If Andrea Tantaros’s lawsuit against Fox News had been filed on July 5, it would have dominated the day’s news. A former Fox News host on the show “The Five” and later “Outnumbered,” Tantaros alleges that now-deposed Fox News chief Roger Ailes sexually harassed her, isolated her and demoted her. On two occasions, alleges Tantaros’s complaint in the New York State Supreme Court, Ailes asked her to “turn around so I can get a good look at you.”
Familiar? Gretchen Carlson, another former Fox News host, alleged in her own sexual harassment/retaliation suit that Ailes had asked her to turn around, the better to check out her “posterior.” Carlson filed her complaint on July 6, to explosive consequences: A whole sub-class of women has come forward to detail their own treatment at the hands of Ailes; 21st Century Fox commissioned an internal probe of Ailes’s management, in which star anchor Megyn Kelly allegedly claimed harassment more than a decade ago; New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman chronicled the trials of a woman who endured decades of harassment and psychological torment from Ailes; the revelations claimed Ailes’s very career, as he resigned his position in disgrace.
There’s enough on-the-record evidence at this point to conclude that Ailes is a serial, paranoid sexist creep who should never again be allowed to supervise anyone. Except Donald Trump, of course.
The particulars of Tantaros’s complaint against Fox News, Ailes and several top-ranking officials at the network are baroque and damning. Lest anyone conclude that Ailes was just a butt-grabbing lech acting alone in a fortified office, Tantaros claims that abettors were everywhere. Her banishment from respectability at the network, she alleges, took place with the full assistance of the Fox News PR division. Her complaints against Ailes dead-ended thanks to the collusion of his lieutenants, she says. And she even charges that Bill O’Reilly, the King of Cable News, got in on the act. That alone is a headliner allegation. From the complaint itself:
And there was yet another problem that arose: commencing in February 2016, Bill O’Reilly (“O’Reilly”), whom Tantaros had considered to be a good friend and a person from whom she sought career guidance, started sexually harassing her by, inter alia, (a) asking her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be “very private,” and (b) telling her on more than one occasion that he could “see [her] as a wild girl,” and that he believed that she had a “wild side.” Fox News did take one action: plainly because of O’Reilly’s rumored prior sexual harassment issues and in recognition of Tantaros’s complaints, Brandi informed [Tantaros’ lawyer] that Tantaros would no longer be appearing on O’Reilly’s Fox News show, The O’Reilly Factor.
Those “prior sexual harassment issues” relate to a suit filed against O’Reilly by former associate producer Andrea Mackris in 2004. The top lawyer at Fox News told Tantaros’ representative that she’d be taken off of her appearances on the “O’Reilly Factor,” though a Nexis search indicates that Tantaros continued appearing on the program almost until the point that she was pulled from the network’s airwaves altogether.
There’s a symmetry between Tantaros’s complaint and outside reporting on her career at Fox News. Two years ago, Gabriel Sherman, in his Ailes biography “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” described Ailes’s design for his roundtable talk show “The Five.” His inspiration for the successful program, reported Sherman, came from theater. A close friend of Ailes told Sherman, “He said, ‘I’ve always wanted to do an ensemble concept. . . . I wanted a Falstaff, and that’s Bob Beckel. I need a leading man, and it’s Eric Bolling. I need a serious lead and that’s Dana Perino. I need a court jester and it’s Greg [Gutfeld], and I need the leg. That’s Andrea Tantaros.”
Legs get a lot of exposure in the complaint. “Roger wants to see your legs,” Tantaros was told by Fox Newsers in explaining why she couldn’t wear pants on air, according to the lawsuit. Other claims: Ailes told her she’d look good in a bikini; asked for a hug; and sought to engage her in gross chatter about the sexual habits of colleagues.
What a wretched professional existence. Fox News declined to comment on pending litigation, per standard industry practice.
The complaint is silent on the other dimension of Ailes’s destructive work, that of creating a news channel that rewards stupid and irresponsible commentary. Only on Fox News, after all, could Tantaros opine that Hillary Clinton is a “thoroughbred horse” that’s on its way to the “glue factory.” Only on Fox News could Tantaros opine that anyone who sees the Benghazi movie “13 Hours” and then votes for Clinton is “a criminal.” Only on Fox News could Tantaros question the sincerity of the tears shed by President Obama in January as he talked about the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. (She advised checking the podium for a “raw onion.”) Only on Fox News could Tantaros declare that “Not all immigrants are created equal.” Only on Fox News could Tantaros hype the absurd scare about anti-Christian discrimination in the United States. Only on Fox News could Tantaros venture that President Obama’s anti-terrorism policy “is actually working against the United States.” (See Media Matters’s Andrea Tantaros collection for more best-of examples).
And only Fox News would continue employing a host who claimed on her radio show that the Erik Wemple Blog is a “little dweeb.” Actually, that’s just fine. To recast, only Fox News would continue employing a host who advised listeners to “punch” Obama supporters “in the face,” as Tantaros did in 2013.
The 37-year-old Tantaros, of course, is responsible for her own pronouncements. Even so, she has worked at a network whose opinion offerings — shows such as “Outnumbered,” “Fox & Friends,” “Hannity” and “The O’Reilly Factor” — encourage just the sort of crackpot formulations that keep viewers tuning in and bloggers writing up their outraged rebuttals. It’s this set of rules and incentives that accounts for Brian Kilmeade (“Fox & Friends”) allowing Trump to skate on his claim about the JFK assassination involvement of Ted Cruz’s father; for Sean Hannity paying for Newt Gingrich to fly to Indiana to meet with Trump; for O’Reilly to play the savvy PR man for Trump, a friend of three decades; and for Tantaros to say whatever foolish things she wanted to say on “Outnumbered” and other programs.
Would that Fox News had split with Tantaros over all her ridiculous commentary. That’s not what happened, according to her complaint. Fox News allegedly seized on a clause in her contract — known as “pay or play” — that would bar her from Fox News airwaves “so long as it continued to pay her,” according to the lawsuit. The rationale for this move was that she had allegedly violated the company’s “book guidelines” — i.e., restrictions governing how an employee should notify superiors of their impending book projects. In April, Broadside Books published her book, “Tied Up in Knots: How Getting What We Wanted Made Women Miserable.” The complaint scoffs at any notion that Tantaros didn’t comply with the book guidelines.
The upshot? Tantaros, like Carlson, no longer has an exciting job commenting on the day’s news for the largest audience in the industry. Tantaros, like Carlson, has bitter memories of a demeaning and secretive workplace. And Tantaros, like Carlson, has a highlight reel in which she says things that look more and more ridiculous every day. Their male colleagues have to deal with only one-half of that dung sandwich.