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Roger Ailes Stands Defiant as Fox Settles Lawsuits

In the nearly seven weeks since Roger Ailes left Fox News in the aftermath of a sexual harassment lawsuit, the drama has barely subsided.

In that time, multiple women have come forward accusing Mr. Ailes of harassment, and Mr. Ailes has moved on to advise Donald J. Trump in his preparation for the coming presidential debates against Hillary Clinton.

On Tuesday, Fox News's parent company, 21st Century Fox, publicly apologized to Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News host who filed the lawsuit against Mr. Ailes on July 6 that led to his swift departure. Ms. Carlson received $20 million as part of the settlement, and 21st Century Fox provided settlements to at least two other women who also said that they were harassed by Mr. Ailes, according to a person briefed on the settlements.

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Also on Tuesday, the prime-time lineup Mr. Ailes painstakingly built over his two decades as chairman of Fox News took a hit when the network abruptly announced that the host Greta Van Susteren was leaving, effective immediately.

Throughout this chaotic stretch, Mr. Ailes has remained defiant.

Roger Ailes, then-chairman and CEO of Fox News and Fox Television Stations.
Fred Prouser | Reuters
Roger Ailes, then-chairman and CEO of Fox News and Fox Television Stations.

Though he has made no public comment since July 21, the day he parted with Fox News, his lawyers have denied all accusations against him. On Tuesday, they said that Mr. Ailes did not pay any money toward Ms. Carlson's settlement, even though he was named in the suit and Fox News was not. They declined to comment further.

Over the weekend, Mr. Ailes retained the lawyer who successfully represented Hulk Hogan in his invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Gawker to write a letter to New York magazine suggesting that he might take legal action against the publication for its reporting about him.

And last week, his lawyers publicly went after Gabriel Sherman — who has reported on Mr. Ailes and his downfall extensively for New York — in deeply personal ways in the run-up to the publication of Mr. Sherman's latest article on Mr. Ailes. In an interview with The Daily Beast last week, one of Mr. Ailes's lawyers, Mark Mukasey, called Mr. Sherman a "virus," and Susan Estrich, another of his lawyers, called him the "real enemy of women."

As former chairman of the leading cable news station in the country, Mr. Ailes is no stranger to being part of the news cycle, but this summer's scandal has provided headlines almost daily. His forced resignation was a stunning and abrupt fall for one of the most powerful figures in the television and media industries. Fox News, which Mr. Ailes founded with Rupert Murdoch, is not just a hugely profitable TV station but also an enormous platform for conservative politics.

"His legacy as the founder and creator of Fox News has driven the agenda of the Republican Party in many ways over the last decade and will endure however noxious his own personal behavior his been," said Mark Feldstein, a professor of broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland. "You can't underestimate the impact Fox News has had on politics, on TV and on journalism."

Mr. Ailes's undoing began roughly two months ago, when Ms. Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him that blindsided the network, and turned what was poised to be a banner year into a moment of crisis. Executives were proudly preparing for the network's 20th anniversary in October, and Mr. Ailes's network had never seen better ratings, thanks to increased interest in this year's presidential election.

But as Mr. Ailes's legal team quickly rallied to move the case out of court and into arbitration, there were signs that 21st Century Fox was taking a different approach. Fox News's parent company retained the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to investigate allegations made by Ms. Carlson and a number of other women — including one of the network's stars, Megyn Kelly — who also accused Mr. Ailes of sexual harassment. His departure was announced on July 21, just 15 days after Ms. Carlson filed her suit.

About a week after Mr. Ailes's departure, Ms. Carlson's lawyers spoke to Paul, Weiss investigators and told them that their client had been tape-recording him in meetings for some time, and that most of the quotes in her lawsuit were taken directly from the recordings. Officials at 21st Century Fox began settlement talks shortly thereafter, and a deal was reached in mid-August.

Mr. Ailes still faces litigation. Andrea Tantaros, a former Fox News host, filed a lawsuit two weeks ago, accusing him of sexual harassment, and other executives of marginalizing her after she complained about harassment at the network. Mr. Ailes has denied the accusations, as has Fox News.

While Mr. Ailes is out of the media business — his $40 million exit agreement from Fox came with a noncompete clause — he has provided advice to Mr. Trump, especially before his first debate with Mrs. Clinton on Sept. 26.

And he will have to watch from afar what happens to the prime-time lineup on Fox News. Ms. Van Susteren's 7 p.m. show was turned over to Brit Hume. In the meantime, Bill O'Reilly suggested this summer that he was considering retirement, and Ms. Kelly, the anchor in the 9 p.m. hour, has a contract that is set to expire next year.