The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A new CEO at Fox News, Suzanne Scott, comes with baggage from the Ailes years

The headquarters of Fox News in Midtown Manhattan. With Suzanne Scott as its new CEO, Fox is the only major TV news operation with a woman in the top executive spot, but her role in past harassment cases is being questioned. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

Fox News named veteran programmer Suzanne Scott as its new chief executive on Thursday, making Scott the first woman to hold the top job at the network long beset by claims of sexual harassment.

But her appointment was met by immediate criticism from those who say Scott was involved in Fox’s efforts to thwart employees’ claims of harassment under her longtime boss, Fox News’s late co-founder, Roger Ailes.

Scott — who has been with Fox since its inception in 1996 and most recently served as president of programming — was named to lead Fox News and Fox Business Network by Lachlan Murdoch, the chairman of Fox parent 21st Century Fox and the son of Rupert Murdoch, the company’s executive chairman. Jack Abernethy, who was Fox News’s co-president, will move aside and continue as chief executive of Fox’s television stations group.

The younger Murdoch said in a statement that Scott “has now made history as [Fox’s] first female CEO.” She is also the only woman in charge of a major TV news organization.

But the news drew a rebuke from Nancy Erika Smith, the attorney who represented former “Fox & Friends” host Gretchen Carlson in the 2016 lawsuit that led to Ailes’s firing. Scott’s appointment “shows that Fox News has no intention of changing its culture,” said Smith, who in 2016 reached a $20 million settlement on behalf of Carlson, who claimed that her career at Fox had been derailed when she rebuffed Ailes’s sexual advances.

Smith also represented two other women, Julie Roginsky, who sued Fox for harassment, and Diana Falzone, who sued for discrimination. Both of those suits have been settled. She is also the attorney for several women who have filed a suit against former Fox host Bill O’Reilly that claims he defamed them after settling past claims of inappropriate sexual conduct with them; that suit is pending.

Scott was not a defendant but was named within Roginsky’s harassment complaint, also filed in 2016. Roginsky, a former Fox News contributor, said Scott was a member of a team of senior executives who “retaliated” against employees or contributors who complained about Ailes’ alleged harassment.

The complaint named Scott, former Fox president Bill Shine, former general counsel Dianne Brandi, and communications chief Irena Briganti as members of this executive group protecting Ailes.

Roginsky’s suit — which was settled in December — also asserts that Scott, Fox contributor Angela McGlowan and Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle sought to recruit Fox News employees and contributors to retaliate against Carlson by saying disparaging things about her in the wake of her lawsuit against Ailes.

The Roginsky complaint claims that both Scott and Guilfoyle said they were part of “Team Roger,” and that Scott took no action when advised of Roginsky’s harassment allegations against Ailes and later “marginalized” Roginsky by limiting her on-air appearances.

Fox denied the allegation.

The Post's Margaret Sullivan looks at the legacy Ailes leaves behind and the country he helped shape. (Video: Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

The network’s former director of booking, Laurie Luhn, also implicated Scott in her allegations of harassment against Ailes. Luhn told New York magazine in 2016 that Ailes harassed her for years, and that she suffered a mental breakdown after Ailes’s reassigned her to a new job in 2007. Ailes allegedly attempted to address Luhn’s mental health by flying her from Texas to New York, where Scott reportedly picked her up and checked Luhn into a hotel under Scott’s name. Scott denied this account in 2016 through a spokeswoman.

But people at Fox say Scott and Ailes had a more distant and difficult relationship than the one depicted by Ailes’s accusers. She rose to senior vice president under him in 2009, but did not rise further while he ran the network. Ailes was forced out by Fox in July 2016 following Carlson’s lawsuit against him, after which Scott was elevated to executive vice president. She was promoted to president of programming after the network ousted its co-president, Bill Shine, last May.

In his statement, Murdoch said Abernethy was “a steadying force” at Fox after Ailes’s firing. He said Abernethy implemented “extensive policies and procedures while streamlining management and installing respected industry executives in key roles, all of which achieved our goal of creating a more transparent work environment.”

Abernethy largely dealt with the post-Ailes aftermath at Fox. Under his watch, the network recruited a new general counsel and reorganized its human-resources department. He also appointed two women to top jobs in finance and advertising sales.

Scott, who began as a programming assistant at Fox in 1996, oversaw Fox’s programming through this rocky period, which included the ouster of Bill O’Reilly in 2017, also amid harassment claims. The network’s prime-time lineup, consisting of hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, has largely recovered.

She is also credited as the co-creator of several Fox programs built around female personalities — “Outnumbered Overtime,” hosted by Harris Faulkner; “The Story,” hosted by Martha MacCallum; and “The Daily Briefing,” hosted by Dana Perino.

In addition to Scott’s appointment, Fox promoted Jay Wallace to president of Fox News and executive editor. Wallace’s previous title was president of news and editorial, managing news programming, newsgathering, political coverage and debates and town halls.