Fox News Ousts Chairman Roger Ailes — But It's Not Because of Sexual Harassment Charges

AP

Roger Ailes, longtime chairman of the Fox News Channel, resigned Thursday in the face of allegations he serially sexually harassed female employees over his 20-year tenure. 

In the weeks since former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson slapped Ailes with a high-profile lawsuit accusing him of "very consistent and very pervasive" sexual harassment, the network's founding executive has faced additional allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior from nearly two dozen other women. The slew of accusations forced Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James — the respective co-chairmen and CEO of Fox News' parent company, 21st Century Fox — to demand Ailes' resignation. The senior Murdoch will temporarily take over as chairman and CEO of Fox News, a transition Ailes is expected to oversee.

But the company isn't so much cracking down on sexual harassment as it is responding to public fallout. Regressive, sexist thinking is built into Fox News' DNA. It hasn't just dominated Fox News programming since the network's inception, but also seems to have dominated the company culture as well.

Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson accused network chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment in a lawsuit, prompting his resignation..Source: Rich Polk/Getty Images
Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson accused network chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment in a lawsuit, prompting his resignation..  Rich Polk/Getty Images

The network, which staffers have said directly reflected Ailes' views while he was in charge, has relied openly on the sex appeal of svelte female anchors for years, hiring women like Carlson, a former Miss America winner, not simply because of their journalistic talents, but because their looks attracted viewers. It also seems to have been because Ailes wanted to look at them — as one Fox News employee told the Huffington Post, when it came to hiring women, the chairman would "ask himself if he would fuck her, and if he would, then he'd hire her to be on-camera."

Sexism in Fox News' coverage has rarely been discreet. This is a network that has suggested women would be better off updating their Tinder profiles than voting; proclaimed men "typically" assume the "dominant role"; condoned physical violence against women; and asserted men should be able to veto women's right to choose. 

Until Carlson filed suit against Ailes, however, the extent to which that sexism was embedded in Fox's company culture wasn't entirely clear. That is partly because of contractual agreements — and, apparently, a fear of retribution — that seem to have kept a number of Fox News employees from coming forward with sexual harassment allegations sooner. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the Ailes saga is that Carlson actually sued him for sexual harassment in the first place — an action she took only after she had been pushed out of the network, when she ostensibly had nothing left to lose.

But the fact the toxic treatment of Fox News' female employees was shrouded is also partly because staffers seem to defend and protect the sexist work culture willingly. In the days after Carlson filed her lawsuit, a number of the network's stars not only rallied around Ailes, but went so far as to reject the harassment allegations outright and criticize his accusers. For his part, the disgraced media exec has denied the accusations against him, describing Carlson's lawsuit as "not only offensive" but "wholly without merit."

Whether the Murdochs believe Ailes or Carlson and the scores of women coming forward with similar stories of sexual harassment doesn't much matter. Almost as soon as the sexism plaguing Fox News internally began to threaten the company's business interests, as opposed to bolstering ratings, the network's longtime leader didn't stand a chance. While Ailes' exit from Fox News certainly isn't a noble one, it also isn't one that takes a hard line against misogyny or sexual harassment. It doesn't appear things will be changing at Fox News anytime soon — the sexist network Ailes helped build wasn't simply a manifestation of his desires, but a successful business model.