Fox News' refusal to take sexual harassment seriously sends a clear message to all of us

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

In the last several years, Fox News has been forced to address reports of workplace sexual harassment so often that top brass has seemingly developed a formulaic public relations strategy to save face until the news cycle moves on. But the latest reports have not even elicited the typical canned response. Instead, Fox’s egregious mishandling of the reports against Fox Nation host Tyrus makes it all too clear that the company is motivated only by threats to publicity or its bottom line -- not by any sort of genuine concern for its employees or viewers. 

In June, The Daily Beast reported that Tyrus -- a former professional wrestler and frequent Fox News guest who goes by one name -- was “quietly removed” in mid-April from the Fox Nation show after a “personal dispute” with co-host Britt McHenry. Tyrus and McHenry had co-hosted the semi-weekly show Un-PC on the Fox Nation streaming platform since the service launched in late 2018. At the time, The Daily Beast noted, Fox barely acknowledged Tyrus’ move from Un-PC to a brand-new streaming show he’d host on his own, called Nuff Said with Tyrus: 

Fox Nation only subtly announced Tyrus’ exit from its most-hyped show. A May 23 press release and accompanying article from the network’s media reporter noted that the ex-wrestler has a new show called NUFFSAID, while McHenry “will continue to co-host ‘Un-PC.’” Any explicit mention of Tyrus’ departure from Un-PC was omitted.

On June 11, The Daily Beast further reported that the previously unspecified “dispute” was actually a sexual harassment complaint that McHenry had made against Tyrus. McHenry said that her co-host had repeatedly sent her inappropriate and unsolicited lewd text messages. Sources at Fox told Daily Beast reporters Maxwell Tani and Asawin Suebsaeng that network leadership was aware of the complaint but ultimately made the decision to discreetly give Tyrus a new show -- effectively giving him a promotion. Nuff Said premiered the day after this latest report and was promoted on Fox’s website. 

A Fox spokesperson told The Daily Beast that “the situation was independently investigated and we consider the matter resolved.” 

On July 11, Yashar Ali reported in HuffPost on the contents of some of the text messages Tyrus reportedly sent McHenry, including one which references a photograph of genitalia he may have sent her: 

The messages, which have not previously been reported, include texts in which Tyrus said to McHenry: “Just pull your boobs out now why don’t you. Just grin and bare it” and “keep being negative and I’ll send you another dick pic.”

After initially declining to comment, Fox again offered a statement saying the matter had been thoroughly investigated and that the network had implemented recommendations stemming from the investigation. 

But actions speak louder than statements. Throughout this slow trickle of reporting on the complaints, Fox News has handled the issue by keeping Tyrus’ departure from Un-PC as quiet as possible, effectively giving him a promotion to a new solo show without so much as a suspension, allowing him to continue his regular appearances on several Fox News shows as well, and continuing to promote his Fox Nation and Fox News screentime to its audience. 

According to a Media Matters count, Tyrus has appeared on Fox News at least 11 times since the first Daily Beast report was published on June 4 -- all on The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino and The Greg Gutfeld Show. He made his regular guest appearances on both Fox News shows immediately after Ali’s report came out on the texts he sent McHenry. 

On July 12 -- less than 24 hours after the HuffPost report was published -- Tyrus joined Perino for a five-minute segment that made no mention of the reports about his alleged workplace misconduct. Instead, Tyrus and Perino discussed Hurricane Barry and which one of them could hold a plank for longer: 

Later that day, on The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld teased Tyrus’ appearance on his other show the following night. The show’s Twitter account also promoted it numerous times. And Fox aired at least one promo for Nuff Said.

The next day, Gutfeld introduced Tyrus on his show by joking, “Monsters check for him under their beds before they go to sleep.” 

Tyrus and the other regular guests then discussed a series of topics including in-fighting among Democratic lawmakers, a hockey coach telling players to respect the national anthem, an Instagram model selling her bath water, and a new study about how couples meet. When the panel discussed the dating study, Gutfeld directed a comment about “civil war” between men and women to Tyrus, who stayed silent and was met with laughter: 

(The July 13 show was preempted during its regular 10 p.m. time slot because of the power outage in New York City, but it aired later in the night.) 

Tyrus is at least the 10th publicly known Fox News employee to have been reported for sexual harassment or other misconduct since former host Gretchen Carlson went public with her lawsuit against former chief Roger Ailes in the summer of 2016 -- not to mention several others who were implicated for aiding and abetting this reported harassment.

The network has developed a formula for responding to these reports -- nominally admonishing and sometimes suspending the employee reported for inappropriate behavior, launching an internal investigation, and then either discretely allowing them to return to the status quo or reluctantly firing them with a golden parachute. 

Of course, this has happened only when Fox sensed a threat to its bottom line or a wave of negative publicity it needed to combat, i.e. when the public spoke up and advertisers began to flee. 

Absent these triggers, Fox News will continue to do next to nothing -- as evidenced most recently by its handling of the Tyrus allegations. 

Lis Power contributed research to this post.