Among media reporters, there’s been a great deal of chatter this week about whether the departure of Roger Ailes from Fox News would occasion a walkout of top talent from the cable news-dominating network. Anchors such as Bret Baier and Bill O’Reilly, according to reports, have so-called “key-man clauses” in their contracts enabling them to bolt if a central figure such as Ailes leaves the company.
Surely there are some Fox News hosts who could command some money from Fox News competitors. There’ll be a bidding war for the services of Megyn Kelly, for example, when her contract comes up next year. Baier could likely make a jump as well.
O’Reilly? Pfff! He has a coveted cable-news platform courtesy of the low standards set by Ailes. When his statements about his reportorial exploits of yesteryear were exposed in 2015 as embellishments (best case) or lies (worst case), Ailes stood by him, in large part because O’Reilly is the ratings King of Cable News. And indeed, O’Reilly’s ratings went up in the aftermath of the scandal.
Other employers in the world of journalism have at least some standards, however — places where antics such as O’Reilly’s would result in a demotion or worse. Put together with his nightly bullying and general tendentiousness, O’Reilly’s record means that he’d have a whopper of a time selling himself outside of Fox News.
This is more than an O’Reilly problem. With his unique manner of distorting the news and otherwise kicking up journalistic embarrassment after journalistic embarrassment, Ailes has created a warped market for his talent. That market is high within the walls of Fox News, and low/nonexistent outside of them. Think of Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, two of the longtime hosts of the idiotic morning show “Fox & Friends.” Think those guys could make a home at CNN’s “New Day” or at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”? Or Sean Hannity — where but Fox News would he work? Fox News is an artificial bubble in the world of television news employment.
This notion might come as a surprise to Ailes. “I take particular pride in the role that I have played advancing the careers of the many women I have promoted to executive and on-air positions. Many of these talented journalists have deservedly become household names known for their intelligence and strength, whether reporting the news, fair and balanced, and offering exciting opinions on our opinion programs,” wrote Ailes in a letter to Rupert Murdoch amidst his resignation. It’s true that Ailes’s network has turned plenty of folks into household names. Yet in building a propaganda mill under the guise of a news organization, he has created a career cul-de-sac for these “talented journalists.”
So instead of attempting anything precipitous, these people with the “key-man” clauses should stick around and see what interim Fox News chief Rupert Murdoch does with the joint. Baier has already indicated he’ll do just that.