Fox News Brass Knew About Sexual Harassment And They Covered It Up

The biggest news last week that didn’t take place in Cleveland was the forced resignation of Fox News Channel’s founder and CEO, Roger Ailes, amid overwhelming evidence that he’d engaged in rampant sexual harassment. But a front-page story in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times (below the fold) suggests that Ailes’ behavior was a symptom of a larger problem at the fair and balanced network. Later on Sunday, we learned that top-level executives at Fox News covered this debauchery up for years.

The Times spoke with about a dozen current and former employees at Fox News and Fox Business Network who claimed to have been victims of sexual harassment or intimidation, as well as six more who saw this debauchery first hand. Most of them spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing that going public could wreck their careers in television. The anecdotes from the women who claimed to have been harassed are very similar to those raised by former host Gretchen Carlson–lewd and provocative comments, inappropriate sexual advances, and retaliation for spurning advances and turning down dates.

For example, one female reporter recalled that her supervisor would only let her work on a story if she agreed to have oral sex. She also recalled that staff meetings were full of innuendos and double entendres. While Fox News’ parent, 21st Century Fox, publicly maintains that sexual harassment is not tolerated, the women interviewed by The Times all feared that if they came forward, they would be demoted or fired.

This doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Remember, Fox News has long been notorious for hypersexualizing its female personalities. Short, body-hugging skirts and dresses, lots of makeup, etc.

The experience of one of the few women who wanted her name used, Rudi Bakhtiar, appears to be SOP for how sexual harassment was handled in the Ailes era. Bakhtiar recalled that a longtime Fox News reporter, Brian Wilson, offered to help her get promoted from a part-time weekend correspondent in Washington to a full-time post–provided she let him see “the inside of your hotel room.” Bakhtiar believes that after she rebuffed him, Fox News executives canceled her appearances and made only a cursory effort to investigate her claims before firing her.

Bakhtiar also told her story to Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine, who broke the news that Ailes was being pushed out last week. She remembered that when she interviewed at Fox News in 2005, Ailes asked her to stand up so he could see her legs. She also recalled how she believes Fox retaliated against her for speaking out against Wilson. She remembered that she spurned Wilson’s advances sometime around Thanksgiving 2006. Two months later, Wilson became Fox News’ Washington bureau chief–and Bakhtiar was sent back to New York. After months of being assigned tabloid-esque stories on “The Big Story,” she finally went to human resources at Megyn Kelly’s urging. Shortly afterward, she was fired.

Bakhtiar then got in touch with lawyer L. Lin Wood, who believed she had a strong case for wrongful termination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. However, Bakhtiar feared her career would be ruined if she went to court. She eventually accepted a settlement for $670,000 and her legal expenses. Bakhtiar’s settlement barred her from talking about her ordeal. However, she felt compelled to speak out in order to stand up for women in the cable news industry.

Sherman later appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” to discuss just how deep the rot went. He dropped a bombshell–he has evidence that a number of senior executives at Fox News played “an integral role” in covering up the harassment. According to Sherman, the stench goes all the way to the network’s longtime number-two man, programming chief Bill Shine.

How did they do it? By treating accusers in the same way that Bakhtiar was treated.

“(T)hey pushed women into confidential mediation, signing nondisclosure agreements in exchange for their contracts to be paid. These women needed to make a living, they signed nondisclosure agreements and as we have seen for the last 19 years, these allegations were not private.”

Host Brian Stelter wondered if this meant the internal review that initially focused on Ailes is about to expand. Sherman believes it will not only expand, but could potentially result in a complete housecleaning.

“(T)he people I talked to inside the company feel that the only way to change the Fox News culture is to move out all of the executives that Ailes had elevated into positions of power.”

That should give us reason to hope that something good could come out of this debauchery after all. As I’ve said before, if this results in Fox News being recreated as a real news network rather than a right-wing agitprop machine, that can only be a good thing.

(featured image courtesy Jim.henderson, part of public domain)

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.