the Kal and Lucille Rudman Institute For Entertainment Industry Studies, is a veteran of the network news business. She came to Drexel after a successful career leading news coverage at CNN and NBC. Curry recently weighed in on the situation atop 21st Century Fox’s flagship and the ripple effects it could produce.
If Ailes leaves, does Fox News stick with the right-wing politics formula that brought it success, or might it take this as an opportunity for reinvention?
If Ailes leaves, I doubt there would be a change of style at Fox News given that they have had their best year to date in ratings. Their formula clearly works and Ailes has been the grand architect of the formula. The question is how much would an Ailes exit jeopardize the formula? Right now, is he still so hands-on that he actually shapes the programming? Is his presence just so overwhelming that without him the channel would lose its focus?
What if some of his key anchors decide to leave in protest? Where do they go?
Does Ailes have another gig in him and would his separation agreement allow him to start a competitive outlet? If not, would CNN or MSNBC grab these stars hoping their huge audiences would follow them? And how do they integrate them into their current programming.
It would be sort of irresistible but quite a Faustian bargain to make.
What could this mean for 21st Century Fox?
As for Fox News and 21st Century Fox — how much did executives at each company know about the alleged sexual harassment over the years? If they knew, what did they do? The Gretchen Carlson lawsuit has put it all on the table, and if these allegations from her and other women are true, it would be hard to believe that this all came as a surprise.
I really hope that the overall issue of workplace sexual harassment doesn’t get lost in the media gossip firestorm. Fox News is likely not the only workplace where this exists and let’s hope this will get the issue out into the open.
Why do you think Ailes was so successful in his position over the last 20-plus years?
Everyone says that Ailes is one of the smartest guys in television. He had a vision that he stuck to. He was adept at identifying what he saw as an underserved audience and cultivated it.
It also didn’t hurt that his own politics were in sync with his vision for the channel.
He was never one of the “East Coast media elites” and I think, because of that, he tapped into a large part of the audience that the others didn’t. Fox News was underestimated when it launched — a lot like Trump’s candidacy was underestimated.
Who could end up replacing him?
There doesn’t seem to be a likely internal candidate. It seems to me you would need another larger-than-life sort of person who signs on to the politics of the channel.
This is kind of crazy, but let’s say Donald Trump loses the election. What better way to keep his “movement” going and take revenge on Hillary than to make a deal with Rupert Murdoch. Trump could either buy the channel or work out a merger-type arrangement with Murdoch — think of the original Microsoft/NBC deal that gave birth to MSNBC.
This would not be possible with Ailes in the picture, but with him gone, who knows? Trump never saw a camera or microphone he didn’t like and this way he would get to control them all.
This is even crazier: If Trump did win the White House, could one of his kids take over the network? It’s pretty clear that, for the past 14 years, it hasn’t mattered which party was in the White House — Fox News was still number one. If Murdoch is losing the Ailes brand, the Trump brand might very well be appealing.
Media inquirers for Curry should be directed to Britt Faulstick, assistant director of media relations, firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-895-2617.