Vanity Fair reported that the internal investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, launched after former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes, has concluded with a $20 million settlement and a public apology, but without examining “the broader culture of Fox News.” This “relatively swift closure to an ugly chapter,” as Vanity Fair put it, shows that the probe was little more than a pseudo-investigation. The magazine noted that in some ways, it “simply got a revenue machine back on track.” And that confirms previous concerns about the impartiality of the investigation, which was handled by Fox News’ parent company.
After Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit on July 6 against then-Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, Fox’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, retained the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to lead an internal investigation into the claims.
Some questioned the “firm's independence” and ability to investigate the allegations with impartiality. As The New York Times reported, describing the Paul, Weiss investigation “as an ‘independent’ review commissioned by the company’s board … is not correct” because “The firm was retained by 21st Century Fox not only to investigate but also to provide legal advice.” The Times noted that a “true independent review would preclude legal advice.”
As the investigation proceeded behind closed doors, media outlets reported that the “harassment and intimidation” inside Fox News “went beyond Mr. Ailes and suggested a broader problem in the workplace.” New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported that Fox executives -- including Ailes deputy Bill Shine, who has since been promoted to co-president of Fox News -- were aware of Ailes’ alleged sexual harassment of Fox News employees and said some helped the former network chairman and CEO “cover up” his actions.
But as news broke that Carlson and 21st Century Fox settled the suit, Vanity Fair reported that “the Paul, Weiss investigation … never officially expanded to examine the broader culture of Fox News.” According to Vanity Fair, Paul, Weiss “was apparently never ordered to scour the company’s hard drives for all evidence of sexual harassment or bawdy culture.”
The settlement punctuates an important chapter in the Ailes scandal. While the Paul, Weiss investigation interviewed more than 20 women, according to two sources familiar with the process, it never officially expanded to examine the broader culture of Fox News. The firm, according to numerous people familiar with the process, was apparently never ordered to scour the company’s hard drives for all evidence of sexual harassment or bawdy culture. In some ways, according to one person familiar with the process, the Paul, Weiss investigation simply got a revenue machine back on track.
As New Yorker contributing editor Jeannie Suk Gersen wrote: "“Unlike what reportedly happened around Ailes, neither an employee’s supervisor nor the person being accused of harassment should have any control over an investigation.”
Given that Fox News has for years cultivated a toxic atmosphere of misogyny and sexism, and given reporting about the widespread culture of sexual harassment at the network that went beyond Ailes, Media Matters launched a petition calling on 21st Century Fox to publicly release the findings of the internal review. Though now those findings may be spurious, given the narrow scope of the investigation.