Why Did John Roberts Join Fox News? Roger Ailes

By Gail Shister 

Why did CNN’s John Roberts suddenly jump to Fox News this week?

That question has been buzzing in media circles since it was revealed Monday that Roberts — headed to Atlanta as CNN’s senior national correspondent — would be doing the same job in the same city for rival Fox News. He debuts next week.

While many assume it was all about the Benjamins, industry insiders say Fox and CNN offered comparable salaries and time frames for contracts (three years.)

So what closed the deal for Fox? Two words: Roger Ailes.

Ailes and Roberts, who could not be reached for comment, go back to the mid-90’s, when Roberts worked for CBS and Ailes ran CNBC, sources say. Roberts considers him to be a brilliant broadcaster and consummately loyal boss, they add.

Loyalty is a particularly sensitive issue for Roberts. Last month, new CNN boss Ken Jautz booted him as co-anchor of “American Morning.” In ’06, Roberts quit CBS after 14 years when he was passed over for Katie Couric to replace Dan Rather as anchor of “CBS Evening News.”

Another attraction to Fox for Roberts is the chance to play for a winning team, sources say. CNN has become a Nielsen lightweight; “American Morning” ranked fourth in its timeslot. Fox dominates all timeslots.

Don’t look for Roberts, formerly CBS’s chief White House correspondent, to drift into opinion-driven territory. He plans to remain a straight-news guy, sources say.

Roberts had wanted to relocate from New York to Atlanta so he could join his fiancée, CNN anchor Kyra Phillips, pregnant with twins (a boy and a girl), due in the spring. They will be the first children for Phillips, 42. Roberts, 54, has a grown son and daughter from a previous marriage.