Roger Ailes was ousted from the top position at Fox News Channel Thursday in the wake of allegations of sexual-harassment made against him, but controversy continues to swell around the 21st Century Fox-owned cable-news outlet.
New York magazine and The New York Times on Saturday posted reports about the departure of former Fox News correspondent Rudi Bahktiar, who told both outlets she was forced out last decade by senior executives after complaining about harassment by a colleague, Brian Wilson, who was slated to become the network’s next Washington Bureau Chief. Bakhtiar told New York she won $670,000 plus legal fees through mediation, and felt compelled to break a non-disclosure agreement now by the recent imbroglio swirling at Fox News. Gretchen Carlson, a Fox News anchor who was on the air until June, earlier this month filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment by Ailes, which in turn spurred an internal review by the network’s parent company that resulted in Ailes’ departure.
The Times also said its reporters had interviewed around a dozen women who “said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it.” Wilson told the New York Times that he took “strong exception” to Bakhtiar’s account. Ailes has denied the allegations made against him.
The new reports suggest, however, that the culture of Fox News remains under a microscope, and that some of its senior executives are likely to be drawn into the fray. Both Bill Shine, the network’s senior vice president of programming, and John Moody, the network’s executive vice president and executive editor of FoxNews.com, are cited in the reports as having been involved in the decision to remove Bakhtiar. Both executives have been cited in press reports as potential successors to Ailes.
A spokesman for 21st Century Fox declined to comment on the reports on Saturday, but pointed to a statement the company made to the New York Times: “As we’ve made clear, there’s absolutely no room anywhere at our company for behavior that disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.” A Fox News spokeswoman referred a query seeking comment to the network’s corporate parent.
Viewers might not realize that such drama is taking place behind the sets of such popular Fox News programs as “The O’Reilly Factor,” “The Five” and “Outnumbered.” Indeed, Fox News during its coverage of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at this week’s Republican National Convention garnered viewership that beat that of every other network – cable or broadcast – covering the event Thursday between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.
At the network, however, the issue continues to weigh on employees. While a multitude of Fox News on-air personnel, including Greta Van Susteren, Maria Bartiromo, Bret Baier and Geraldo Rivera, have come to Ailes’ defense in recent days, others remain on guard. Indeed, some employees were shocked to learn that the parent company is keeping Ailes on as an adviser to Rupert Murdoch, the 21st Century Fox executive chairman who has stepped in as Fox News’ interim leader, according to a person familiar with the network. This person said some employees felt the situation raised future problems, as it allowed Ailes to have direct access to the executive managing employees who may have come forward in the internal review.
Those conditions could come into play in months to come: Megyn Kelly (pictured, above), Fox News’ primetime star, is working under a contract that is set to expire in 2017.
The fuse to the explosive revelations was lit by Carlson, who earlier in July filed charges alleging propositioned her sexually and derailed her career after she complained about treatment of women at the cable-news network. Ailes countered that Carlson was seeking revenge after her contract wasn’t renewed.
Allegations of this sort are unusual in the news business, said Gloria Allred, a high-profile attorney who regularly takes on cases involving sexual harassment and civil rights, because “the victim usually fears that if they make the allegation publicly, they may never work again or they may be blackballed. Whether that is the reality or not, that is the perception. that is the fear.”
The parent company paid Ailes a sum said to be around $40 million – the salary remaining on his current contract – as part of its separation, according to a person familiar with the matter. The emergence of more allegations indicates his departure won’t mark the end to this roiling saga.