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The crisis of morality at Fox News

Roger Ailes stepped down as Fox News chairman and chief executive July 21 amid a sexual harassment suit. (Video: Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

Ed Henry once held an exalted position at Fox News. As a correspondent covering the Hillary Clinton campaign, he did his assigned job of badgering the candidate into taking questions. In fact, the Clinton traveling press corps could use a little Ed Henry right about now.

That won’t be happening, however. Whereas Henry’s title was once chief White House correspondent, it’s now chief national correspondent, a general-assignment gig in which he won’t be doing political reporting. After a nearly four-month-long hiatus, Henry will be returning to the airwaves on Monday (as first reported by The Hill), perhaps with an update on a fire or a public-health issue.

The drop in prestige for Henry comes via tabloid embarrassment. As noted in this blog, Henry was exposed in In Touch magazine as having an extramarital affair with a Las Vegas “hostess.”

To the Fox News bench went Henry. “We recently became aware of Ed’s personal issues and he’s taking some time off to work things out,” said the network in an early May statement. Weeks later, Fox News officially booted him from the Clinton beat, replacing him with veteran correspondent Jennifer Griffin. Though Fox News didn’t release a rationale for its treatment of Henry, his indiscretions could have been a liability while covering a presidential election in which Donald Trump has warned that the handling of Bill Clinton’s very own marital infidelity could be a bona fide campaign-trail issue.

Former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros filed a lawsuit against the network, becoming the second host in two months to accuse former network chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment. (Video: Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post, Photo: Charles Sykes/The Washington Post)

Whatever the case, Fox News’s moves on the Henry matter required some degree of moral authority, and they were made by former Fox News chief Roger Ailes. While Henry was “working things out,” Ailes was being exposed as a serial sexual harasser. Grim details from the reportage on his treatment of women include the time he grabbed the buttocks of an intern, not to mention a decades-long torment of a booker named Laurie Luhn. As Gabriel Sherman reported in New York Magazine, Ailes allegedly instructed Luhn to dress in black garter and stockings as he videotaped her dancing for him. When she asked him what he planned to do with the footage, he allegedly responded, “I am going to put it in a safe-deposit box just so we understand each other.”

This is the fellow who stood in judgment of a colleague who had some flings in Las Vegas.

Though Ailes is gone, top lieutenant Bill Shine has been promoted to co-president of Fox News, a position in which he manages news and programming for the network. That’s a continuity hire. As Sherman reported, Shine had played a role in assisting Luhn as her problems mounted because of her relationship with Ailes. (The New York Times reports that Shine has said he was unaware that the two were “romantically involved.”) In her sexual harassment suit against Fox News, Andrea Tantaros claimed that when she raised her complaints about Ailes’s sexual harassment, Shine responded by saying that the boss was a “very powerful man.” Through a spokeswoman, Shine insists that Tantaros never approached him about sexual harassment by Ailes.

As Henry comes back into rotation, he’ll be working not only among various executives who worked alongside Ailes, but also among a bevy of colleagues who spoke out in favor of him when he first came under fire for this dreadful conduct, via a July 6 sexual harassment/retaliation suit from former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson. Perhaps the most outspoken was Greta Van Susteren, who ditched caution and prudence with these words:

“Of course, the first thing that occurred to me is that, unfortunately, we have a disgruntled employee, a colleague,” she told People. “I read that her show wasn’t being renewed and, being a lawyer, I thought she got angry. I deal with Roger Ailes often. I’ve often been alone with Roger Ailes in his office over the course of 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like what I’m reading about in the papers and the magazine.” She also suggested that what Carlson alleged simply didn’t happen: “People come to me because I’ve been there so long. That’s why this doesn’t have any ring of truth to me. I would have heard it. People don’t keep things silent.”

After a number of women came forward with stories similar to Carlson’s — prompting Ailes’s departure from Fox News — the Erik Wemple Blog asked Van Susteren whether she would apologize to Carlson for dissing her account. The host of “On the Record With Greta Van Susteren” replied off the record.

Days later, Van Susteren defended herself on the fabulous blog Gretawire. In so doing, she delivered a selective abridgment of her comments:

At the outset of the Roger Ailes investigation, right after Gretchen Carlson lawsuit hit the papers, I said:
1/ I never heard of the sexual harassment allegations – no one ever came to me and said anything to me about it – not once;
2/ I never saw it
3/ It never happened to me
4/ I said that Gretchen Carlson was unhappy when she was at Fox News (she told me that a few years back when we both happened to be in London covering the same story but never said it was sexual harassment.)
What I said above was true when I said it …and it is true now.
In the meantime, all sorts of motives and intentions have been assigned to me.
I did not defend Roger Ailes nor did I condemn him. I just stated what I knew or did not know. Period.

To repeat, Van Susteren threw Carlson’s account into doubt, by saying, “That’s why this doesn’t have any ring of truth to me. I would have heard it.”

Van Susteren was behaving just as the Roger Ailes Fox News would have her behave, as a loyal knee-jerker who gets out in front of the evidence.