Robert Murdoch attempted to downplay Fox News’ alleged culture of sexual misconduct as limited to “isolated incidents” with former CEO Roger Ailes — a characterization that was met with fierce criticism from the women on the media mogul’s payroll who say they were victimized by employees of Fox News. Now his media empire’s PR department is attempting to spin his comments ahead of 21st Century Fox’s $52 billion sale to Disney.
Murdoch denied that the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct damaged the Fox News Channel, which was not part of the Disney sale, during an interview with Sky News host Ian King when discussing the blockbuster deal.
“All nonsense, there was a problem with our chief executive [Ailes], sort of, over the years, isolated incidents,” Murdoch said during the Sky News interview.
“As soon as we investigated he was out of the place in hours — well, three or four days. And there has been nothing else since then. That was largely political because we are conservative. The liberals are going down the drain — NBC is in deep trouble… There are really bad cases and people should be moved aside. There are other things — which probably amount to a bit of flirting.”
Murdoch ignored the fact that the conservative news channel’s former prime-time host Bill O’Reilly was ousted after it was revealed he made $13 million in settlements for sexual harassment lawsuits, host Eric Bolling sent lewd text messages to female colleagues, and multiple women alleged being sexually harassed by colleagues. Ailes, who died earlier this year, was fired after he allegedly told former host Gretchen Carlson she needed to “get along with the boys” after she complained about the conduct of her former Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy. Carlson received a $20 million settlement.
Murdoch’s comments received backlash from 10 current and former female Fox News on-air talents who claimed they were harassed or assaulted by network executives or fellow talents, according to a HuffPost report. Those women, who asked to remain anonymous, described their reaction to Murdoch’s comments as “stunned,” “disgusted,” and “hungry for justice,” according to HuffPost.
“I have had to put up with a hostile work environment for years, and now I’m told that it doesn’t exist by a man who doesn’t have to walk these halls every day? I’m hungry for justice,” one woman said.
21st Century Fox, which is being sold to the Disney Channel, attempted to spin Murdoch’s comments, claiming he was denying the sexual harassment issues played a role in the Disney sale as it relates to the uncertain future of Sky News.
However, that spin was apparently unconvincing to the on-air talent of the network who shared their grievances about Murdoch’s comments with HuffPost.
Contrary to Murdoch’s claim that sexual harassment within Fox News was contained to Ailes, one woman told HuffPost that there are still sexual harassers employed by the network. “Hey Rupert — stop with the lies or we’ll go public with the truth. All of it. Including about the talent and executives you still employ who have harassed us and don’t give a damn about workplace respect — only money,” said a woman who was previously a member of Fox News’ on-air talent. “How much will it take before you actually start caring about your female employees? Is your 52 billion enough? Are we really going to clean house now?”
This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on December 16, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Danielle McLean is an investigative reporter at ThinkProgress.
What do they all have in common? For years, they successfully kept corporate wrongdoing secret, through forced arbitration.
Buried in the fine print of employment contracts and consumer agreements, forced arbitration clauses prohibit you from going to court to enforce your rights. Instead, employees who experience harassment and discrimination, or consumers who are the victims of financial fraud or illegal fees, are sent to a private arbitration forum. Frequently designed, chosen, and paid for by the employer or corporation, in arbitration everything is conducted in secret. People who suffered the same abuses often can’t join together to show how rampant a problem is and confront a powerful adversary—and people are less likely to come forward at all, because they have no idea they aren’t alone.
When Gretchen Carlson sought her day in court over sexual harassment allegations against Roger Ailes, her former boss at Fox News, Mr. Ailes’s lawyers had a quick response: send the case to forced arbitration. After she filed suit, he also invoked a clause that reportedly required absolute secrecy: “all filings, evidence and testimony connected with arbitration, and all relevant allegations and events leading up to the arbitration, shall be held in strict confidence.” It was only because she resisted that clause through a creative legal theory that her allegations were made public—unleashing a tsunami of claims of sexual harassment by Ailes and others at Fox News.
Hundreds and maybe thousands of former employees of Sterling Jewelers, the multibillion-dollar conglomerate behind Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, known for advertising slogans such as “Every kiss begins with Kay,” were allegedly groped, demeaned, and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed. The evidence of apparent rampant sexual assault was kept secret for years from other survivors and the general public through gag orders imposed in forced arbitration.
We don’t yet know if Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein used forced arbitration to suppress allegations of his decades-long campaign of sexually harassing, abusing, and assaulting young assistants, temps, employees and executives at the Weinstein Company and Miramax. But the clauses may well have played a role, and his nondisclosure agreements and secret one-by-one settlements worked to the same effect.
And forced arbitration clauses do not only hide wrongdoing in sexual harassment cases. Corporations also use forced arbitration to isolate victims and cover up massive, widespread wrongdoing in the financial sector.
For example, forced arbitration clauses found in legitimate customer accounts let Wells Fargo block lawsuits related to the 3.5 million sham accounts it opened; as a result it kept its massive scandal secret for years, and then lied to Congress about it. People began trying to sue Wells Fargo in 2013, but cases were pushed out of our public courts into secret arbitrations, and Wells Fargo continued creating fake accounts.
KeyBank, like Wells Fargo, has also used forced arbitration to keep disputes secret and block relief for people charged overdraft fees when their accounts weren’t overdrawn. A court recently ruled “unconscionable” KeyBank’s provision requiring a customer to “keep confidential any decision of an arbitrator.” But the court allowed KeyBank to force the plaintiff to arbitrate his case individually, despite the fact that thousands or millions of KeyBank customers were subject to the same abuses. These customers were not permitted to come together to challenge these abuses as a group in court, because of forced arbitration.
By imposing secrecy and isolating victims, forced arbitration shields corporate wrongdoing and leaves it more difficult for those harmed to hold the wrongdoers accountable. That’s why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a rule earlier this year prohibiting banks, payday lenders and other financial companies from using forced arbitration to cover up widespread frauds, scams and abuses. This is a first step in the right direction of restoring Americans’ rights to challenge predatory practices. But some in Congress have threatened to block this important protection.
Earlier this year, Congress and President Trump overturned rules that prohibited employers with federal contracts from forcing employees to arbitrate sexual harassment or sexual assault claims, or claims alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, race, or religion. In so doing, they took power away from women facing sexual harassment and returned it to those trying desperately to keep that harassment under wraps.
We cannot tolerate another blow against Americans seeking to hold the wealthy and powerful accountable. The CFPB’s rule must be permitted to go forward.
This blog was originally published at Public Citizen Litigation Group’s Consumer Law & Policy Blog on October 23, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Emily Martin is General Counsel and Vice President for Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. She oversees the Center’s advocacy, policy, and education efforts to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunity for women at work and to achieve the workplace standards that allow all women to achieve and succeed, with a particular focus on the obstacles that confront women in low-wage jobs and women of color.
The New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR) is investigating Fox News for claims of sexual harassment and retaliation, according to attorney Lisa Bloom.
Bloom told ThinkProgress over the phone that a human rights specialist at the agency confirmed the investigation to her on Friday.
According to Bloom, the agency has spoken to one of her clients, Dr. Wendy Walsh, twice, and another of her clients, Caroline Heldman, once in the course of the investigation. The agency also wants to interview a third woman.
Bloom’s law firm filed a request for investigation with the SDHR on April 11th. Bloom told ThinkProgress she asked for the investigation because Fox has “the worst corporate culture I’ve heard of in 30 years as a civil rights attorney.”
“Over the past thirteen years, dozens of women have reported egregious sexual harassment and retaliation at Fox News, with new claims constantly coming to light,” the complaint says. “The company frequently pays women to remain silent and leave the company while the perpetrators and enablers keep their jobs. Others are scared into silence by the company’s well-documented intimidation tactics, including using its giant media platform to smear their reputations. Nearly all of the victims were not only driven out of Fox News, but the television industry entirely.”
The complaint says that since many of the victims signed confidentiality agreements or are barred by time-limits from bringing their complaints to the legal system, they cannot raise the issue with the SDHR themselves.
The SDHR did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress’ request for confirmation.
Bloom told ThinkProgress that a typical remedy for this sort of case would see the state entering into a consent decree with the employer. The employer would likely have to improve their grievance procedures and demonstrate compliance on a regular basis, anywhere from monthly to yearly.
According to Bloom, the process is “pretty intrusive” for the employer, and typically unwelcome.
This report signals a new wave in the network’s ongoing legal troubles, linked to what reports and allegations indicate is a pervasive culture of sexual discrimination.
Last year, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against the network’s then-CEO Roger Ailes, alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The network eventually settled with Carlson for $20 million, but her suit opened the floodgates of women coming forward with their own allegations. The scandal led to Ailes’ resignation.
Then this year, the New York Times reported that the network had paid over $13 million over the years to quiet allegations of harassment by Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly. The report led to a spate of women going public with their stories, and ultimately to O’Reilly’s ousting from the network after advertisers abandoned his nightly talk show.
Taken in sum, however, the women’s stories indicate that the problem went beyond the alleged predilections of two of the network’s most powerful men. The allegations and reports paint a picture of systemic sexual harassment and a culture of gender discrimination within the network.
“It’s not about Roger Ailes. It’s about a culture,” Gabriel Sherman, who wrote the book on Roger Ailes and his role in the network, told NPR in July 2016. “And it was a culture where this type of behavior was encouraged and protected. The allegations are that women routinely had to sleep with or be propositioned by their manager in many cases, Roger Ailes, but I’ve reported on another manager who did this in exchange for promotions.”
Fox News has also retained the law firm Paul Weiss to conduct internal investigations of the harassment claims against Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.
This piece has been updated with comments from Lisa Bloom. Judd Legum contributed reporting.
This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laurel Raymond is a general reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was the ThinkProgress Editorial Assistant. Prior to joining ThinkProgress she worked for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and was a Fulbright scholar, based in southeast Turkey. She holds a B.S. in brain and cognitive sciences and a B.A. in English from the University of Rochester, where she worked and researched in the university writing center and was a member of the Michael K. Tanenhaus psycholinguistics lab. Laurel is originally from Richmond, Vermont.
The Roger Ailes harassment scandal was never just about Roger Ailes. We knew that from the beginning: Gretchen Carlson, the woman whose sexual harassment lawsuit helped topple the Fox News chief (and unleashed a flood of similar harassment and assault allegations) stated that she’d only come into Ailes’ line of sight because she was pursuing remedy for a different instance of workplace discrimination.
The circumstances of Carlson’s suit are indicative of a wider problem. In her suit, Carlson alleges that her Fox & Friends co-host, Steve Doocy, made her life hell by “mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, belittling her contributions to the show, and generally attempting to put her in her place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist.” When she reported his behavior, Ailes allegedly called Carlson a “man hater” and told her to “get along with the boys,” eventually demanding sex in return for his intervention.
With all that in mind, can it really be surprising that yet another woman has now come forward to allege sexual harassment—or that the woman in question, Andrea Tantaros, describes Fox News itself as “a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny?”
The specific harassers named are new—Bill O’Reilly, correspondent John Roberts and former Sen. Scott Brown are all named—and so are some details. (Tantaros alleges that after she shot Ailes down the company’s media relations department began arranging bad press for her, even setting up fake social media accounts to attack her online presence with nasty comments.) But the overarching allegation that Ailes “(did) not act alone”—that other men at the network benefited from a system designed to enable sexual harassment and that the system found a way to cover for the accused men and make their female victims disappear—was familiar from Carlson’s suit. The players may change, but the song remains the same, and anyone who’s studied how sexual harassment works has no trouble recognizing this particular tune.
Fox News has declined to comment on Tantaros’ case, citing pending litigation. The network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, released a statement saying it was conducting an internal review of conduct by Ailes and Doocy. Ailes has strenuously denied the accusations against him, as has Brown.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled on Ailes’ personal repugnance over the past few months, but sexual harassment almost never comes down to one corrupt executive. For that matter, the harm done to victims usually doesn’t start with the big, obvious assaults or demands. Sexual harassment is built on minor violations accrued over time—a put-down here, an off-color hint there—until the boundaries of normal workplace behavior have been eroded to the point of collapse, and the major crimes (assault, stalking, quid pro quo demands) can be committed without fear of violating norms.
Though some harassers may be more vicious and more predatory than others, the process of disintegrating those boundaries and establishing an unsafe environment is usually crowdsourced throughout an organization. If harassers don’t think they can get away with something, they won’t do it. Creating an environment in which they can get away with it—and in which they can get away with it precisely because everyone else is already doing it—is part of the process.
To think of sexual harassment as a problem of one bad man is to fall into the fallacy of seeing sexual assault as a crime of passion. Sexual harassment is much more likely to result in someone losing her job than in sex. Someone is unlikely to fall in love or lust because she’s been forced to undress in front of colleagues (something Tantaros alleges Ailes did to her) but she’s very likely to have her job performance compromised by psychological damage or distraction, or gain a reputation as difficult because she can’t safely or comfortably work with certain colleagues, or simply quit because she can’t bear to come into work.
Sexual harassers don’t want sex. They want to push women out of the labor force, which they can easily do by making work more dangerous for women than it is for men.
Though it’s tempting to see the Fox News situation as somehow due to the uniquely horrible politics or personalities of the people involved—and they are, indeed, horrible—workplace environments like that are common enough that up to 1 in 3 women reports experiencing workplace harassment in her lifetime. And while we often envision harassment as coming from a predatory boss, in practice it’s largely a horizontal crime, committed between people whose only real power differential is their gender.
In the above-cited survey, 75 percent of women’s harassment came from male co-workers, and only 38 percent came from male managers. (Female co-workers were also represented on the list—but comprised only 10 percent of perpetrators.) What causes workplace harassment isn’t the politics of the workplace, or even individual power dynamics. The underlying cause is how the organization sees and enforces gender.
One of the defining features of sexual harassment, and one of the main reasons few cases are ever formally reported to higher-ups, is that victims are often penalized (as Tantaros says she was) or faced with an escalation in the harassment (as Carlson says she was) if they speak up. By the time a harassment case gets bad enough that a woman asks for help, the systemic corruption has already taken hold and the deck is likely to be stacked against her.
Yet, as dangerous as speech can be, silence is worse. Consider the many silences that supported Ailes: The women who were kept out of jobs because they refused Ailes’ advances (thus narrowing the field to women who were less likely to report him), the women who were removed or told to “get along with the boys” or “let it go” if they complained about lesser instances of sexism (thus sending the clear message that reporting larger instances would not be welcome), the men who, in the absence of any consequences, learned to behave as if there were no rules and joined in with a grope here or a proposition there, or simply a daily habit of being nasty and demeaning to their female co-workers.
Each minor infraction gives other men the message that they can get away with similar or worse infractions. Each penalty dealt to a female co-worker teaches other women not to speak up or support their fellow victims. Before long, the entire organization is a minefield.
This is what we miss when we try to frame sexual harassment as a matter of a certain perpetrator, or a certain act or even a certain organization. Monsters breed in silence and shadow, and though we may be revolted by the ones we do occasionally bring to light, punishing or reviling them does nothing about the wider problem—which is our complicity, our participation in cultures that exalt men and feed off female humiliation.
Harassment isn’t an individual problem; it’s a problem inflicted by communities, either because the members participate in the violence or because they’ve learned to stay quiet as a means of self-defense. So, while it’s fun to point at Ailes and Fox News, we should also keep in mind that what we’re seeing is not unique, and maybe not even that special. We should look around at our own communities, and ask where the shadows have fallen and who might be getting hurt, just out of sight.
This article was originally posted at InTheseTimes.com on August 26, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Sady Doyle is an In These Times Staff Writer. She also contributes regularly to Rookie Magazine, and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. She’s the winner of the first Women’s Media Center Social Media Award. She’s interested in women in pop culture, women creating pop culture, reproductive rights, and women’s relationship to the Internet and the Left. You can follow her on Twitter at @sadydoyle, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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