Fox News Channel is facing a critical power vacuum with the pending ouster of Roger Ailes and the possible exit of some of its top on-air talent, but it could clear the way for Megyn Kelly to become the face of America’s leading conservative news outlet.
Several outlets reported yesterday that Ailes will leave Fox following sexual harassment claims by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. New York magazine reported that Kelly told lawyers leading an internal Fox investigation that Ailes had sexually harassed her a decade ago.
“If you do see a new order taking over at Fox — and with her being one of the most influential people in their lineup — Megyn Kelly will find herself in a position where she is going to be the franchise figure of what will be the new Fox,” said Tom Fiedler, dean of Boston University’s College of Communication.
Ailes’ departure could potentially cause a snowball effect that would strip Fox of its big-name talent — Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren have contract clauses that let them leave if Ailes does, according to a report in the Financial Times, citing anonymous sources.
21st Century Fox denied news reports that Ailes had already left, adding that a Drudge Report story indicating that he will receive at least a $40-million buyout from the network was false.
“Roger is at work. The review is ongoing,” the Fox statement said. “And the only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.”
If Ailes does leave, a mass exodus of front-and-center talent and a possible ideological shift from staunchly conservative editorial content could hoist Kelly into a new leadership role within the cable outlet, according to media observers.
“I think this situation could only solidify her as the face of Fox,” said Karen M. Turner, a journalism professor at Temple University and media critic. “She is probably the face of Fox News right now.”
Kelly’s rise to prominence was boosted by her well-publicized feud with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, which started in August 2015 when she called him out for branding “women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
Ailes defended her and in a statement at the time said she “is an excellent journalist and the entire network stands behind her.”
The Kelly vs. Trump battle thrust her into the political zeitgeist and introduced her to an audience that may not have known her. It also boosted her case that she could captain a potentially rudderless network, Fiedler said.
“She is rapidly emerging and has already passed Bill O’Reilly on a number of recent sweeps as the most-watched of their show hosts,” he said. “In the unique realm of cable television, she is on the trajectory to become what would be the equivalent of the Walter Cronkite of this time.”
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