Ailes, Carlson, and the Future of Fox News: A Primer

Editor’s Note: Some names used in the following story are pseudonyms, per the original report by New York magazine.

Gretchen Carlson, long-time Fox News anchor and former co-host of morning show “Fox & Friends,” was discreetly let go from the network on June 23, 2016. Almost two weeks later, Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News’ then-CEO, Roger Ailes.

As the saga unravels, it continues to reveal more about Ailes as an individual and challenge the future of Fox News, which lies in the balance of how it handles sensitive situations while maintaining substantive quality and organizational leadership.

Since Carlson’s original allegations were published, a number of corporate changes and new claims against Ailes have kept the network in headlines. In the following primer, we’ll examine just how Ailes impacted Fox News, and what his career – and its decline – mean for the network’s future.


May 15, 1940 Ailes is born in Warren, Ohio to an abusive father who worked for a General Motors manufacturing plant. Mainly raised by his grandmother, Ailes has remarked that he  “grew up with” television. He graduated from Ohio University in 1962 with degrees in radio and television. During his college years, Ailes worked at the university’s local public broadcast network , WOUB-TV.

First Television Gigs & Political Consulting

1962-1968 NIXONcampaignsAiles lands a gig out of college at “The Mike Douglas Show,” a Cleveland daytime talk show that later expanded across the globe. Ailes eventually became executive producer of the show. During his time working for the show, Ailes met Presidential Candidate Richard Nixon in 1967. Nixon hired Ailes to sculpt the Republican candidate’s political image on camera as his Executive Producer for television.

Nixon: “It’s a shame a man has to use gimmicks like television to get elected.”
Ailes to Nixon: “Television is not a gimmick… and if you think it is, you’ll lose again.”
Late 1965/Early 1966 When she was doing modeling work in Philadelphia, Diane (last name redacted), now a media consultant, was called in to audition for a skit on “The Mike Douglas Show”. She was around 18 years old. During the audition, she reports that Ailes would call the girls in one by one and speak with them behind “closed doors.” When it was Diane’s turn, she claims that Ailes forced her to kiss him. She refused, and says Ailes told her, “Well, you know, no girls get a job here unless they’re cooperative.”
1967/68 Marsha Callahan, a former model who is now 73, was called in to “The Mike Douglas Show” by her modeling agency. She reports also being contacted directly by Ailes, who she says asked her to wear “a garter belt and stockings” for the show. Callahan claims was instructed to pose in different positions on a couch in Ailes’ office. Per Callahan’s report, Ailes said he would, “put [her] on the show, but [she] needed to go to bed with him.”
Winter, 1967 Susan (last name redacted), a former model who was 16 at the time, was sent to Ailes’ studio for a “walk on part” at “The Mike Douglas Show”. She alleges that when Ailes called her into his office, he pulled out his genitals and told her to “kiss them”. Susan claims Ailes chased her around the office until he realized she would not cooperate with his demands. At the end of the encounter, Susan recalled that Ailes told her, “Don’t tell anybody about this, I’ve got it all on tape.”
1974 After founding Ailes Communications, Ailes helps start Television News Network (TVN). TVN was described by a news director as a “propaganda machine.” It is believed that this is around the time that Ailes began to conceptualize Fox News.
1975 Ailes interviewed Pat (last name redacted) in his apartment in New York City for a job in mass communication. Pat claims she can’t remember his exact words but alleges his message during the interview was: “If you want to make it in New York City in the TV business, you’re going to have to fuck me, and you’re going to do that with anyone I tell you to.” Pat claims she ran out of the interview screaming and crying.
1984-1988 Ailes works for President Ronald Reagan as a political consultant, then for President George H.W. Bush’s first campaign.
1984 Jane (last name redacted), a former model and actress in New York, was trying to get a job in broadcasting. She had a meeting with Ailes, who she claims set her up at a desk with a script to read for a practice tape. Shortly afterward, she alleges that he locked the door to the room, claiming he wanted “no interruptions.” Jane claims that Ailes pulled out a garter belt and stockings and made her put them on. She recalls a sexual encounter took place and has since tried to “block it out” from her memory.
1989 Kellie Boyle, working as a Republican National Committee field advisor, met Ailes for dinner in D.C. when she was 29 years old. She claims Roger Ailes told her if she wanted to “play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys” in reference to her career aspirations.

“Well, you might have to give a blow job every once in a while.”-Ailes to Boyle
1992-96 Ailes becomes the Executive Producer of Conservative Rush Limbaugh’s TV show. Limbaugh would later come to Ailes’ defense against sexual harassment allegations.
Ailes runs CNBC, after ending his career in political advising. He leaves the network in 1996 to aid Rupert Murdoch in creating a rival to CNN, which eventually became Fox News.

Fox News

October 6, 1996 Fox News’ begins broadcasting with Ailes as its founding CEO.
January 2002 Fox News surpasses CNN in television broadcasting ratings, becoming the leading television news channel.
September 25, 2006 Gretchen_carlson_cropped_retouched

Gretchen Carlson is hired as a permanent anchor on “Fox & Friends”. During her time at Fox News, Carlson co-hosted “Fox & Friends” from 2005-2013, and anchored her own news and talk show, “The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson”.

2006 Fox News launches Fox Business Channel to compete with Ailes’ former network, CNBC.
January 14, 2014 New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman publishes a critical book on Ailes’ leadership of Fox News titled The Loudest Voice in the Room.
“Because of his ability to drive a message: He has an unrivaled ability to know what resonates with a certain audience.” – Sherman on Ailes

Sexual Harassment Allegations

June 23, 2016 After 11 years on the air, Gretchen Carlson receives word that her contract with Fox has not been renewed.
July 6, 2016 Carlson files a complaint against Roger Ailes, claiming her contract termination was the result of  rejecting Ailes’ repeated sexual advances and sexually-toned comments during her time at Fox News. She also accuses former “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy of sexual harassment.

“I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better”-Ailes to Carlson
July 9, 2016 Reporter Gabriel Sherman publishes a story in New York Magazine, in which six additional women (noted earlier in this timeline) come forward with sexual harassment allegations against Ailes. Two of these women agree to speak on the record about the accusations.
July 11, 2016 In an exclusive story published by Mediaite, three female Fox News journalists, Martha McCallum, Harris Faulkner, and Ainsley Eardhart, defend Ailes against Carlson’s allegations. Eardhart goes as far as to call Ailes “a father figure.”
July 12, 2016 1815495689_60ce43d157_z

Neil Cavuto, host of “Cavuto” on Fox Business Network,  publishes an op-ed in Business Insider defending Ailes against Carlson’s allegations claiming the then-CEO, “was and is ALL professional.”

July 15, 2016 Ailes requests to move the Carlson case to a “closed arbitration panel in New York” instead of a New Jersey court, arguing that his primary residence and Fox News’ headquarters are in New York. Carlson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, countered that having the closed arbitration would force Carlson to relive the experience “in front of her accuser,” and felt “confident that the law will not allow such maneuvering.”
July 18, 2016 Rupert_Murdoch_2015

New York Magazine publishes a story claiming that Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James, co-chairs of Fox News’ parent company 21st Century Fox, have decided to remove Ailes from his CEO at Fox News.

July 19, 2016 MegynKelly

New York Magazine reveals that Megyn Kelly, a prominent anchor for Fox News, has spoken to the investigators of the Ailes case. Kelly reportedly alleged that Ailes, “made unwanted sexual advances toward her about ten years ago when she was a correspondent at Fox.” The same report also states that Ailes had been given a deadline of August 1st to resign or be fired.

July 21, 2016 Roger Ailes resigns as chairman and CEO of Fox News, effective immediately. Rupert Murdoch becomes the interim chairman and CEO. It is reported that Ailes will receive $40 million as an “exit package.”

After Ailes

July 29, 2016 Laurie Luhn, a former booker for Fox News, reveals that she had been “psychologically tormented” and harassed by Roger Ailes for more than 20 years while at the network. She claimed that Fox News executives, including Senior Executive Vice President of Fox Bill Shine, knew about the harassment and had actively covered it up as a part of a gag agreement with Fox.
August 12, 2016  Rupert Murdoch names Fox Television Stations’ CEO Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine as Co-Presidents of Fox News.
August 16, 2016 20877980465_12fbc1c4c4_b

Reports surface that Ailes is advising Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump ahead of the general election debates.

August 22, 2016 The New York Times reports that Andrea Tantaros, a former Fox News host, has filed a lawsuit against network executives, including Ailes’ replacement, that claims executives punished her for complaining about sexual harassment from Ailes himself. Attorneys from Fox argue Tantaros “concocted” harassment claims as a means to gain “leverage” during contract negotiations in 2013.
“Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.”- Tantaros’ Suit

What Now?

The ousting of Ailes by Fox News leadership has revealed an interesting rift as mounting accusations have forced him to step down from his position, while many in the network continue to defend the former CEO. As some media critics assert that Ailes’ tenure at Fox News built a  “fear factory” that may have helped to protect him against allegations, the situation posits a crisis of authenticity; are defenses of Ailes genuine, or are they the result of retaliation concerns?

The allegations against Ailes hint at bigger questions on the direction of Fox News and workplace harassment in media organizations. While Ailes’ has undoubtedly left a lasting legacy at Fox News, organizational changes that will come in the aftershocks of his departure will be as seismic as the Murdochs and new leadership allow. And as new reports and additional allegations seem to surface every week, the Fox News empire may need to brace itself for a quite a shakeup.

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