Judd Burstein, the New York lawyer representing Andrea Tantaros in her sexual harassment suit against Fox News and its top officials, tells the Erik Wemple Blog there’s more to come.
Monday’s lawsuit was only the beginning. In the next few weeks, I expect to complete my investigation and sue Fox and some of its executives on behalf of Ms. Tantaros based upon her right to seek damages as the victim of violations of certain federal criminal laws having nothing to do with sexual harassment, etc. The cloud of secrecy surrounding the 14th floor will be replaced by the sunlight of litigation.
Though Burstein didn’t provide additional details about his investigation, the reference to the “14th floor” is telling. This month, New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman wrote about a “Black Room” on that floor of the Fox News operation, established “around 2011 to conduct PR and surveillance campaigns against people” targeted by now-deposed Fox News chief Roger Ailes. A notoriously paranoid executive, Ailes was sued in early July by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, an action that prompted 21st Century Fox to commission a review of his management practices by New York law firm Paul, Weiss. Numerous former female employees of Fox News have seized on the Carlson suit as an impetus to tell their own, creepy stories of Ailes’s purportedly grabby ways.
Tantaros’s complaint is a catch-all description of the host’s alleged troubles at Fox News, ranging from objectification by Ailes to a banishment aided by the Fox News PR department to contractual shenanigans. “Fox News masquerades as defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny,” alleges the complaint. Fox News has declined to comment on the complaint, citing the widely invoked ongoing-litigation-no-comment clause.
Amid all the jaw-dropping claims is a false claim, that the blog TVNewser was “created and controlled” by Ailes. It was in fact launched by Brian Stelter of CNN, back when he was a college student at Towson University. And it says that a Fox News executive informed Tantaros that she wouldn’t be appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” after she fielded come-ons from the the cable news star. As we wrote Tuesday, a look at Nexis transcripts indicates that Tantaros appeared on O’Reilly’s program almost until the time she disappeared from Fox News airwaves. Burstein tells this blog that the network changed its mind about her appearances on “The Factor.”
Burstein further tells the Erik Wemple Blog, “The Murdochs have professed a desire to clean things up at Fox News, but they appear to be interested only in applying cosmetics to cover up dirt.” Though Ailes was ousted, one of his top lieutenants, Bill Shine, has since been promoted, and other executives, including top lawyer Dianne Brandi and top PR exec Irena Briganti, carry on with their duties — “the equivalent of forcing Nixon’s resignation and then leaving Haldeman and Ehrlichman in charge,” writes Burstein in an email. “Moreover, the internal investigation ordered by the Murdochs is a joke, as evidenced by the fact that no investigator has asked to speak to Ms. Tantaros even though Dianne Brandi acknowledged in writing last April that Ms. Tantaros had made claims of sexual harassment and retaliation. Indeed, today, two days after Ms. Tantaros filed suit, the investigators still haven’t called.”
With each passing day, the Fox News sexual harassment crisis bears more resemblance to phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s shuttered News of the World, at least in their shared potential to devolve into legal morasses.