Plagued by scandal, Fox struggles to change culture

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 20 2017 12:51 PM

NEW YORK - A former Fox Business Network guest commentator has accused a prominent host of rape -- the latest in a series of sexual misconduct allegations to rock the broadcaster.

Scottie Nell Hughes, 37, filed a civil lawsuit Monday in federal court in New York against presenter Charles Payne and Fox News, according to documents reviewed by AFP.

According to Hughes' lawsuit, Payne, who hosts "Making Money" on the Fox Business channel, raped her in a hotel room in July 2013. But she maintained a sexual relationship with him for almost two years, believing that this would give her more opportunities to appear on the air.

During that time she appeared regularly not only on Payne's program but also on other Fox Business programs and on Fox News, both subsidiaries of 21st Century Fox.

After ending the relationship in June 2015, Hughes said her appearances rapidly decreased, with her final appearance in March 2016.

She said she learned from Fox employees that they had been instructed to stop booking her.

The media company also compromised her chances of securing a position in the new Trump administration, Hughes alleged.

In June, Hughes' manager contacted the law firm investigating a culture of sexual misconduct at Fox, which came after several women accused male journalists and executives of harassment and other misdeeds.

Payne was suspended from his job in July as an investigation was carried out. He returned to work this month.

According to the lawsuit, Fox leaked Hughes' name to the National Enquirer tabloid, which ran a salacious story in July about the affair.

In a statement sent to AFP, Payne's lawyer dismissed Hughes' charges as completely false, and said he was confident that his client would be cleared. The Fox News channel also said the lawsuit was unfounded.

This new allegation follows a series of scandals at Fox linked to sexual harassment, including those that prompted Fox News's powerful chairman Roger Ailes to step down, and which led the network to part ways with star anchor Bill O'Reilly.

In response to an inquiry from AFP, the group recalled it employed a law firm to investigate potential deviant practices following the publication of the first allegations against Ailes.

But according to Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters -- a self-proclaimed conservative media watchdog -- that process was "unreliable."

He said investigators asked individuals to "discuss these matters in a way that could potentially be used against them in court."

"It stacks the deck against giving meaningful insight."

SHORT SKIRTS ENCOURAGED

The 21st Century Fox Group, which oversees Fox News, has emphasized its hiring of a new human resources manager at the group level and another within the network.

And since September 2016, nearly 7,000 employees -- including all of those at Fox News -- have been trained on corporate behavior, while the CEO of 21st Century Fox has insisted on the need to report any inappropriate conduct.

But those moves do not change two decades of history, says Reece Peck, a scholar of media for the City University of New York, who is preparing a book on Fox News.

"One has to be careful to draw direct one-to-one relations between a brand, their style, and the actual workplace environment," he said, but "there is a logical link that's there."

"Just talking about gender and sexism, Fox was notorious for the leg cam. The anchors were encouraged to wear short skirts," he said.

"That that would trickle down or manifest itself in the actual corporate internal culture is not shocking."

For Peck, those practices are linked to those used by magnate Rupert Murdoch, the founder of 21st Century Fox, as he made his mark on the merciless world of English tabloids in the 1970s.

The Australian entrepreneur is well known for initiating the eyebrow-raising Sun's page three -- which showed a photograph of a young woman, topless.

Peck also pointed to the "fifties" vision of Ailes -- a nostalgia for a time "when America was simple and great back in this patriarchal 1950s and 1960s."

More generally, for him, "there is a connection to conservative political ideology itself of the network" -- which maintains a separation of the sexes, in line with a part of the Republican electorate.

Though Carusone is critical of the group and the network, he does see the management of the latest case as a positive evolution.

"One thing that is fundamentally different here is that Fox News is engaging in a dialectic," she said. "They are addressing these things publicly."

tu/ch-mdo/mdl