For 17 years, Brian Lewis held down one of the toughest jobs in media: managing public relations for Fox News.
But this week it has emerged that the network’s executive vice-president for corporate communications, long considered the leading lieutenant to Fox News boss Roger Ailes, was sacked in July for “issues relating to financial irregularities” and escorted bodily from the channel’s Manhattan headquarters.
The conservative-leaning news network said in a statement that Mr Lewis had been the subject of an “extensive internal investigation”, following which, “it was determined that he should be terminated for cause, specifically for issues relating to financial irregularities, as well as for multiple, material and significant breaches of his employment contract”.
Mr Lewis, a Fox spokesperson added, was fired on 25 July. No further details have been released regarding the reasons for his exit.
In 1996, Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr Ailes to create and run Fox News as its founding chief executive. Six months before the network’s launch, Mr Ailes hand-picked Mr Lewis to lead a press relations department that became both feared and respected throughout the industry for its aggressive defence of the Fox News brand.
In his most recent role, Mr Lewis also oversaw publicity for several other Fox channels.
Mr Ailes is now the chairman of Fox Television Stations. Though Fox News is part of Mr Murdoch’s global media empire, it is seen as a semi-autonomous kingdom, under Mr Ailes’ rule.
Gabriel Sherman, the author of a forthcoming book about Mr Ailes, wrote in a column for New York magazine that “Lewis was one of the few senior executives who would vocally challenge Ailes… A frequent joke around Fox was that while everyone is scared of Roger Ailes, the only person Roger Ailes is scared of is Brian Lewis”. Sherman added: “Lewis’s brief expanded far beyond mere public relations. He became Ailes’s strategic-communications guru, tasked with handling strategy for some of Fox’s most sensitive matters.”
In 2004, for instance, Mr Lewis deftly handled the channel’s response to a sexual-harassment scandal filed against its star host, Bill O’Reilly.
More recently, he acted as a go-between for Mr Ailes and his biographer, Zev Chafets.
But an unnamed senior executive who worked with both men told The New York Times that Mr Ailes and Mr Lewis’s relationship had recently become “really nasty and acrimonious” and that Mr Lewis’s office had been moved from the same hall as Mr Ailes’ office, to another floor.
“They have not been close for a long time,” the executive said. “I have known this was coming.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, which first revealed Mr Lewis’s departure on Tuesday, Mr Ailes’s longstanding personal relationship with Mr Lewis made it difficult to force him out.
But a number of complaints against Mr Lewis, not to mention the unspecified financial issues, had made it impossible for him to stay.
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