Rupert Murdoch (Credit: AP/Josh Reynolds)
Bill O’Reilly may be gone at Fox News, but Rupert Murdoch’s festering Fox News mess isn’t going away anytime soon.
Murdoch cut ties with the host last week after multiple women’s reports of sexual harassment became public. Since then, seven black Fox News employees indicated that they plan to join a racial discrimination suit filed last month by two colleagues, according to New York magazine, and three former Fox employees — Margaret Hoover, Alisyn Camerota, and Kirsten Powers — said on CNN that the culture of sexual harassment at Fox News is deeply ingrained. “The culture … is still there because the executives are still there,” said Hoover.
Then on Monday, former Fox host Andrea Tantaros filed a new lawsuit against the company in federal court, which alleges, “A person working for Fox News was responsible for hacking Ms. Tantaros’s computer so that she could be spied upon.” (Last year, Tantaros sued Fox News for $30 million, claiming sexual harassment.)
Murdoch, his sons James and Lachlan, and 21st Century Fox — which they control and which owns Fox News — are still facing numerous corporate challenges, which might still be raging on July 6.
That date will mark the one-year anniversary of Gretchen Carlson filing her sexual harassment lawsuit against former Fox News boss Roger Ailes, which triggered numerous other reports of harassment from women working at Fox News. “As a direct and proximate result of Carlson refusing Ailes’ sexual advances, and retaliation for Carlson’s complaints about discrimination and harassment, Ailes terminated her employment, causing her significant economic, emotional and professional harm,” Carlson stated in her filing. (She later reportedly settled the suit for $20 million.)
It’s quite possible that 52 weeks later, Fox News and the Murdoch family will still be mired in the mess.
Yet I get a sense that the media mogul and his sons are getting something of a pass in the press in the wake of the reports about O’Reilly and Ailes, which followed Murdoch’s ugly wiretapping chapter in the U.K.
How many strikes do they get?
As the media grappled with the reports about O’Reilly last week, Murdoch was portrayed as a “pragmatist” and a “savvy political observer.” And driving the Murdoch sons? They’re determined to steer “the family ship far into a new century, with new standards of workplace behavior,” according to The New York Times. Additionally, the Times stressed that the sons “seem determined to rid the company of its roguish, old-guard internal culture and tilt operations toward the digital future.”
Somehow Murdoch, a famously active manager, has been portrayed as a distant player who was oddly not culpable for what has transpired at the highest levels of Fox News.
And that’s absurd.
If Murdoch were a “pragmatist” who was actually concerned with cleaning up the rotten culture at Fox News, he would have thoroughly addressed the raging problem last summer when the reports of Ailes harassing female employees were making headlines.
Instead of addressing the huge problem, Murdoch and his sons consciously chose to paper it over by simply dismissing Ailes, while actually promoting a top Ailes deputy, Bill Shine, even though he’d been accused of helping to cover up claims against both Ailes and O’Reilly. Those don’t sound like executives concerned with ridding the company of an “old-guard internal culture,” as the Times claims.
Then, months later, Murdoch renewed O’Reilly’s contract despite the fact that O’Reilly and Fox News had settled five harassment suits.
That’s not the Murdochs being pragmatic. That’s them being wildly cavalier and irresponsible.
Yet some journalists seem to be viewing the latest issues within Murdoch’s corporate empire through a soda straw and not seeing the entire, unsettling picture. They’re treating last week’s firing of O’Reilly as strictly a Fox News problem, instead of as part of a larger culture of criminality that Murdoch has fostered for years at his media companies.
Recall that in the 2011 phone-hacking scandal, reporters at Murdoch’s British newspapers illegally tapped into the voicemails of celebrities, politicians, and even a murdered teenager, Milly Dowler.
As Vanity Fair noted at the time (emphasis added): “The hacking story has confirmed the fears of those who see the hand of Murdoch everywhere: the News of the World was hacking into thousands of people’s private voice mails. The paper was paying off the police.”
By 2015, it was estimated that the scandal had cost Murdoch’s company more than $500 million, which included “paying out some 377 legal settlements to victims of voicemail interception and a further 341 payouts through a voluntary compensation scheme, which was set up as an alternative to litigation.”
The hacking was thought to represent Murdoch’s professional low point. But now come the revelations of Fox News’ apparent disregard for workers’ rights.
British regulators are currently deciding whether Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox would qualify as “fit and proper” to purchase satellite TV giant Sky. Attorney Lisa Bloom, who represents several women who say O’Reilly sexually harassed them, recently stressed to British officials, “The similarities between the current harassment scandal and the phone-hacking scandal reveal the company’s approach to business and management – a lack of oversight, intervention, and decency.”
Note that in recent years, Murdoch employees have been accused of not only hacking into phones, computers, and emails, but also of paying off news sources. And today, Fox News is reportedly under federal investigation for allegedly try to hide the mountainous payments the company has made to women claiming sexual harassment.
Rupert Murdoch’s not a savvy pragmatist committed to cleaning up the harassment culture at Fox News. He’s been a profound enabler who placed profits above workplace decency. He deserves no gentle treatment from the press.