21st Century Fox was put on the defensive Saturday by the backlash to Rupert Murdoch’s remark in an interview suggesting that he viewed the sexual harassment cases that have enveloped Fox News as “nonsense.”
Murdoch made the comment Thursday in an interview with the U.K.’s Sky News about the blockbuster $52.4 billion acquisition agreement that Fox has set with Disney.
Amid growing anger online about what appeared to be the company chairman dismissing the severity of the problems at Fox News, the parent company sought to clarify what the mogul meant. Murdoch called “nonsense” on the suggestion that the Fox News scandals have hurt 21st Century Fox’s bottom line in a material way and will convince U.K. regulators to bar Fox’s bid to buy up the remaining 61% of Sky that it does not already own.
“It’s all nonsense,” Murdoch said Dec. 14 in the interview with Sky News’ Ian King. “There was a problem with our chief executive (Roger Ailes), sort of, over the years, but in isolated incidents. Soon as we investigated he was out of the place in hours. Well, three or four days. But nothing else since then.”
Murdoch’s lack of reference to Bill O’Reilly’s ouster in April — nine months after Ailes was fired — for sexual harassment allegations has outraged women’s rights activists. Murdoch is also being blasted for adding as an aside: “It was largely political, because [Fox News is] conservative.”
A 21st Century Fox spokeswoman sought to counter the negative reaction with a lengthy explanation of Murdoch’s intentions.
“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,” the spokeswoman said.
“Under Rupert’s leadership and with his total support, the company exited [Fox News CEO] 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,” she said.