Rupert Murdoch Hasn’t Done Enough to Fix the Culture at Fox News
Another woman to come forward. Another story of sexual assault. Another reason to doubt the Murdochs’ and 21st Century Fox’s commitment to changing the culture at Fox News. Once again, the alleged perpetrator—this time Fox Business Network host Charles Payne—is still on the job while the woman involved, pundit Scottie Nell Hughes, says she’s been blacklisted after telling her story.
Under Roger Ailes’s leadership, Fox News for decades cultivated a workplace culture permissive of serial sexual harassment, and it all happened on Rupert Murdoch’s watch. Indeed, Murdoch—who for so long let Ailes be Ailes—should be held accountable for allowing this perverted boys club culture to take hold.
You’d have to be willfully ignorant to not know that problems were lurking at Fox. Just watching the network alone should have raised red flags for any executive, revealing that a culture hostile toward women lurked behind the scenes. Women are routinely objectified and harassed on air in an environment that closely resembles President Donald Trump’s idea of a typical men’s locker room. I would know. I’ve watched Fox daily since I joined Media Matters as a researcher in 2005.
According to The Wrap, 21st Century Fox had to settle reports about sexual harassment at Fox News as early as 1998. But little has been done to address the systemic sexual harassment and misconduct at the network other than settling lawsuits here and there over the years. At the same time, Fox became a cash cow for the Murdochs, earning over a billion dollars in revenue annually for its parent company.
It wasn’t until former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for harassment, and at least 25 additional women came forward to make similar reports, that the Murdochs were shamed into intervening. And even then, all they did was set up a sham investigation into the matter that Vanity Fair said “never officially expanded to examine the broader culture of Fox News” but instead “simply got a revenue machine back on track.”
It’s obvious that the investigation didn’t look past Ailes. To start, Murdoch initially kept on Bill Shine, a top Ailes deputy who was implicated in pervasively covering up Ailes’s harassment and wrongdoing. Then in March, former Fox News contributor Tamara Holder reached a legal settlement with 21st Century Fox after she reported that Fox News Latino executive Francisco Cortes had sexually assaulted her in 2015. Cortes was subsequently fired. Fox Sports fired Jamie Horowitz, its head of sports programming, amid an investigation into sexual harassment reports. Host Bill O’Reilly was fired for engaging in predatory sexual behavior. Host Eric Bolling parted ways with the network after reports surfaced that he sent unsolicited pictures of his penis to other Fox employees. And now Payne has been accused of rape.
All of this allegedly happened before Ailes was fired, but the disciplinary moves come as the Murdochs face intense scrutiny from British regulators who are weighing whether to approve their bid to acquire the Sky PLC satellite broadcaster. Coincidence? At the risk of sounding cynical, it seems the company takes measures to protect women only when others are watching and it might impact the bottom line.
If anything is actually going to change at Fox, the Murdochs must be held accountable for their outlets and employees. When James Murdoch circulated an email about Trump’s defense of white supremacists and neo-Nazis and emphasized the need to “stand up to” this toxic hatred, we encouraged him to start with Fox. If the Murdochs truly care about how women at their company are treated, they should prove it by cleaning house at its most profitable network.
Julie Millican is the vice president at Media Matters.