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Roger Ailes appears close to departing Fox News

In this Feb. 9, 2015, file photo, Roger Ailes is shown  in New York. (Charles Sykes / Associated Press)
In this Feb. 9, 2015, file photo, Roger Ailes is shown in New York. (Charles Sykes / Associated Press)
By Stephen Battaglio Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK – Roger Ailes appears to be close to leaving his post as chairman and chief executive of Fox News in the wake of sexual harassment charges made against him.

Fox News parent 21st Century Fox issued a statement late Tuesday that said Ailes is still employed by the company. “Roger is at work,” the statement said. “The review is ongoing. And the only agreement that is in place is his existing employment agreement.

However, a person close to several of the personalities at Fox News believed it was a matter of time before Ailes steps down.

Word had circulated among TV news industry business that Bill Shine, a longtime lieutenant of Ailes, has returned to New York from Cleveland where Fox News is covering the Republican National Convention. Shine is considered a leading candidate to step in for Ailes.

Ailes’ imminent departure comes two weeks after former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment and retaliation for her complaining about a hostile work environment.

His exit would be a stunning sudden end to the career of one of the most powerful executives in the media business who left a major influence on the television landscape.

After Carlson’s suit was filed, 21st Century Fox brought in a law firm to review her allegations and talked with other employees about Ailes’ behavior. The review led to reports that others gave accounts of alleged sexual harassment by Ailes.

Ailes has denied all of the allegations made against him. Ailes’ attorney Susan Estrich also issued a statement rebutting a report that Fox News Channel’s star anchor Megyn Kelly had given an account of being sexually harassed by Ailes early in her 12-year career at the company.

“Roger Ailes has never sexually harassed Megyn Kelly,” Estrich said. “In fact, he has spent much of the last decade promoting and helping her to achieve the stardom she earned, for which she has repeatedly and publicly thanked him.”

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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