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01.11.10

Is Ailes Finished at Fox?

Several News Corp. veterans tell Lloyd Grove that Roger Ailes may soon be out as Fox News chief—and that Rupert Murdoch can’t have been pleased with a story depicting his employee as the savior of a struggling empire.

In a plot twist worthy of a Shakespearian tragedy, with intrigue supplied by Machiavelli, Roger Ailes’ days at News Corporation may be numbered.

That, at least, is the conspiratorial view of several highly placed News Corp. veterans who believe Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch isn’t likely to be happy with Sunday’s celebratory front-page New York Times profile of the Fox News chief.

Ailes didn’t return my phone call, and a Fox News insider scoffed that this interpretation of events is foolish. “It’s just not true,” this insider said, noting that Ailes and Murdoch “have a great relationship” and that Murdoch’s corporate spokesman quickly issued a statement of support Saturday after the Times story was posted online with an eye-popping condemnation of Ailes from Murdoch son-in-law Matthew Freud.

“Nobody can fly too close to the Sun King. It doesn’t matter if you’re making a ton of money for the company—you will soon be out.”

“I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’ horrendous and sustained disregard of… journalistic standards,” Freud said, apparently speaking for Murdoch’s 41-year-old daughter Elisabeth, a former News Corp. executive who owns a television production company, and 37-year-old James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp.’s European and Asian operations and his father’s heir apparent. “Matthew Freud’s opinions are his own, and in no way reflect the views of Rupert Murdoch, who is proud of Roger Ailes and Fox News,” the News Corp. spokesman retorted.

Lloyd Grove: The Fox-Murdoch Feud Yet the elder Murdoch, my sources tell me, can’t have been pleased with the Times story’s implication that Ailes is single-handedly saving the struggling empire, whose earnings have been suffering in recent months because of substantial holdings in the financially besieged newspaper and broadcast television businesses.

“Rupert picked up his Times at the breakfast table, saw the story above the fold with the big photo of Roger, and probably choked on his coffee,” one insider told me today, noting that the 78-year-old media mogul reflexively bridles when the hired help outshines him. In (literally) the money shot, the Times reported that Fox News earns $700 million in annual profit, the brightest star in the News Corp. firmament, and that Ailes is paid even more than the boss.

Media entrepreneur Andrew Neil, who was a top Murdoch executive at the Sunday Times of London and News Corp.’s Sky TV before they parted on bad terms, put it this way: “Nobody can fly too close to the Sun King. It doesn’t matter if you’re making a ton of money for the company—you will soon be out.”

A third well-connected News Corp. veteran agreed, theorizing that the 69-year-old Ailes—a workaholic who almost never grants press interviews but burnishes the Fox News image through his aggressive public-relations department—gave an interview to the Times in order to cement his legacy and repackage himself for his next job or make clear that any departure from News Corp. would entail a fabulously rich severance payout.

“Now his legacy is secure and he will be known as Mr. Moneybags, so he can step up to the next job and blame ‘those liberal-commie kids,’” the insider told me.

Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.