USA TODAY International Edition
Scandals linger at Fox News
Despite big changes, it may not be able to shake off Ailes’ good- old- boy legacy
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.