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Seven more African-American Fox News employees are expected to join two black colleagues who are suing the network for racial harassment from former comptroller Judy Slater and accounting director Tammy Efinger, according to a new report from New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman.
This escalation in Fox’s legal troubles comes amid longtime host Bill O’Reilly’s ouster due to multiple sexual harassment allegations and an adviser exodus from his show, and Fox owner Rupert Murdoch’s bid to take over British satellite broadcasting company Sky News -- which threatens British broadcasting standards thanks to the toxic corporate culture exposed by allegations of widespread sexual and racial harassment at Murdoch’s key American TV network. It also comes as the explicit sexism and racism of Fox News continues to fester, with the leadership of Fox now under Bill Shine, a man who helped cover up harassment at the network by former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.
The network was originally forced to fire Slater after she made racist comments to co-workers. According to The New York Times, the original lawsuit from a Fox payroll manager and payroll coordinator alleges they were racially harassed with “racially charged comments” from Slater, “including suggestions that black men were ‘women beaters’ and that black people wanted to physically harm white people.” The lawsuit alleged, “Slater’s superiors did little to address her behavior, which created a hostile work environment that resulted in ‘severe and pervasive discrimination and harassment.’”
New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported in an April 23 piece that seven other black employees plan to join this racial discrimination lawsuit. According to lawyers representing the affected employees, “Not once did Ms. Efinger step in or attempt to interfere with Ms. Slater’s outrageous conduct," instead “laugh[ing] or giggl[ing] following Ms. Slater’s vitriol.” The letter also details new racist, Jim Crow-era behavior from Fox’s accounting department, such as forcing the black employees to have “‘arm wrestling matches’ with white female employees in [Slater’s] office.” In an appearance discussing his report on MSNBC’s AM Joy, Sherman said these new descriptions of racist behavior at Fox “are really evident of a culture that is entrenched and that has not changed in the wake of Bill O'Reilly's departure.” From the report:
The Murdochs hoped firing Bill O’Reilly would signal a changing culture at Fox News. “We want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect,” Rupert and his sons, James and Lachlan, wrote in a memo to Fox News employees on Wednesday. But the dismissal of Fox News’s highest rated host isn’t going to end the crisis at the network. The toxic culture, fostered for 20 years by former CEO Roger Ailes, is proving far more difficult to remedy.
Next week, according to sources, seven black Fox News employees plan to join a racial discrimination suit filed last month by two colleagues. The original lawsuit alleged that Fox News’s longtime comptroller, Judy Slater, subjected members of Fox’s payroll staff to racial insults for years. (Fox News fired Slater in February after those employees began litigation against the network.)
Lawyers representing the payroll employees are demanding that Fox’s accounting director, Tammy Efinger, also be removed from supervising an employee because she allegedly participated in Slater’s racist behavior. In a letter to the network’s lawyers obtained by New York, the attorneys state: “Not once did Ms. Efinger step in or attempt to interfere with Ms. Slater’s outrageous conduct.” The letter adds, instead, “Ms. Efinger chose to laugh or giggle following Ms. Slater’s vitriol.”
According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Slater demanded that black employees hold “arm wrestling matches’” with white female employees in her office, just down the hall from Ailes’s office on the 2nd floor of Fox headquarters. “Forcing a black woman employee to ‘fight’ for the amusement and pleasure of her white superiors is horrifying. This highly offensive and humiliating act is reminiscent of Jim Crow era battle royals,” the letter says, referring to the practice of paying black men to fight blindfolded at carnivals for white spectators’ entertainment. The lawyers argue that Efinger bragged about wanting to “fight” a black employee.
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Shine Continues At The Helm Despite Reports That He Helped Cover Up Sexual Harassment At The Network
It took years of sexual harassment reports, millions of dollars in non-disclosure agreements, and a successful advertisers boycott, but Bill O’Reilly was finally fired from Fox News. But his ousting cannot be taken as indicative of a major culture shift within the network as long as current co-president of Fox News Bill Shine continues to be at the helm. As senior executive vice president, Shine reportedly retaliated against women who reported sexual harassment by former-CEO Roger Ailes and helped participate in covering up the reports that eventually led to Ailes’ ouster.
After Ailes was fired in August 2016, the network swiftly promoted Shine and Fox executive Jack Abernethy as co-presidents. In September, Fox announced that Shine had signed a new multi-year contract with the network, saying the deal guaranteed "stability and leadership to help guide the network for years to come.” Shine, however, has been named in various lawsuits against the network for his “complicity,” and it has previously been reported that Shine played a key role in helping cover up Ailes’ conduct by silencing and “smearing” women who complained.
According to New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, Shine aided Ailes in handling Laurie Luhn, a woman who reported Ailes for sexual and psychological harassment, by checking her into hotels in different cities after she suffered a mental breakdown and monitoring her outgoing emails. Former Fox host Andrea Tantaros named Shine as a defendant in her sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against Fox News and Roger Ailes. According to Tantaros’ lawsuit, she met with Shine to discuss “relief from Ailes’ sexual harassment and [Executive Vice President Irena] Briganti’s retaliatory media vendetta against her," but Shine “told her that Ailes was a ‘very powerful man’ and that she ‘needed to let this one go.’” Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky also named Shine in a lawsuit against Ailes, in which she said Shine was complicit in “Ailes’ harassment and of punishing her for raising the issue.”
Shine, who has been described as Ailes’ “right-hand man,” has reportedly “pushed women into confidential mediation, signing nondisclosure agreements in exchange for their contracts to be paid,” which is consistent with the recent New York Times reporting about five women who “received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly or the company in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations.” The payouts amount to “about $13 million.” According to Sherman, Shine “played a role in rallying the women to speak out against Roger Ailes’ accusers and lead this counter-narrative to try to say don't believe Gretchen Carlson.” NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik corroborated such reporting in a tweet, writing, “Some within Fox News tell me programming/opinion EVP Bill Shine, an Ailes confidant, knew of misconduct & ensuing complaints by women.”
If Fox wants people to believe that they’re trying to improve the culture at the network, Shine should be the next one to leave.
“He seems to be kind of a pathological guy.” -- Bill O’Reilly biographer Marvin Kitman.
Fox News should have fired Bill O’Reilly a long time ago.
Clearly, O'Reilly should have been ousted over his years-long reported pattern of sexual harassment, which the network spent years enabling and covering up until it was forced to take action this week.
But O'Reilly also deserved to be booted from his lofty prime-time perch for shredding any semblance of ethics in journalism.
I’m thinking specifically about two years ago, when O’Reilly was caught fabricating his resume by claiming to be have been a war correspondent who had a courageous knack for popping up at dangerous hot spots around the world where he witnessed killings firsthand.
Remember? He supposedly risked it all during the Falklands War in a “war zone.” He watched as those four American churchwomen were gunned down in El Salvador in 1981. And he nearly got killed by bricks while covering the bloody 1992 L.A. riots, and witnessed first hand the trauma of an urban civil war in Northern Ireland.
Turns out those life-threatening “combat” claims were made up.
Like a modern-day Walter Mitty, O’Reilly just concocted the tall tales in order to make his life seem more compelling and make himself seem more accomplished. It seems the closest O’Reilly ever came to combat duty was filing dispatches from the channel’s never-ending War on Christmas.
The 2015 controversy represented a humiliating and very public undressing. But Fox News didn’t seem to care, and neither did O’Reilly. (He even lied that the media firestorm had boosted his ratings.)
“In a way, it's impossible to win a debate with O'Reilly because he is not bound by reality,” noted Mother Jones’ David Corn, who broke the story about O’Reilly’s fabrications.
And that’s been the secure bubble O’Reilly built for himself at Fox: He wasn't bound by reality and neither were his producers or viewers, which meant all bets were off.
In 2011, Glenn Beck lost his highly rated show on Fox when advertisers fled after he called President Barack Obama a racist. That was a big deal because it pulled back the curtain of invincibility and showed that the cable news ratings giant was susceptible to online activism; that boundaries of acceptable behavior could, occasionally, be applied to Fox.
Then last summer, Fox founder and architect Roger Ailes was fired after numerous women reported that the Fox chief had harassed them.
Neither of those sackings compare to the media bombshell that went off when O’Reilly, the most-watched and highest-paid man in cable television news, was fired this week. O’Reilly’s unceremonious sacking is, hands down, the most important personnel move in Fox’s 21 years on the air.
And that’s because, in addition to being part of a seemingly systemic culture of sexual harassment at the network, O’Reilly shaped the Fox News persona. O’Reilly’s bitter, bullying, and self-pitying DNA is the same DNA that defined the channel's jerk culture for two decades.
Yes, O’Reilly’s a liar and a nativist and a bully (to guests and staffers) who has polluted the public dialogue without remorse. But what also defined O’Reilly, and what helped define Fox News for much of the last 20 years, was an ingrained sense of self-aggrandizement coupled with bottomless victimization. That became Fox’s hallmark pathology, suggesting that (wealthy) white middle-aged Christian men in America face an obstacle course full of cultural and political barriers that make life unbearable.
It’s a feel-bad fantasy that revolves around the idea that powerful and often-unseen forces are working against Everyday Joes. And O’Reilly has led that gloomy parade as a kind of Eeyore figure, constantly bemoaning the state of affairs and most often blaming others, usually the less powerful.
That’s been O’Reilly's M.O.: self-puffery fueled by narcissism and self-pity, coupled with a deeply flawed view of his own abilities. And that’s basically been the Fox News on-air model for two decades: Be brash, make stuff up, tell guests to shut up, and smear people.
And it worked. Propelled by the impeachment of Bill Clinton, followed by the Florida recount in 2000 and the relentless on-air flag waving of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, O’Reilly’s ratings at Fox News soared as he and his cohorts both delivered an openly partisan take on the news and morphed into the marketing wing of the Republican Party.
O’Reilly patented the jerk model and forged a connection with his angry viewers to the point where they didn't care, for instance, if he fabricated his resume and lied to them about his “combat” reporting from years past.
He was a jerk. But he was their Irish, Long Island-born jerk. The one who told his aging white viewers that together they could stand at the barricades of cultural and political change.
“In a business where there are a lot of reprehensible people, he stood out as particularly dishonest, obnoxious, self-centered,” is how one former colleague described working with O’Reilly.
He was a “pompous jerk,” added Rory O’Connor, who went to high school with O’Reilly and then worked with him at Channel 5 in Boston. O'Connor told Boston magazine that O'Reilly “was despised in the newsroom -- but he didn't care.”
Marvin Kitman, who interviewed O'Reilly more than two dozen times for the biography he wrote about the broadcaster, told Media Matters in a 2015 interview, “He’s a pretty lousy human being.”
But don’t take their word for it. Take it from the man who gave O’Reilly his Fox News perch, Roger Ailes:
I said Bill, you’re authentic. You’re an authentic prick. It’s just not on the air. Like, you’re a prick to your staff, you’re a prick to management. You’re a prick to your family. You’re authentic. You’re actually a prick. And that has allowed you to become very successful.
But it allowed him to become successful only because Fox News embraced O’Reilly’s persona and built a cable channel around it. And then it spent years looking the other way and enabling its top-rated host despite numerous incidents of reported harassment -- because he made the network money.
Today, Fox is belatedly trying to clean house. But the culture runs deep.
Fox’s Decision To Fire Bill O’Reilly Was Entirely Profit-Driven
As Fox News parts ways with longtime host Bill O’Reilly, some may be tempted to claim that his departure is a sign that the network and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, care about women who have been sexually harassed. But the decision has nothing to do with the systemic toxic misogyny Fox News traffics in; it’s about the bottom line.
Following an April 1 New York Times story reporting that O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox together paid a total of $13 million to five women who said O’Reilly sexually harassed them, dozens of advertisers began to pull their ads from his Fox News program, The O’Reilly Factor. Estimates suggest that the boycott could cost the network nearly $40 million in advertising revenue. It wasn’t until it was faced with this loss in revenue that the media company decided to part ways with O’Reilly.
If Fox cared about creating a safe workplace culture for women, O’Reilly would have been gone years ago. According to the Times, O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox paid a $9 million settlement in 2004 to O’Reilly Factor producer Andrea Mackris who reported that O’Reilly harassed her. 21st Century Fox continued to employ O’Reilly and other serial harassers and enablers for more than a decade after that settlement, even re-signing his contract with Fox News through 2020 just weeks ago.
It’s no secret that Fox News fosters a culture of toxic misogyny. In the past year, several women have come forward saying former CEO Roger Ailes sexually harassed them. And the men who went on to replace Ailes have their own histories of covering up serial harassment or reportedly engaging in harassment themselves. The network has continued to hide behind the investigation it commissioned the law firm Paul, Weiss to conduct after women spoke up about Ailes, but that examination has been revealed as a total sham.
Fox is not even hiding its sexist crap behind the scenes. Just hours after the network announced that O’Reilly was leaving, Fox co-host Greg Gutfeld -- part of The Five, which will soon take over a 9 p.m. slot on the network in the aftermath of O’Reilly’s firing -- engaged in textbook sexual harassment by telling his female colleague that she was giving America an erection. And the other men filling prime-time slots in O’Reilly’s wake are sexist pigs, too.
Fox News didn’t fire O’Reilly until he was losing the network money. Even then, the top executive was hesitant to let him go. While losing O’Reilly makes Fox a safer place for women to work without fear of harassment, that wasn’t what drove this decision. It was money.
Graphic by Sarah Wasko
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It’s official: Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News. What exactly does that change? What stays the same?
On April 1, The New York Times wrote that O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, have paid out at least $13 million in settlements with five women reporting sexual harassment by O’Reilly. After weeks of relentless activism from progressive organizers including Media Matters, of advertisers pulling their ads from the O’Reilly Factor time slot, of more courageous women coming forward to share their own reports of misconduct by O’Reilly, of hundreds of sexual violence survivors asking Fox to do better, O’Reilly has been deemed too toxic for Fox.
O’Reilly’s smug on-camera demeanor, his attacks on women for speaking up, and his attempts to blacklist media outlets that reported on his sexual harassment settlements as far back as 2004 will be diminished if not gone for good. The lies he tells about women’s bodies and the blame he lays squarely at women’s feet every night will be silenced, at least for now.
But what happens to the company, and the culture, that allowed him to thrive for so long? O’Reilly abused the power he was given by Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Shine, and Jack Abernethy. These are the same men who greenlighted a sham investigation into the workplace culture at Fox News, who oversaw decades of mistreatment of women employees, and who profited when O’Reilly and his peers (including replacement Tucker Carlson) launched racist and sexist attacks on their shows.
Only one of those men is no longer in the picture, because he, too, abused the power he had to harass women. The rest remain, and thus it also remains to be seen if Fox News will actually change for the women it employs.
What’s more, the way women move through the world won’t change because of O’Reilly’s firing. The statistics won’t change with the downfall of one man.
One in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 has been sexually harassed at work.
More than 90 percent of women who work in tipped wage positions in restaurants have experienced some form of sexual harassment.
About 70 percent of women who experience workplace sexual harassment do not report it, for fear of retaliation.
Our culture won’t change this quickly either. The pain of countless women lingers in O'Reilly's wake.
Bill O’Reilly won’t be around every night to remind me -- and, I’m sure, countless others -- of the men who have hurt and violated us in the past. But the president of the United States will be; in fact, he’s come to O’Reilly’s defense.
Image at top created by Sarah Wasko.
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Fox News announced that host Tucker Carlson would be taking over Bill O’Reilly’s prime-time 8 p.m. slot after O'Reilly was forced out following pressure from advertisers amid an increasing number of sexual harassment reports against the longtime host. However, Carlson has a long record of minimizing rape and sexual harassment reports, as well as making sexist and demeaning comments against women and gender equality.
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