Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
With each new disturbing allegation, it’s become increasingly clear that a toxic atmosphere has flourished at Fox News, where powerful men have allegedly harassed and assaulted women for years.
The latest lawsuit to tumble out arrived on Monday, when Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky filed suit in court and claimed that former Fox News chief Roger Ailes had made unwanted sexual advances to her and implied he would reward her with a big promotion if she agreed.
This, of course, comes eight months after the Fox News founder and CEO was ousted following an avalanche of ugly allegations about sexual harassment.
It’s all disturbingly reminiscent of the cascade of accusations that tumbled forth last summer about then-President-elect Donald Trump, whose disregard for women was also caught in a recording of his boasts of sexual assault made in 2005 on the set of Access Hollywood.
Some of the allegations at Fox News were similar: We learned that men who have worked in positions of power at Fox News allegedly groped women, kissed them against their will, made inappropriate sexual comments, asked about female employees’ sex lives, promised promotions in exchange for sex, cut short careers of women who took offense, and scheduled “phone sex in the office.” (That’s when they weren’t demanding oral sex from female subordinates.)
And oh yeah, federal prosecutors are now investigating whether Fox News’ parent company “made insufficient disclosures to its investors about settlements of sexual-harassment claims.”
The new Roginsky suit arrives just days after a New York Times investigation revealed that Fox and anchor Bill O’Reilly have spent approximately $13 million to pay off female colleagues who have accused O’Reilly of abusive behavior. (O’Reilly reportedly makes about $18 million a year at Fox News.)
Of course, the problem of sexual harassment and assault is by no means limited to only “conservative” workplaces, but it’s telling that three of the most powerful men in Republican politics over the past few decades — Trump, O’Reilly, and Ailes — have all repeatedly been accused of systemic harassment of female employees and predatory behavior.
And that’s why Fox News and Trump are inexorably linked — not just politically, but culturally, as their hallmark misogyny seems to flow with the same urgency.
The Ailes-O’Reilly scandal & the apparent culture at FoxNews clarifies why their viewers were “meh” on Trump’s teen peeping/grabby vulgarity
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) April 4, 2017
O’Reilly, Ailes, and Trump are putting a particularly disturbing face on the conservative movement: that of a triumvirate of wealthy, elderly, and powerful men towing behind them a list of public accusers stretching back decades. These three men unequivocally helped shape the Republican Party and right-wing media in recent years. And all three have repeatedly been accused of predatory behavior toward women. (Do conservatives even care that the movement is synonymous with misogyny? Amanda Marcotte at Salon argues they do not.)
For now, Fox News bosses have to switch gears back to sexual harassment crisis management mode, the kind that defined their 2016 summer. But those executives can’t say people didn’t try to warn them.
They can’t say that when the tawdry Ailes sex scandal exploded in plain view that people didn’t encourage Rupert Murdoch and his family to take honest stock of the disturbing, predatory work environment that had been enshrined at Fox News for years.
Last summer, I urged James and Lachlan Murdoch to do the right thing and divorce Fox News from Ailes’ decades-old culture harassment and assault:
[A]re they going to simply remove Ailes, read an outside investigation about rampant sexual harassment allegations, shelve the lecherous findings, and carry on without any kind of radical shift in leadership? It doesn’t seem possible that just one man was responsible for that much alleged harassment.
Meaning, if James and Lachlan make no concerted effort to fix the widespread problems facing the women working at Fox News, that means James and Lachlan will soon own that problem and that stigma.
Today, the Murdochs own the stigma because they did almost nothing to try to eradicate it last year. Yes, they commissioned an independent investigation into Ailes, hiring the law firm Paul, Weiss. But they apparently tailored a very narrow inquiry and seemed determined not to uncover the larger rot at the root of the cable channel. (Fox seemed about as interested in owning up to its dark harassment past as Trump did on the campaign trail last year.)
“Paul, Weiss, according to a source close to the investigation, never expanded to look deeply into phone and e-mail records throughout the company to unearth evidence of a culture of sexual harassment,” writes Sarah Ellison at Vanity Fair this week.
How un-serious was the Murdochs’ house-cleaning? Fox News’ Bill Shine, who has specifically been accused of covering up harassment for years, was promoted and made co-president of the channel. Fast forward seven months and yes, once again Shine is accused of covering for Fox News’ serial harassers.
Reporting on the latest Ailes lawsuit, NPR reported:
“Shine retaliated against plaintiff because of her complaints of harassment and retaliation [against Ailes],” the lawsuit reads, “and because of plaintiff’s refusal to malign Gretchen Carlson and join ‘Team Roger’ when Carlson sued Ailes … Shine also aided and abetted Ailes’ acts of retaliation and harassment.”
In other words, the company’s idea of cleaning up the rancid culture inside Fox News is to help craft multimillion-dollar settlements for accusers and to make sure not to remove many of the people regularly accused of harassment or of facilitating the cover-ups.
I’m sure Trump approves.