How Many More Executive Heads Will Roll at Fox News?
According to industry insiders, Bill Shine’s exit will not be sufficient to stop Fox News’ PR debacle—or the departure of several more Fox News execs.
21st Century Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch famously despises having his hand forced.
But by compelling the resignation Monday of Fox News co-president Bill Shine after only eight months on the job—while elevating a second Roger Ailes loyalist, programming executive Suzanne Scott, to a bigger title at the cable channel and retaining other top executives who worked intimately for Fox News’s disgraced founder and CEO—the 86-year-old Murdoch could simply be prolonging the agony and delaying an inevitable housecleaning.
“I don’t understand what the Murdochs are doing,” said a Fox News veteran who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They’re supposed to be great brand strategists and brilliant businessmen, but the idea that you can plug this with Suzanne—and done? It’s death by a thousand cuts.”
The announcement comes amid a report from The Daily Beast that Shine’s close friend, Sean Hannity, is ready to follow him out the door. Last week, when rumors of Shine’s imminent exit were circulating in the press, Hannity posted a series of tweets that were widely interpreted as a threat to leave in protest.
If Shine were to be fired, Hannity tweeted “that’s the total end of the FNC as we know it. Done.”
In a second tweet, directed at New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, Hannity claimed: “Somebody HIGH UP AND INSIDE FNC is trying to get an innocent person fired. And Gabe I KNOW WHO it is.”
Said a well-connected media exec: “One of the things about the Murdochs is they do not take kindly to threats. If they’re paying a guy $10 million and he tweets out threats against the company, that isn’t going to fly.”
This person added that Monday’s seemingly half-hearted executive changes reflect “a tug of war going on between Rupert [who was initially resistant even to parting with Ailes] and the sons [Lachlan and James, who are pushing for a cultural makeover]… It sends a very bad signal. Had they cleaned house pretty quickly, and cleaned out four five people at the top, they wouldn’t have any of this today. This drip-drip thing is killing them.” ,
Suzanne Scott, previously executive vice president of programming and development (a position in which she seemed to many at Fox News more focused on wardrobe, hair and female personalities’ bare legs than on creative and strategic matters), was promoted Monday to president of Fox News’ profit-driving opinion programming (both the prime-time shows and Fox & Friends). It’s a role that Shine had filled before being named co-president last August.
Scott has toiled at Fox News since it launched in 1996, starting out as an assistant to the late television executive Chet Collier, Ailes’s longtime associate at various TV outlets as well as his former boss at the Westinghouse station in Cleveland.
Scott worked for Collier under Ailes at CNBC and the America’s Talking network, the precursor to MSNBC, and according to Fox News insiders, Ailes groomed her for a management position, giving Scott production experience on then Fox News-anchor Greta Van Susteren’s 10 p.m. show before installing her in Collier’s old programming perch. One of Scott’s responsibilities, according to a Fox News insider, was making sure that Megyn Kelly—like Van Susteren a former litigator—would not be her substitute anchor when Van Susteren left for vacation.
Also promoted Monday—to the position of president of news—was Jay Wallace, a longtime Fox News executive known for keeping his head down and not immersing himself in office politics.
“Sadly, Bill Shine resigned today,” Rupert Murdoch wrote in a company-wide memo announcing the shakeup. “I know Bill was liked and respected by everyone at Fox News. We will all miss him.”
In an assertion that recalled the famous question supposedly asked of Abraham Lincoln’s widow—“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”—Murdoch added: “Fox News continues to break both viewing and revenue records, for which I thank you all. I am sure we can do even better.”
According to multiple industry insiders, Shine’s swift exit will not be sufficient to stop Fox News’s continuing PR debacle, and the departure of several more Fox News execs, including general counsel Dianne Brandi, is likely to be required amid multiple lawsuits, a federal criminal investigation, and the pending recommendation of British regulators on whether 21st Century Fox is a “fit and proper” company that should be allowed to assume total control of the profitable European television and internet platform, Sky PLC.
“Most of Roger’s top people are tainted, and I think Rupert’s big mistake was not cleaning house when he first got control of Fox News” after Ailes’s forced resignation last July, said a well-connected media executive who spoke on condition of not being named. “Now they’re continuing to deal with this bad narrative, and I don’t think they’re out of the woods yet.”
That view was echoed by New York attorney Douglas Wigdor, who is representing a dozen current and former Fox News employees in two racial discrimination lawsuits against the conservative-leaning cable outlet. It’s litigation in which Scott merits multiple damaging mentions, while she’s also named as defendant in two additional lawsuits claiming sexual harassment and retaliation.
“You would think that with all of the resources at 21st Century Fox’s disposal, including an army of lawyers and PR crisis management experts,” Wigdor told The Daily Beast, “they would do a wholesale change in management and resolve all of the pending litigation matters, rather than the reactive, drip-drop drip-drop approach that is only going to continue to fester over the coming weeks and months.”
New Jersey litigator Nancy Erika Smith said in a statement: “The departure of Bill Shine, although overdue, is a positive step. To begin to change the culture at Fox, there are others who have enabled and encouraged the sexism who should be next, starting with Dianne Brandi, Suzanne Scott and [corporate communications executive vice president] Irena Briganti.”
Smith is currently presiding over two employee lawsuits against the network by on-air political commentator Julie Roginsky and Fox News web site personality Diana Falzone. Smith’s original Fox News client, fired anchor Gretchen Carlson, sued Ailes for sexual harassment and won a $20 million settlement—the lawsuit that set off the seismic shakeups that led to the banishment of Bill O’Reilly, Fox News’s biggest prime-time star, and now Shine.
Smith told The Daily Beast: “All of the people who are the problem are still there. This is a beginning but hardly a solution and it doesn’t bode well that they’re being forced to do this in so incremental a fashion by the press. If you’re really going to change the culture, this would have happened in July.”
Fox News offered no comment.