Last week this column reflected on the fact that Fox News host Tucker Carlson is considered a potential Republican Party presidential candidate for the 2024 U.S. election. Some remarks were made about Carlson’s idiosyncratic on-air style. Also about his handling of the resignation of his main writer, a man who was revealed to have a separate online identity, spewing racist and sexist remarks under that identity.
Reaction was swift. Fans of Fox News in Canada tend to be older white males, mirroring the audience in the U.S. Some of the mail I received can’t be quoted here. The language is too coarse and the crudely expressed hatred of perceived enemies of Carlson, all women, is simply unprintable.
Even more disturbing reading can be found in a complaint, filed on Monday in New York federal court, by former Fox News producer Jennifer Eckhart. It alleges that Ed Henry, veteran Fox News reporter and host, “performed sadistic acts on her without her consent that left her injured, bruised and battered with bloody wrists.”
Henry was let go by the channel on July 1 after an investigation looked into a complaint of “willful sexual misconduct.”
The allegations in the complaint filed in court are just that: allegations. But it’s a fact Ed Henry was fired and it’s a fact that an odour hangs over Fox News. It is mind-boggling that the odour is still there. In 2016, founder and chief executive officer Roger Ailes resigned in the midst of allegations of sexual harassment. The following year, Bill O’Reilly left after it was revealed Fox News has settled several sexual-harassment complaints against him. The Ailes situation resulted in a bestselling book, a TV series starring Russell Crowe and the movie Bombshell. You’d think Fox News would want the foul odour expelled.
What Jennifer Eckhart alleges in her complaint is that she was 24 years old and new to Fox News when Henry “groomed, psychologically manipulated and coerced” her into a sexual relationship. She further alleges that he raped her in a hotel used by Fox News to accommodate its guests.
A co-complainant in the case is journalist Cathy Areu, a frequent guest on prime-time Fox News shows. She alleges that she too was harassed by Ed Henry and received pornographic images and texts from him on multiple occasions. Further, she alleges she was “subjected to inappropriate sexual harassment and retaliation” by Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Howard Kurtz.
CBS News reports that Fox News says it has already concluded Areu’s allegations are “baseless” following an independent investigation. CBS also reports that a lawyer for Ed Henry has issued a statement: “The evidence in this case will demonstrate that Ms. Eckhart initiated and completely encouraged a consensual relationship.”
Fox News issued this statement: “Ms. Areu and Jennifer Eckhart can pursue their claims against Ed Henry directly with him, as Fox News already took swift action as soon as it learned of Ms. Eckhart’s claims on June 25 and Mr. Henry is no longer employed by the network.”
This column has asserted before that American all-news TV is fundamentally unfit to cover the current complex situation – an election year, the COVID crisis and the uprising over anti-Black racism that followed the killing of George Floyd. Obsessed with each other, engaged in rancorous partisanship, and fuelled by a conflict-only dynamic, the all-news channels are a poor excuse for journalism in an extraordinary, volatile environment.
Fox News is the worst of them. It appears it cannot get its own house in order. It seems it cannot learn from its past mistakes. It damages itself constantly. And then just as the channel deservedly earned praise for Chris Wallace’s incisive and trenchant interview with Donald Trump, a scandal blows up.
Naturally the scandal becomes fodder for competing networks. On Tuesday morning, CNN’s New Day show was all over the lawsuit and the allegations it contains.
New Day co-host Alisyn Camerota, who worked at Fox News for several years before joining CNN, talked to media correspondent Brian Stelter about it. “Brian, I remember four years ago when you interviewed me about things that went on with Roger Ailes,” she said. “You asked me then, ‘Is Fox News just rotten to the core?’ and I said, ‘No, there are people there just trying to do their jobs.' I’d like to amend my answer now. Because given everything that had come out since then, I guess it is rotten to the core … the stuff in the complaint is so dark and so vile.”
She’s right about what’s alleged in the complaint. And it’s also reasonable to assert that all of the cable news channels are heading toward what can be characterized as “the gutter press.” It’s just that Fox News is in the gutter already, as it has been, again and again.
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