While the stars of Fox News Channel were covering the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, their pugnacious leader Roger Ailes was discussing his departure in what would be a shocking exit following recent allegations of sexual harassment by a former anchor.
Ailes, 76, who turned Fox into the most influential force in the news media over the last two decades, has been uncomfortably thrust into the spotlight since former anchor Gretchen Carlson alleged that her contract was not renewed after she spurned sexual advances by Ailes.
Ailes has denied the Carlson allegations, which Fox is investigating. But one person close to Fox News said it's a matter of time before Ailes leaves.
His attorney, Susan Estrich, and a spokesperson for 21st Century Fox said Ailes was still a Fox News employee as of late Tuesday.
"We don't have a deal," Estrich said. "The review is ongoing. There have been no decisions reached and no deal. I don't know what the internal review has turned up."
Since the allegations by Carlson became public, reports have emerged of several other women who have worked with Ailes in the past also saying that he sought sexual favors in return for employment. Ailes has denied those incidents as well. But the reports have likely hurt the executive's standing.
If Ailes, as appears likely, does depart under a cloud, it would be a sudden fall from grace by a powerful media figure who also wielded considerable political clout.
Ailes helped launch Fox News in 1996 and positioned it as being a "fair and balanced" network — many would say with a staunchly conservative viewpoint — that would be an alternative for viewers who believed there was a liberal bias in the established media outlets, including CNN, which had the cable news market all to itself.
The point of view appealed to conservatives.
"We're not programming to conservatives," Ailes said in a 2003 interview. "We're just not eliminating their point of view."
By early 2003, Fox News Channel had passed CNN as the most-watched cable news network, a crown it has held ever since.
A political force, Ailes toiled in Republican politics as a media advisor for Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign — helping engineer the greatest political comeback of its time. He also played a major role in the presidential election of George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Ailes' ability to transform personalities worked on Fox News as well. He oversaw Bill O'Reilly, who had trouble fitting into the broadcast network news culture, into one of the most influential commentators on TV. He helped conservative radio commentator Sean Hannity make the transition to television. Megyn Kelly was a corporate litigator before she came to Fox News and became one of its biggest prime-time stars.
By 2002, Fox News Channel had passed CNN as the most-watched cable news network, a crown it has held ever since. It also became highly profitable, and Ailes was richly rewarded by becoming one of the highest-paid television news executives.
That combination of political clout and financial success made Ailes a favorite of News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch. However, Ailes is viewed less favorably by Murdoch's sons, James and Lachlan, who now have leadership roles at 21st Century Fox. They have avoided making any changes at Fox News because it has been such a reliable profit center — generating more than $1 billion in profit annually.
But the sexual harassment charges appear to have led to a reexamination of Ailes' role.
Carlson's complaint, filed in Superior Court in New Jersey this month, said Ailes, chairman and chief executive of Fox News, "sabotaged" the anchor's career at the cable channel because she complained about a hostile working environment when she was a co-host of "Fox & Friends." The suit also alleges that Ailes made sexual advances that were rebuffed by Carlson and that he directed innuendo-filled comments toward her.
Ailes said the allegations were untrue and defamatory.
Estrich, his attorney, said the news of Ailes' possible departure has upset some of the Fox News talent who called to offer support.
"I've heard Roger say, 'I want you to tell everybody to be professional about this,'" Estrich said. "Put this aside and be professional."
The reaction is a testament to how Ailes' personality is the force that has built Fox News into the most-watched cable news network and helped shaped the public's tendency to have their news delivered with a healthy side order of opinion and commentary.
Ailes' departure could lead to uncertainty at Fox News Channel because of the loyalty of many anchors. Some anchors are believed to have clauses in their contracts that could allow them to leave if Ailes doesn't remain in power. But Ailes' imperial managing style has left Fox without any clear successor.
One possible replacement is Bill Shine, a senior executive vice president for Fox News who has also been with the organization since its launch.