When Andrea Tantaros filed her Aug. 22 sexual harassment suit against Fox News and various top executives, she spared few colleagues. Defendants included the network itself, former chief Roger Ailes and four top executives. “The fish stinks from the head,” alleges the complaint, citing a coterie of lieutenants who “condoned” the alleged harassment by Ailes.
Broadening out from there, the suit cited the names of various colleagues who were only remotely related to the charges at hand. For instance, the document alleges that Ailes gossiped with Tantaros about various Fox News personalities. He reportedly said the following inappropriate things:
Not content to allow these folks to be thus embarrassed, Fox News, in a Monday filing that seeks to steer Tantaros’ suit into the secret world of arbitration, stood up for these folks. Such “gratuitous allegations,” says the Fox News motion, “serve no purpose other than to embarrass these individuals, and require a response.”
That response relies on resumes. For instance: “Shannon Bream is an attorney whose legal acumen as Fox News’ Supreme Court correspondent is known to viewers throughout the country.” And: “Monica Crowley’s distinguished career includes 20 years as a journalist. Earlier, she worked for the White House when she was just 22 years old.”
In a passage with greater consequences, the Fox News motion carries the rebuttals of three non-defendants whose alleged misconduct is cited in the Tantaros complaint. From the filing: Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown made “sexually inappropriate comments” to Tantaros on the set of “Outnumbered” and put his hands on her “lower waist”; commentator Ben Collins made “unwanted sexual advances” toward Tantaros; and Fox News correspondent John Roberts “highly inappropriate comments” to Tantaros, including this question: “Have you frozen your eggs?”
Again, the Fox News motion relies in part on biography to rebut these allegations:
John Roberts has been a journalist for 40 years and was inducted into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame. Tantaros’s allegation that he asked her an improper question
relating to in vitro fertilization is dishonest and takes Roberts’s words entirely out of context (they occurred after several serious discussions with Roberts and his wife about
his wife’s forthcoming book on this subject).
Scott Brown served as a United States Senator and as a Judge Advocate General in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. His interactions with Tantaros were professional and cordial, and in full view of other personnel and talent.
Ben Collins is a former Green Beret. He was utterly stunned to learn of Tantaros’s accusations, and vehemently denies them.
That all makes sense. A network accused of rampant sexism must defend itself and its people. In this case, not all of its people, however. King of Cable News Bill O’Reilly stands accused in the Tantaros suit of pursuing his colleague, though he’s not named as a defendant in the suit. Here’s O’Reilly’s moment in the complaint:
[C]ommencing 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.”
So there are the allegations in the Tantaros suit; where is the rebuttal in the Fox News motion? It’s not in there. The Erik Wemple Blog this morning asked Fox News about the situation, and a spokesperson issued this statement: “There is nothing to defend in Tantaros’s suit because Mr. O’Reilly is not a defendant. He is mentioned once in a 37 page complaint, and that mention is not worth defending because it is untrue.” Fred Newman, a lawyer for O’Reilly, told The Post’s Paul Farhi just about the same thing: “I don’t think you should read anything into it. There is nothing to defend in Tantaros’s suit because Mr. O’Reilly is not a defendant. He is mentioned once in a 37-page complaint, and that mention is not worth defending because it is untrue.”
Never let it be said that Fox News and the attorney for its top-rated hosts aren’t on message.
When a lawyer cautions against reading “anything into” something, alas, it’s often a good idea to read a lot into it. Here, Fox News left its meal ticket, the host of cable news’ leading program for years, dangling in the margins of a damaging lawsuit. There’s been a great deal of chatter about what will happen to O’Reilly now that Ailes, his great protector, is out of the building. His contract expires next year and he’s said that he doesn’t want to keep working so hard.