Roger Ailes’s Swift Exit From the Network He Built

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In recent months, Roger E. Ailes’s influence seemed to be everywhere in the news.

Fox News, the cable network he founded, has served as the preferred outlet for the president of the United States. At the same time, the sexual harassment scandal that led to Mr. Ailes’s ouster in July continued to besiege the network, most notably with the dismissal of Bill O’Reilly, and ignited conversations about workplace culture across the country.

And yet the man himself had largely faded from the public eye. Late last year, he moved to a $36 million waterfront mansion in Palm Beach — just five miles from President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate — and all but disappeared from the political, media and social circles where he once reigned.

“Recently, he has really done very, very little,” said Robert L. Dilenschneider, a public relations executive who was close with Mr. Ailes. “He spent time with his wife and son.”

Mr. Dilenschneider said he last talked with Mr. Ailes by phone about a month ago. During the conversation, Mr. Dilenschneider said, Mr. Ailes was “very positive and upbeat,” discussing current events and his collection of presidential memorabilia. “At the end of the day, he was a patriot,” Mr. Dilenschneider said.

Mr. Ailes, who died Thursday at 77, built Fox News into the most profitable and most politically influential cable news network. But the sexual harassment allegations made against him — which Mr. Ailes vehemently denied — resulted in his spending his final months absent from the political and public arenas.

Everything changed for Mr. Ailes on July 6, when Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment. Mr. Ailes fought back, calling her allegations “wholly without merit.” A group of Fox News’s biggest stars came to his defense, including Mr. O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Brit Hume and Kimberly Guilfoyle. “This is a man who champions women,” Ms. Guilfoyle said. But the parent company of Fox News, 21st Century Fox, did not rally behind Mr. Ailes. The company, which is controlled by the Murdoch family, initiated an internal review of Ms. Carlson’s charges, and at least 10 women came forward with stories of inappropriate conduct by Mr. Ailes.

On July 21, Rupert Murdoch stood in front of Fox News employees and announced that Mr. Ailes was out as chairman and chief executive. Mr. Ailes left the network with about $40 million, essentially the remainder of an employment contract that ran through 2018. As part of the agreement, Mr. Ailes was barred from starting a competitor to Fox News.

In the days that followed, Mr. Ailes was spotted dining with his wife at Michael’s, a Midtown Manhattan spot frequented by top media executives. One person who saw Mr. Ailes at the restaurant said that he had held his head high and that his walk to the door was as deliberate as his choice of venue. The next week, Mr. Ailes was seen at a New Jersey diner, eating bacon and eggs and drinking what appeared to be a vanilla milkshake.

In mid-August, news emerged that Mr. Ailes was advising Donald J. Trump. The relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Ailes had been turbulent earlier in the campaign, centering primarily on the candidate’s frustration with the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. But the two men spoke frequently, and when Mr. Trump decided to recast his campaign before the general election, Mr. Ailes agreed to help him prepare for debates against Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Ailes was ultimately frustrated by Mr. Trump’s distracted style and refusal to listen to certain mechanical basics. He ended up regaling attendees at debate prep sessions in Bedminster, N.J., with war stories from past campaigns and venting his frustrations about the New York magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman, his critical biographer, people with direct knowledge of the discussions said.

Mr. Ailes did not attend most of the later sessions, which were held at Trump Tower. And when Mr. Trump became president, the two men rarely spoke — Mr. Ailes told friends that he believed that Mr. Murdoch had waved Mr. Trump away from communicating with him.

At Fox News, Mr. Ailes’s ouster exposed a culture where current and former employees have said they faced harassment and feared making complaints. After his dismissal, Mr. Ailes was named in multiple suits by current and former Fox News employees. “The sudden passing of Roger Ailes will make it difficult for Fox News to refute the allegations against him as his testimony was not secured by sworn testimony to date,” said Douglas Wigdor, a lawyer who represents 21 current and former Fox News employees.

As the scandal at Fox News grew, Mr. Ailes retreated.

He bought the waterfront mansion in Palm Beach in September and tried to divest from several other properties in the following months. In December, his wife, Elizabeth Ailes, said she had sold a pair of newspapers in Putnam County, N.Y. In March, Mr. Ailes listed his Cresskill, N.J., home for $2.25 million, a price since reduced to $1.65 million. He was also selling property in upstate New York.

The media columnist Michael Wolff wrote on Thursday that he had spoken with Mr. Ailes about a week ago.

“The subject was Fox’s quickly eroding fortunes and the possibilities for a new conservative network,” Mr. Wolff wrote. “Roger, yet proscribed by the non-compete provisions of his separation agreement, nevertheless had a plan in his head, and was taking calls. ‘I can’t call. But I can’t stop people from calling me,’ he said.”

Mr. Wolff said that as the two men spoke, Ms. Ailes had texted him a picture of Mr. Ailes lying in the sun.

Following Mr. Ailes’s departure from Fox News, 21st Century Fox said it had incurred a total of $45 million in costs tied to settlements through March 31. The company reached settlements with at least six women who accused Mr. Ailes of sexual harassment, according to a person briefed on the agreements.

Ms. Carlson, who left with a $20 million settlement, is now working on a book about sexual harassment and the empowerment of women.

“Roger Ailes has died,” said Lisa Bloom, a lawyer who has represented Fox News employees. “Let all his victims now be ungagged for the true, full reckoning of his life. And give them back their jobs.”

The death of Mr. Ailes complicates a federal investigation into the network. The inquiry, which began in September, had appeared to focus in part on settlements made by the company and how they were paid and accounted for internally. It is unclear whether Mr. Ailes was a target of the investigation and how it will proceed.