Update: According to CNN's Brian Stelter, everyone jumped the gun. Ailes is in talks to leave, but the deal isn't done just yet. He says the final announcement should be made soon. Meanwhile, Gabriel Sherman is reporting that Rupert Murdoch wants to pay him the $40 million but his sons want Ailes fired for cause, which would be a stunning development.
It's difficult to overstate just what a seismic event this is in terms of cable news. Roger Ailes, the man who built Fox News from the ground up, is apparently now out at the network that for years has represented a near-perfect reflection of his worldview. Fox-watching savant Gabriel Sherman first reported yesterday in New York that the sexual harassment scandal swirling around him was poised to bring him down, that the Murdoch family wanted him gone after its independent investigation not only seemed to confirm Gretchen Carlson's assessment of Ailes as a lecherous pig -- she was the one who started all this by filing a lawsuit against him -- but unearthed more evidence from more women who claimed they'd been harassed by the Fox News chairman.
It was this morning that Sherman followed up his report by naming one of those who reportedly accused Ailes of making unwanted sexual advances in the past: none other than Megyn Kelly, maybe FNC's biggest star. According to Sherman, Kelly claims the harassment happened ten years ago, when she was nothing more than an up-and-coming legal correspondent for Fox News. This might explain why Kelly's remained conspicuously silent on the subject, taking neither side in the battle between Ailes and the several women who've come forward to accuse him of improper behavior. Either way, the avalanche of evidence was apparently too much to sweep under the rug, with it certainly not helping Ailes's case that Rupert Murdoch's sons, James and Lachlan, who represent two parts of the Murdoch triumvirate that rules all of Fox, don't particularly like him.
Here's the thing, though: Ailes isn't exactly shuffling away with his head down, kicking rocks. He's reportedly being bought out of his current contract to the tune of $40 million. So, yeah, he'll get 40 mil for being a misogynist piece of shit. Don't ever let it be said that sexism doesn't pay at Fox News. But then, a quick glance at the network during Ailes's reign of terror could have told you that.
The question, then, is what does this power vacuum mean for Fox News in the immediate future and what will new management mean in the long term? It's somewhat surprising Ailes was let go at all given FNC's track record of circling the wagons when outside criticism comes its way. (A clue that this time might be different, though: Ailes's personal attack dog in media relations, Irena Briganti, has been surprisingly sedate through all of this. Originally New York reported that she had anonymously criticized Kelly for disloyalty, but Lloyd Grove at The Daily Beast shot that down.) But with him genuinely getting the axe, there's an obvious debate to be had over whether the more repugnant aspects of FNC will exit behind him. The best guess is, no, probably not. Fox News is on top and how it stays that way is by feeding its audience of aging, resentful white reactionaries red meat. It's tough to imagine that changing drastically.
But Fox News is a top-down operation, meaning that every single bit of its editorial viewpoint, day and day out, comes from Ailes. There's no other major news outlet that behaves this way. With it's head cut off, who the hell knows where the network goes from here, except to say that an internal power struggle has probably already commenced. Bill Shine, Michael Clemente, John Moody, Jay Wallace, possibly even Sharri Berg (if the Murdochs are really looking to shake things up) -- one of them will more than likely come out on top. But it's tough to imagine any of them asserting the kind of authoritarian control Ailes did. So, believe it or not, we may actually see a different kind of Fox News emerging from all of this. Will it be better? Who can tell? God knows it's impossible to fathom it being worse.
As for Roger Ailes himself, good riddance. You left television news and the national discourse infinitely worse than you found it. Enjoy your millions as you live out your last days, you despicable toad.
This piece has been updated to reflect both the fact that Ailes is merely in talks to leave Fox News and that it apparently wasn't Irena Brigante who criticized Megyn Kelly. Welcome to developing news in the age of the internet, kids.