Pressure on Fox to change not likely to go away
NEW YORK (AP) — Stories about an abusive workplace at Fox News Channel aren’t likely to go away even after claiming the jobs of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Bill Shine.
The continued presence of other executives implicated in stories about harassment, discrimination and intimidation complicate Fox’s ability to change its culture, both in practice and public perception. One of those executives was promoted with Fox’s announcement Monday that Shine, Fox’s co-president since founding CEO Roger Ailes was ousted last summer, had resigned.
“There’s a case to be made that the place is so toxic and radioactive and there’s very little you can do unless you wipe out everybody and start fresh,” said David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources provider based in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Fox’s parent 21st Century Fox is attempting the turnaround while trying to protect its greatest asset — a thriving, profitable news network that’s essential to its politically conservative fans and thus far unhurt by ugly stories about its Manhattan headquarters. The risk in a sudden, wholesale housecleaning is removing all of the people who know how to run it successfully.
Fox News has maintained its status as the top-ranked cable news network despite the loss of Ailes and O’Reilly, its top-rated prime-time star. Another Fox personality, Sean Hannity, assured fans he was staying despite his public support for Shine, a close colleague. Shine had been accused of looking the other way at behavior by Ailes and O’Reilly, even retaliating against people who complained.
Suzanne Scott, a 21-year Fox veteran who was promoted to president of programming Monday, has been named in three lawsuits filed against Fox in recent months.
Andrea Tantaros, a Fox personality who had accused Ailes of sexual harassment, said nothing had been done after she complained of his behavior to Scott. Similarly, news anchor Kelly Wright, who has accused Fox of discriminatory behavior, said Scott failed to address concerns he had expressed to her. Fox’s Julie Roginsky said in her lawsuit that Scott tried to recruit her to disparage Gretchen Carlson, the anchor who was the first to accuse Ailes of sexual harassment. Scott said through a spokeswoman that she never asked women to back Ailes.
Fox’s chief counsel, Dianne Brandi, has also been mentioned several times by former and current Fox employees who had concerns about how they were treated.
The lawsuit on racial discrimination, of which Wright is among 13 plaintiffs, talks about an atmosphere of hostility created by Judith Slater, Fox’s since-fired comptroller. One of the plaintiffs, Monica Douglas, said she complained about Slater’s behavior to Brandi and was told Slater would not be fired because “she knew too much” about the behavior of other Fox executives.
Brandi has denied the accusations through a Fox spokeswoman, and Slater has disputed the characterizations of her behavior through a lawyer.
In that lawsuit, Douglas said that Slater told her not to complain to the head of human resources at Fox, Denise Collins, because she was a good friend and would do nothing to help her. Collins remains at Fox, although the company appointed Kevin Lord, an executive from outside of Fox who worked at NBC and General Electric, as the new chief of human resources overseeing her.
Another Fox News employee, Diana Falzone, sued the company this week, saying that she was told that Fox executives ordered that she no longer appear on the air after she wrote an article in January for the Fox website detailing her battle with endometriosis.
According to her complaint, “the male-dominated senior management at Fox News obviously objected to the fact that a female on-air host had disclosed she suffered from a women’s reproductive health condition which, in their eyes, detracted from her sex appeal and made her less desirable.” Falzone said that male Fox employees like Neil Cavuto and Bob Beckel faced no repercussions for publicly discussing their own health issues.
Fox’s public relations chief, Irena Briganti, was charged in Tantaros’ lawsuit with turning Fox’s PR operations against her when she complained about Ailes — including the creation of false social media accounts from which she was criticized. Fox has denied the allegation.
Nancy Erika Smith, lawyer for Carlson, Roginsky and Falzone, said that Shine’s departure from Fox was an overdue positive step.
“To begin to change the culture at Fox, there are others who have enabled and encouraged the sexism that should be next, starting with Dianne Brandi, Suzanne Scott and Irena Briganti,” she said.
Attorney Lisa Bloom, who has represented women in harassment complaints against Ailes and O’Reilly, also said Fox needed to take more action.
“After decades of flouting the laws against sexual harassment and retaliation, if the network wants to redeem itself, it should fire all executives who were complicit in covering up for harassers and driving out women who complained,” she said.
The issue for Fox is in rebuilding trust among employees who feel that their concerns about the workplace had not been listened to, and that’s difficult when some of the same executives are still there, said Lewis, the human resources expert.
“People who were harassed are not going to feel safe,” said Rob Wilson, president of Employco, a human resources provider based in Westmont, Illinois.
Since his start in January, Fox said Lord has begun building a new human resources team, including new heads of recruiting and diversity and a Washington-based executive to head human resources in bureaus outside of New York. Fox has also hired a new chief financial officer, Amy Listerman, formerly CFO of Scripps Networks Interactive, who began work this week.
21st Century Fox had no comment on Tuesday. The company has, however, noted the speed in which investigations proceeded and action was taken against Ailes and O’Reilly — arguably the two most prominent figures at the network. In both cases, the allegations against the men dated back years, and the men remained with the company until recent media reports raised public pressure.
Tom Vogel, a senior vice president for crisis communications at JConnelly in New York, said the Murdoch family that controls 21st Century Fox will probably face less investor tolerance for bad behavior than in the past. And nothing is more dangerous for them than a threat to the bottom line.
“They may be dragged kicking and screaming, but Fox will eventually do the right thing,” Vogel said. “However, the longer it takes to take definitive measures, the longer it will take to recover what they’ve lost.”
AP Business Writer Joyce Rosenberg in New York contributed to this report.