Fox News has “solved” its image problem. After last week’s attempt to roll out a new and improved Fox News floundered — which resulted in a mysterious, sudden “vacation” for correspondent Jesse Watters — co-president Bill Shine, one of the cable news network’s founding fathers, resigned from the network. In his place, Fox News promoted Suzanne Scott to president of programming on Monday, making it a full month of turmoil since the New York Times first published their exposé on sexual harassment claims against Bill O’Reilly on April 1.
Scott’s promotion, at first, appears encouraging. Her elevation at the network seems to indicate that Fox News is taking the problem of retaining and encouraging female employees seriously — and optically, at least, her new role evinces awareness from the Murdoch family that combatting a culture of sexual harassment might require at least the appearance of the input and experiences of, you know, women.
But Scott is a member of Fox News’ old guard — in Shine’s words, a founding member right there with himself, O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and Sean Hannity. Scott was reportedly responsible for enforcing Ailes’ miniskirt policy around the office; she is cited in both Andrea Tantaros and Julie Roginsky’s suits as one of the executives in power who either ignored or covered up their complaints of harassment. As a woman in this environment, she may have been a target of harassment herself. But her longstanding tenure at the highest echelons of Fox News, and the details of the suits, indicate that she was instrumental in perpetuating the culture at Fox News and then hiding the evidence.
Simply promoting a woman is not a panacea for a culture of gendered harassment. (It would be nice if it were.) But any manager who advances a toxic culture is not fit to solve the problem of that culture. If these reports are true, Scott has advanced her own career, as groundbreaking as it may be, by undermining the women underneath and around her. That’s not feminism, that’s mercenary — and it’s a tactic that has been used by representatives of marginalized groups throughout history, with mixed success.
For Scott’s current best corollary, look no further than the White House, where Ivanka Trump has positioned herself as the civilizing force opposite her father’s administration. Yes, she is a woman; yes, she even advocates for increased opportunities for women and girls in her speeches and through her brands. But despite her increasingly high-level role in the White House — which she benefits from — the Trump administration has become progressively worse for women as a whole. Similarly, female conservative politicians, from Margaret Thatcher to Marine Le Pen, have had notoriously bad records on rights for other women, i.e., women besides themselves.
On one hand, Scott fits into a model provided by other politically conservative women leaders, which may speak to Fox News’ viewer base. On the other hand, that won’t change a culture that the Murdochs themselves have affirmed needs to change. It seems Fox News is hoping Scott will solve their problems by marrying their longtime culture with the short-term pressure of at least appearing making a change. It is possible that Scott could be the way forward — free of Shine, O’Reilly, and Ailes, perhaps she has a different ethos in mind for the network she has been with since its inception. (And if she is inclined to make serious change, a strong statement from her about workplace culture might assuage doubts and bolster morale — especially if it were to include an acknowledgement and apology of her own prior mistakes at the company.)
But given that Scott is literally a defendant in Tantaros’ lawsuit, it’s hard to not be skeptical of what new ethos she will bring to the network. As it stands now, Scott is less a remedial influence for Fox News’ continued culture problem than she is a sanitizing one — a promotion that looks good, but provides no improvement beyond image management. That might sound like a good solution for Fox News, which has been reluctant to dismiss wrongdoing employees who were essential to the network’s lucrative brand. But it’s a band-aid, when the network has indicated it needs surgery: If the culture doesn’t change under Scott, another damaging story is going to emerge sooner or later.
And all of this focus on varying shades of feminism glosses over the fact that Scott’s hiring — and Fox News’ entire shakeup — is engineered to assuage doubts about the network’s concerns with regards to (largely white) women employees, and not the network’s similarly troubling record with racial discrimination — discrimination that Fox News anchor Kelly Wright affirms he brought to Scott, who then, he says, ignored it.
The point is that discrimination — and actionable harassment suits — will flourish in an environment where anyone is treating anyone else as a second-class citizen. Perhaps Scott herself will not be making passes at the female employees of Fox News. But if she was okay with that behavior for the last decade — then what else is she okay with?