When Fox News Channel founder Roger Ailes was pushed out amid overwhelming evidence he’d harassed dozens of his female employees, I hoped that it would lead to Fox News being reinvented as a real news organization. For now, anyway, those hopes have been dashed. Last week, Ailes’ longtime deputy, Bill Shine, was named co-president and editorial chief of the fair and balanced network. Even though Shine has been accused of helping cover up his former boss’ debauchery, the Murdochs still seem to have confidence in him.
Well, Shine might not want to get too comfortable. Late Monday night, former host Andrea Tantaros sued Fox News, saying that Ailes had harassed her for several years. Tantaros also accuses Ailes and a number of senior Fox News executives, including Shine, of waging a campaign of “threats, humiliation, and retaliation” against her when she spurned Ailes’ advances. She also accuses Ailes and his cronies of turning Fox News into “a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult.”
Tantaros had first gone public in early August, contending that Fox News had kept her off the air since April for speaking out about her harassment. However, she significantly upped the ante with this lawsuit. The Hollywood Reporter obtained a copy of Tantaros’ complaint. Read it here. She contends that from the time she arrived at Fox News, she had to endure “demeaning conduct,” such as being denied the courtesy of a curtain while picking her wardrobe.
However, Tantaros contends that things went downhill in 2014. She claims that Ailes frequently asked her to “turn around so I can get a good look at you.” Apparently Ailes frequently asked his female employees to “turn around”–a practice known as “the twirl.” When Tantaros spurned this, she contends that Ailes abruptly demoted her from her prime spot as one of the rotating members of “The Five” to the network’s noon show, “Outnumbered.”
She also contends that Ailes instructed Fox News’ longtime media relations hatchet woman, Irena Briganti–who is also named as a defendant–to wage a smear campaign against her. According to Tantaros, Briganti planted a number of stories in news sites controlled by Ailes to attack Tantaros’ image, and trashed her on social media through Fox News “sock puppet” accounts on orders from Ailes and Shine.
By the spring of 2015, Tantaros had had enough. She complained to Shine, whom she describes as “Ailes’ enforcer.” Shine’s response was breathtaking. While admitting that Ailes was “a rabid dog on a chain that we can’t control,” he was “a powerful man” and Tantaros was better off “letting this go.” Tantaros didn’t back down, and responded with more complaints to Shine, general counsel Dianne Brandi, and senior vice president Suzanne Scott–all of whom are named as defendants. All of these went nowhere.
Tantaros says that the matter boiled over starting in February, when O’Reilly, whom she long considered a friend and mentor, invited her to a “very private” visit to his Long Island home, and suggested it would be a chance for her to show her “wild side.” When Tantaros complained, Brandi told Tantaros’ lawyer that she would no longer appear on “The O’Reilly Factor.” O’Reilly is not named as a defendant, but has been in trouble for harassment before. In 2004, a former producer claimed he’d harassed her; settled with her for an undisclosed sum.
In response to this advance from O’Reilly and continued advances with Ailes, Tantaros sought a meeting with Shine, Brandi, and network HR chief Denise Collins. When the meeting took place on April 7, Tantaros says she was bombarded with “extremely hostile” questions about her harassment claims–and incredibly, about her upcoming book, “Tied Up in Knots.” On April 27, Tantaros was taken off the air indefinitely, ostensibly because she had failed to let network officials vet her book.
A month earlier, Brandi had claimed that Tantaros never gave network brass a chance to review “Tied Up in Knots.” We already know that’s a lie; a segment of Tantaros promoting the book on “Outnumbered” is still available on Fox News’ archive. But Tantaros contends that Brandi was aware of the book as early as 2013. It also notes that her book was published by HarperCollins, a corporate cousin to Fox News through which all Fox News personalities are contractually obligated to offer their books. Tantaros contends that since she could not promote the book on any media outlet without Fox News’ approval, her enforced absence from Fox News caused her book’s sales to crater.
Fox News then tried to strongarm Tantaros into a multi-million dollar settlement–a move that we now know to be SOP for the network. Had she accepted it, she would have been barred from ever talking about how she’d been harassed. Tantaros claims she went public earlier this month when it was obvious that the smear campaign against her would not let up. It also tried to force her into arbitration. However, on August 9, Tantaros’ lawyer learned that Fox News had tipped off The Daily Beast about the pending arbitration. That move was itself a violation of the arbitration clause in Tantaros’ contract, which bars either side from discussing even the existence of an arbitration–thus clearing the way for Tantaros’ suit.
Frankly, there’s very good reason to believe Tantaros is telling the truth. For one thing, if Tantaros, Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly, and others are lying about Ailes, then why was he given a “resign or be fired” ultimatum? Additionally, if Fox News was really concerned about Tantaros’ book, why is there a segment promoting that book still available, almost seven months after it aired? The fact it is still available proves that Shine, Brandi, Scott, and Briganti tried to cover up behavior that, at the very least, violates Fox News and 21st Century Fox’s internal policies.
Tantaros is suing for sexual harassment, retaliation, and tortious interference. If she wins all four claims, she could get at least $23 million in actual damages and $36 million in punitive damages. I hope she can take the Murdochs for that and more. No one deserves to be harassed. And no one deserves to face retaliation for speaking out. If Fox News isn’t willing to change on its own, hopefully this lawsuit will do it for them.
(featured image from Tantaros’ Facebook)