Fox News viewers haven’t seen a change in the tone and outlook of the network’s broadcasts since the departure last summer of chief Roger Ailes. There’s still plenty of apologism for President Trump; slanted coverage savaging Obamacare and other legacies of the former president; and demagoguing any immigration topic in sight.
Behind the scenes, however, the network has been making changes. In December, for instance, it announced the hiring of Kevin Lord, formerly of Tegna and NBC News, to helm the network’s human-resources operation. The need for change here was stark, considering that the human-resources function was long considered a wholly owned subsidiary of Ailes (now deceased), who was pushed out last summer amid a sexual harassment scandal that spoke to the company’s skimpy personnel standards. “We want to give you every opportunity to be heard through a vehicle of your choice, so that we can attempt to address your concerns promptly and confidentially,” Lord wrote to employees in a memo this year.
Now there’s some evidence that there’s a gun in the HR suite. “Bob Beckel was terminated today for making an insensitive remark to an African-American employee,” reads a statement released to the Erik Wemple Blog from a Fox News spokeswoman. Such a statement was barely thinkable in the epoch of Ailes.
According to a Fox News source, the human-resources department got notification of a complaint against Beckel, a co-host of prime-time show “The Five,” on Tuesday. After a couple days of investigation, action.
The development marks the second high-profile departure of Beckel from Fox News. Back in June 2015, Bill Shine, a now-departed executive with Fox News, wrote in a nasty statement, “We tried to work with Bob for months, but we couldn’t hold The Five hostage to one man’s personal issues,” in an apparent reference to Beckel’s substance-abuse issues. “He took tremendous advantage of our generosity, empathy and goodwill and we simply came to the end of the road with him.” Later that year, Beckel put out a memoir, “I Should Be Dead: My Life Surviving Politics, TV, and Addiction.”
This January, Beckel returned to “The Five,” somewhat inexplicably. “Bob was missed by many fans of ‘The Five’ and we’re happy to welcome him back to the show,” said Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News, in a statement at the time.
“The Five” is a roundtable discussion program that revolves around personalities and button-pushing bonhomie. A suspender-wearing baby boomer with a leftward tilt, Beckel sat through taping after taping as the panel’s sole liberal voice. At his best, he curbed the anti-Obama hysteria so often spouted by his panel-mates; at his worst, he’d drop Islamophobic comments on the airwaves, generally in discussions about the terrorism threat to the United States. “I just wrote a piece for USA Today that’ll be in next week. It said, ‘I’m an Islamophobe,’ ” Beckel said after the Charlie Hebdo attack of January 2015. “That’s right, you can call me that all you want.”
Fox News is facing a racial-discrimination lawsuit from more than 10 current and former employees — chiefly on the business side of the network — who cited racist remarks by a company comptroller, Judith Slater, who was fired this year.
The firm that is representing those plaintiffs, Wigdor LLP, is representing the Fox News employee who was subjected to Beckel’s remark. “In yet another example of the 18th Century Fox mentality, Fox permitted Bob Beckel to remain in his role as a prime time co-host despite his many prior insensitive and racist comments,” note founding partner Douglas H. Wigdor and Jeanne Christensen in a statement on the matter. “This time, Mr. Beckel stormed out of his office when our client, a Black IT employee came to service his computer, telling our client that he was leaving his office because he is Black.” The Wigdor partners contend that Beckel tried to “intimidate” the IT worker in an effort to “persuade him to withdraw his complaint.”
“Because he would not do so,” the statement continues, “Fox, in what has now become common place, leaked the story on a Friday to minimize the attention drawn to Mr. Beckel’s racist behavior. Fox also neglected to inform the media of what was actually said, as well as the attempt to convince our client to withdraw the complaint.”
A Fox News spokesperson responded: “As Mr. Wigdor knows, FOX News made the decision to terminate Mr. Beckel after a prompt and thorough investigation. His client raised the complaint to Kevin Lord, EVP Human Resources, on Tuesday evening via email and within 7 minutes Mr. Lord responded and began the investigation. Today, Fox News delivered that message to Mr. Beckel and facilitated an apology from Mr. Beckel to the employee minutes after he was terminated. No one tried to persuade Mr. Wigdor’s client to withdraw his complaint.”
Wigdor indicates that it will be filing “multiple other complaints” next week.