The “New Leadership” At Fox News Is Still Imposing A Culture Of Sexual Harassment

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

One of Fox News’ co-presidents has been accused of coordinating a campaign to silence women who accuse their bosses of sexual harassment. The other has personally been accused of sexual harassment.

Is it any wonder the women of Fox might hesitate to make internal complaints about their treatment at the network?

As part of their coordinated response to The New York Times’ bombshell investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly, both the Fox host and the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, have zeroed in on the talking point that no one has ever filed a complaint with the company against O’Reilly.

“No current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously,” 21st Century Fox told the Times in a statement. “In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline,” the Fox host added.

Fox and O’Reilly have settled sexual harassment allegations against him by four former Fox employees, and two women have made similar charges, according to the Times investigation. The investigation comes as the network is still trying to recover its reputation after last summer’s revelation that former Fox CEO Roger Ailes had engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment against Fox employees.

There’s little reason to accept the “hotline” talking point as true, absent an independent investigation into the $13 million in settlements that Fox and its top star have paid to women who accused him of workplace sexual harassment. But it would hardly be surprising if the women of Fox specifically were hesitant to report O’Reilly, given the network’s history of covering up such claims.

Notably, Fox News co-presidents Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy have both been accused of participating in Fox’s culture of sexual harassment. And each has been linked to separate allegations against O’Reilly himself.

When then-Fox host Andrea Tantaros came to Shine with an allegation of sexual harassment by a powerful man at the network, she was told to keep quiet, she says.

Tantaros alleges in a complaint filed last year against Shine, Ailes, and the network that in spring 2015 she met with Shine seeking “relief from Ailes’s sexual harassment.” According to the complaint, Shine “told Tantaros that Ailes was a ‘very powerful man’ and that Tantaros ‘needed to let this one go.’” In the suit, Tantaros alleges that in early 2016, O’Reilly had asked “her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be ‘very private,’” and repeatedly told her “that he could ‘see [her] as a wild girl.’”  

This was reportedly not unusual for Shine, who played a key role in silencing and smearing Ailes’ alleged victims. Indeed, in a lawsuit revealed this morning featuring new accusations of sexual harassment by Ailes, Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky alleges that Shine retaliated against her because she refused to publicly attack one of Ailes’ other accusers.

For his part, Abernethy has been accused not of aiding and abetting Fox’s culture of sexual harassment -- but of participating in it.

Last year, 21st Century Fox settled with Juliet Huddy for $1.6 million after her lawyers “told the company that Mr. O’Reilly pursued a sexual relationship in 2011, at a time he exerted significant influence over her airtime,” the Times reported.

But O’Reilly was not the only Fox employee implicated by Huddy. As the Times reported last year, Huddy’s lawyers alleged that Abernethy “had retaliated against [Huddy] professionally after she made clear that she was not interested in a personal relationship.”

“21st Century Fox takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously,” the company said in its statement to the Times. The network takes the matters so seriously that in the months since a massive sexual harassment scandal forced out the network’s founder, O’Reilly’s contract has been extended and Shine and Abernethy have been promoted.

At every turn, Fox’s response to these serious allegations has been damage control. It’s long past time for the network to clean house.