Scan­dals linger at Fox News

De­spite big changes, it may not be able to shake off Ailes’ good- old- boy legacy

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Mike Snider

Is this re­ally a brand new Fox News?

In the past sev­eral months, dogged by a grow­ing pile of le­gal suits and pay­ing out more than $ 45 mil­lion in set­tle­ments over sex­ual- ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion charges, Fox News has shaken up its ex­ec­u­tive ros­ter, oust­ing sec­tion heads and top on­air tal­ent, as it vows to live up to the Mur­doch fam­ily’s pledge to erad­i­cate an op­pres­sive work en­vi­ron­ment.

It’s got in­cen­tive: Par­ent com­pany 21st Cen­tury Fox, con­trolled and run by Ru­pert Mur­doch and his sons Lach­lan and James, wants reg­u­la­tors to ap­prove its pur­chase of U. K.- based TV and In­ter­net provider Sky, and cor­po­rate cul­ture is a fac­tor. Fox News, the crown jewel of the com­pany’s ca­ble TV en­ter­prise, wants to main­tain its stand­ing as the top ca­ble news net­work, which it has held for more than 15 years.

But ques­tions re­main as to whether the re­cent changes can trans­form a work en­vi­ron­ment into one where sex­ual ha­rass­ment, re­tal­i­a­tion and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion — all claims made by em­ploy­ees over the past year — are no longer con­doned. Re­cent rev­e­la­tions about some em­ploy­ees sug­gest that the cul­ture, cul­ti­vated by late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, may run deep.

As Ailes built Fox News into the dom­i­nant ca­ble news net­work that gave voice to con­ser­va­tive Amer­i­cans, the up­start chan­nel crafted a look: Blus­tery male com­men­ta­tors and women, just as qual­i­fied, who were show­cased for their looks with re­veal­ing clothes and cam­era shots.

That at­ti­tude, said Ja­han Sa­gafi, a part­ner with Out­ten & Golden who rep­re­sents work­ers in claims against em­ploy­ers, pri­or­i­tizes “looks over job qual­i­fi­ca­tions.”

Months af­ter the ouster of star an­chor Bill O’Reilly in the wave of sex­ual- ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions that stretched back years, other women have come for­ward to de­tail ha­rass­ment at the net­work or its di­vi­sions. These sug­gest ha- rass­ment and re­tal­i­a­tion were more wide­spread than the clus­ter of se­nior ex­ec­u­tives around Ailes.

Fox Sports ex­ec­u­tive Jamie Horowitz was fired July 3, ap­par­ently the re­sult of a sex­ual- ha­rass­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion. A fe­male pro­duc­tion staffer told Sports Il­lus­trated Horowitz had tried to kiss her af­ter sug­gest­ing he could get her more work. Horowitz has de­nied any claims of mis­con­duct. Shortly af­ter, Fox Busi­ness News host Charles Payne was sus­pended in an­other sex­ual- ha­rass­ment in­quiry; he’s de­nied ha­rass­ing a fe­male com­men­ta­tor.

Still, the Mur­dochs seem to be mak­ing clear that they are no longer pro­tect­ing ex­ec­u­tives and an­chors ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass- ment or dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Fox News co- pres­i­dent Bill Shine — men­tioned in sev­eral law­suits against Fox News for fos­ter­ing a work­place cul­ture where sex­ual ha­rass­ment and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion were al­lowed to go unchecked — re­signed two months ago.

This fol­lows the de­par­ture of O’Reilly, dis­missed in April af­ter an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into sex­ual- ha­rass­ment claims, and af­ter a New York Times in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that he or the com­pany paid a to­tal of about $ 13 mil­lion in set­tle­ments to five women about his be­hav­ior over sev­eral years. He called the claims un­founded.

Set­ting off this fall­out was the July 2016 res­ig­na­tion of Ailes in the wake of ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion af­ter for­mer Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carl­son filed a sex­ual ha­rass­ment suit against him. Ailes took home a $ 40 mil­lion sev­er­ance pack­age.

Fox re­vealed it had paid about $ 45 mil­lion in set­tle­ments re­lated to Ailes, in­clud­ing a $ 20 mil­lion set­tle­ment with Carl­son. Ailes, who died May 18, de­nied the claims.

The house- clean­ing was meant to send a mes­sage — and at least one lis­tener heard it.

U. K. me­dia reg­u­la­tor Of­com, which is ad­vis­ing the govern­ment on whether to ap­prove Fox’s $ 15 bil­lion bid for Sky, said Lach­lan and James Mur­doch, in a meet­ing in May, “per­son­ally put to us that no in­di­vid­ual work­ing for Fox News could now be un­der the im­pres­sion that sex­ual ha­rass­ment is ac­cept­able, hav­ing seen the sack­ing of Mr. Ailes, Mr. O’Reilly and a num­ber of other em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing very se­nior man­agers,” the reg­u­la­tory agency said in its re­port.

In May, Fox News fired com­men­ta­tor Bob Beckel for a racially in­sen­si­tive re­mark to a black em­ployee. It fired Ju­dith Slater, a for­mer com­pany con­troller, be­fore the fil­ing of a racial- dis­crim­i­na­tion suit that’s ex­panded to 13 plain­tiffs, some of whom say “dark- skinned em­ploy­ees suf­fered years- long racial an­i­mus” from Slater.

Along­side the wave of de­par­tures, 21st Cen­tury Fox is telling em­ploy­ees to speak up.

Fox News now has posters dot­ting its walls re­mind­ing em­ploy­ees how to come for­ward about im­proper be­hav­ior.

EILEEN BLASS, USA TO­DAY

JOHN PHILLIPS, GETTY IMAGES

Ru­pert Mur­doch, cen­ter, and sons Lach­lan, left, and James are no longer pro­tect­ing ex­ec­u­tives or an­chors ac­cused of bias.

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