Fox News chief Roger Ailes denies harassing Megyn Kelly
New York — A lawyer for Roger Ailes denied Tuesday that the embattled Fox News Channel chief executive sexually harassed network star Megyn Kelly.
Susan Estrich’s statement came amid a swirl of contradictory reports that Ailes had been ousted as head of the influential network he built from scratch, that he hadn’t been ousted, and that he was negotiating a departure.
Attributing anonymous sources, New York magazine reported on Tuesday that Kelly had told investigators working for Fox News Channel parent 21st Century Fox that Ailes had sexually harassed her when she was a reporter at Fox 10 years ago.
“Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly,” Estrich said. “In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him.”
A former Fox anchor, Gretchen Carlson, alleged in a lawsuit that Ailes had forced her out following a meeting where he told her that “you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago.” The contract of Carlson, who said there was an atmosphere of harassment at Fox, was not renewed when it ended last month.
Ailes denied Carlson’s charges. Since the lawsuit was filed July 6, a succession of Fox employees have come forward to publicly defend him, but they notably did not include Kelly. The prime-time host’s profile increased dramatically in the past year following attacks on her by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Kelly’s agent did not return a request for comment on Tuesday.
A handful of other women have come forward alleging that Ailes had pressured them for sex, their stories all predating the start of Fox News Channel in 1996. 21st Century Fox hired an outside law firm to look into allegations against Ailes and New York magazine reported on Monday that company chiefs Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, had concluded that the media executive had to go.
That led to a series of stories late Tuesday that he’d been ousted, even the circulation of a document supposedly outlining an exit agreement. 21st Century Fox said that “Roger is at work. The review is ongoing. And the only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.”
At stake is an extraordinary career in media and politics. At Rupert Murdoch’s behest, Ailes started a news network that catered to conservatives who felt ignored by the mainstream media. By 2002, it had eclipsed the original cable news network, CNN, in ratings and has never looked back. Fox is now dominating all of the other networks in this week’s coverage of the Republican National Convention.
Fox News is a huge success financially, by some measures providing a quarter of its parent company’s revenues. That had given Ailes power in some corporate scrapes he had with Rupert Murdoch’s sons.
There was some evidence this campaign that Fox’s influence with Republicans had been waning, since the network had gotten into battles with Trump. But in recent weeks Trump has more frequently turned to Fox as a way to reach the Republican audience he needs for election.