There’s a certain corporate mind-set that allows a sexual harassment culture to germinate and thrive for decades. And it was on display Thursday, as 21st Century Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch was interviewed by Sky’s Ian King about the company’s deal to sell its entertainment assets to Walt Disney Co. for $52 billion. When King asked whether Fox News’s troubles with sexual harassment over the past two years had harmed the company, Murdoch riffed:
“All nonsense, there was a problem with our chief executive, sort of, over the years, isolated incidents,” replied Murdoch. “As soon as we investigated it he was out of the place in hours, well, three or four days. And there’s been nothing else since then. That was largely political because we’re conservative. Now of course the liberals are going down the drain — NBC is in deep trouble. CBS, their stars. I mean there are really bad cases and people should be moved aside. There are other things which probably amount to a bit of flirting.”
What a grasp of history: Under the always-vigilant supervision of Murdoch himself, that chief executive, the late Roger Ailes, spent two decades at Fox gathering accusers. The stories ranged from the merely gross — like the time he went after Megyn Kelly in the 2000s: “He tried to grab me three times. Make out with me, which he didn’t. But I had to shove him off of me. And he came back. And I shoved him again, and he came back a third time. And then when I shoved him off a third time he asked me when my contract was up,” said Kelly — to the barbaric, like the psychological torture he visited upon a Fox News booker.
New York magazine reported that more than two dozen women had come forward to accuse Ailes of misconduct in these decidedly “isolated incidents.” All this isolated nonsense just happened to take down the career of King of Cable News Bill O’Reilly, as well. As reported by the New York Times, six women who’d accused him of sexual harassment or outright misconduct reached settlements with him or Fox News. In one of them, O’Reilly paid out $32 million to stellar legal analyst Lis Wiehl. After the paperwork was signed, Wiehl left; O’Reilly stayed on, though not for long.
This highly abridged summary makes clear: Fox News’s sexual harassment cannot be minimized. Sure, other networks — including NBC News’s Matt Lauer fiasco and CBS News’s Charlie Rose outrage — have their issues, and one gets the sense that there are still plenty more harassers to be outed. Yet Ailes managed to construct a legal-institutional complex at Fox News — complete with a compliant HR apparatus and extensive use of non-disclosure and arbitration agreements — designed to facilitate the sexual harassment of women.
It’s no wonder, then, that there’s a backlash afoot against Murdoch, as articulated in a HuffPost story by Yashar Ali. “I’m contacting a lawyer tomorrow,” one Fox News host told Ali. “I’m sick of this s[–––].”
Intending to calm things down a bit, a 21st Century spokesperson released this statement:
Rupert never characterized the sexual harassment matters at FOX News as ‘nonsense.’ Rather, he responded negatively to the suggestion that sexual harassment issues were an obstacle to the Company’s bid for the rest of Sky. Under Rupert’s leadership and with his total support, the Company exited Roger Ailes, compensated numerous women who were mistreated; trained virtually all of its employees; exited its biggest star; and hired a new head of HR. By his actions, Rupert has made it abundantly clear that he understands that there were real problems at FOX News. Rupert values all of the hard-working colleagues at FOX News, and will continue to address these matters to ensure FOX News maintains its commitment to having a work environment based on the values of trust and respect.
With all respect to the 21st Century Fox spokesperson, people are capable of reaching their own interpretations of Murdoch’s words.
That’s just what Juliet Huddy did. She’s among the group that reached settlements over the behavior of O’Reilly. Following her settlement and departure from Fox, Huddy has struggled to find work in television. “I can tell you that I’ve been filling in recently as a guest host on Curtis Sliwa’s radio show on 77WABC,” she told this blog earlier this year. “But as for a permanent tv job, all very quiet on that front. I would imagine as I said before that managers may be hesitant to hire someone whose name keeps being brought up as tied to a salacious scandal.”
Responding to Murdoch’s statement, Huddy posted a letter on Saturday warning of consequences to come. In an email to the Erik Wemple Blog, she called Murdoch’s comments “appalling and alarming.” May it never be said that Murdoch lacks a talent for motivating people.