The list of former and current Fox News employees making claims against the network is about to grow by at least seven this week, and possibly more. But instead of more women emerging with claims about sexual harassment by Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, they will be claims about sexual harassment linked to the words and activities of a former senior employee who has already triggered several earlier claims. They could possibly be more toxic and problematic for Fox News and the Murdoch clan than the depredations of Ailes and O’Reilly.
Gabe Sherman, the New York magazine reporter who has been at the forefront of reporting the Fox News harassment stories wrote at the weekend:
“Next week, according to sources, seven black Fox News employees plan to join a racial discrimination suit filed last month by two colleagues. The original lawsuit alleged that Fox News’s longtime comptroller, Judy Slater, subjected members of Fox’s payroll staff to racial insults for years. (Fox News fired Slater in February after those employees began litigation against the network.)”
“Lawyers representing the payroll employees are demanding that Fox’s accounting director, Tammy Efinger, also be removed from supervising an employee because she allegedly participated in Slater’s racist behavior …”
The first claim against Fox alleging racist remarks by Slater came in March by two women.
There are also reports that other victims of O’Reilly may emerge in coming weeks. All these claims will of course add to the costs to Fox and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, in financial terms, but the reputational damage is already starting to hit hard. Around US$100 million in payments have been made in the Ailes/O’Reilly cases, but as an increasing number of commentators have pointed out, the majority of that sum — some US$65 million — have been paid to Ailes (US$40 million) and O’Reilly (US$25 million). The two perps have, in effect, been rewarded for their transgressions, while those who were harassed have had to settle for less.
Gretchen Carlson, whose claims again Ailes set off the story last July was paid US$20 million, the largest so far, but nowhere near the amounts her harasser, Ailes, was paid. Sherman reported in July that, in the wake of Carlson filing her claim, “more than a dozen women have contacted Carlson’s New Jersey–based attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, and made detailed allegations of sexual harassment by Ailes over a 25-year period, dating back to the 1960s, when he was a producer on The Mike Douglas Show”.
Laurie Luhn, a Fox booker (a person who arranges TV interview talent) was paid a reported US$3.16 million. Her claims date from around 2006 onwards.
We don’t know when the first claim about Ailes was made at Fox. Many have been buried in arbitration, but in the wake of the Gretchen Carlson claim surfacing, US media said more than 20 women were reported to have approached the law firm appointed by Fox to investigate. There has been no follow up statement or report about the fate of those claims. Perhaps the only way a fuller list will emerge is if the US Justice Department launches legal action against 21st Century Fox and details each case or payment it has found in its legal documentation.
Former Fox host, Megyn Kelly was the most high-profile, on-air person to complain about Ailes. Kelly and Carlson — and other women who complained about him and went public — were then criticised by Fox staffers and right-wing media, such as the Breitbart website. Kelly did not seek money and left Fox for NBC.
From rough timelines published last week, it is certain that both Ailes and O’Reilly were harassing female employees, contributors and guests for a decade or more from around 2002 onwards. That was junior producer named Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, according to The New York Times. Bernstein accused him not of sexual harassment but of belligerent, bullying behaviour, including storming into the newsroom to scream at her. Vox had a helpful list last year of 15 women (nine identified, six anonymous) who complained about Ailes.
It is also clear from many reports that Ailes was protecting O’Reilly as women complained about the latter’s depredations, especially Andrea Mackris. But not even Ailes could save O’Reilly from having to pay Mackris US$9 million. That was after O’Reilly tried to shut her up by suing her for extortion.
Ailes was paid to leave in July last year and the NYT reported that “Since then, the company has struck two settlements involving Mr. O’Reilly, and learned of one Mr. O’Reilly reached secretly in 2011.”
Time magazine reported last week:
“In addition to the five women who were paid settlements, two other women spoke to the Times about inappropriate behavior by O’Reilly, and more women came forward with sexual harassment accusations in the wake of the Times investigation. Attorney Lisa Bloom is representing three women making complaints against O’Reilly, including radio host Wendy Walsh, an anonymous former Fox News employee and Caroline Heldman, who filed a new complaint to the Fox News hotline on Wednesday.”
And a second woman emerged last Wednesday to complain about O’Reilly. Jehmu Greene told The New York Times that she contacted the law firm (Bloom’s firm) after a network executive failed to answer her email about O’Reilly.
These claims will continue to bedevil Fox and the Murdochs. US commentators have pointed out that the internal memo to staff from the three Murdoch males — Rupert, Lachlan and James — used one of three paragraphs to announce O’Reilly’s departure, and the other two to praise him. This remains a continuing problem for the Murdochs and Fox and 21st Century Fox and won’t go away quickly.