What are we to make of Monday’s report in New York magazine that Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James have decided to sack Roger Ailes, the embattled chairman of Fox News who is being sued by fired anchor Gretchen Carlson for alleged sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation?
The official response to Gabriel Sherman’s story from 21st Century Fox—“This matter is not yet resolved and the review is not concluded”—can hardly be reassuring to Team Ailes as the blue chip law firm Paul Weiss conducts an internal review of Carlson’s allegations, and potentially those of other former and current female Fox News employees, ordered up by the cable network’s parent company.
If Sherman’s story—based on “two sources briefed on [the company-ordered] sexual harassment investigation”—is accurate, Ailes could get the ax as early as this week, during Fox News’s wall-to-wall and presumably ratings-grabbing coverage of Donald Trump’s official ascension at the Republican convention in Cleveland—or possibly next week as Hillary Clinton takes up the Democrats’ standard.
“After reviewing the initial findings of the probe,” Sherman wrote, “James Murdoch is said to be arguing that Ailes should be presented with a choice this week to resign or face being fired. Lachlan is more aligned with their father, who thinks that no action should be taken until after the GOP convention this week. Another source confirms that all three are in agreement that Ailes needs to go.”
Aside from 21st Century Fox’s tepid response to New York magazine’s troublesome scoop—what is known in spin-doctoring as a non-denial denial—it might also be telling that as of this writing, Fox News’s virtuosic PR department, which normally moves quickly and aggressively to slap down potentially damaging anti-Ailes publicity, has been keeping its own counsel since Sherman’s story was posted (and referred The Daily Beast to 21st Century Fox).
Yet it is also true that the elder Murdoch is understandably grateful to Ailes for creating the hugely profitable and influential cable outlet. And Murdoch is famously—indeed, unbendingly—resistant to having his hand forced, especially by a writer who, owing to his critical biography of Ailes, is probably the 76-year-old Fox News chairman’s least favorite journalist.
Whatever the motives of whoever leaked to Sherman—and one must assume that they wish Ailes ill—it might be advisable to keep in mind a relevant example from history.
Back in May 1964, President Lyndon Johnson’s top aide, Bill Moyers, leaked to Newsweek’s Ben Bradlee that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was about to fired and the White House was already searching for a successor.
The day after Bradlee published the Newsweek cover story, Johnson called a press conference in the Rose Garden and, with Hoover standing beside him beaming, announced the director’s appointment for life—but not before pulling a chagrined Moyers aside and instructing, “You call up Ben Bradlee and tell him ‘fuck you.’”
“I took a lot of static for that—everyone said, ‘You did it, Bradlee, you screwed up—you stuck us with Hoover forever,’" Bradlee later recalled. “I screwed up but I wasn’t wrong.”
Gabriel Sherman surely doesn’t wish, years from now, to be telling a similar anecdote.