The forgotten sexual harassment scandal at Fox News

The network’s unbalanced approach to serious allegations.

Victoria’s Secret models Candice Swanepoel, left, Chanel Iman, second left, and Erin Heatherton are interviewed on the “Fox & Friends” television program by co-hosts Steve Doocy, second from right, and Brian Kilmeade, in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Victoria’s Secret models Candice Swanepoel, left, Chanel Iman, second left, and Erin Heatherton are interviewed on the “Fox & Friends” television program by co-hosts Steve Doocy, second from right, and Brian Kilmeade, in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

It all started with Steve Doocy.

On July 6, 2016, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sued Roger Ailes, alleging she was sexually harassed. The suit prompted an investigation of Ailes, his eventual firing, and a $20 million settlement for Carlson.

The investigation of Ailes, and the public standard it set for Fox News, set the precedent for the ouster of Bill O’Reilly last week, following numerous allegations of sexual harassment.

But Carlson’s problems with Ailes began when she complained to him about the conduct of Steve Doocy, her co-host on Fox & Friends.

According to Carlson’s complaint, Doocy “engaged in a pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment of Carlson.”

Doocy was not named as a defendant. But Carlson claimed Doocy created a “hostile work environment” by treating her in a “sexist and condescending way,” regarding her as a “blond female prop.”

An excerpt from Page 3 of Carlson’s complaint
An excerpt from Page 3 of Carlson’s complaint

When Carlson complained to Ailes about Doocy’s conduct, he told her that she needed to “get along with the boys.” Things went downhill from there.

Ten months later, Ailes and O’Reilly are gone. But Steve Doocy is still on the air every weekday starting at 6AM, his conduct largely absent from discussions of sexual harassment at Fox News.

‘Everyone on staff knew’

About a month after Carlson filed her lawsuit, a former staffer for Fox & Friends told Politico that “[e]veryone on staff knew about or saw Doocy make inappropriate comments, but most people just rolled their eyes at it.”

Some inappropriate and sexist treatment of Carlson by Doocy and co-host Brian Kilmeade made it on air. It was captured in devastating fashion by Bloomberg News.

Initially, Fox News defended Doocy but indicated it would investigate his conduct. “While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter,” a spokesperson for 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, said.

But the investigation does not appear to have made a serious inquiry into Doocy’s conduct.

‘I haven’t heard anyone address Doocy’s status’

A longtime Fox News executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter that “[e]veryone who I know who has been interviewed has been asked solely about Ailes.” The executive told Stelter he thought that was “odd because I haven’t heard anyone address Doocy’s status and he was part of the original complaint.”

When the settlement between Fox News and Carlson was announced in September 2016, it included an apology from Fox: “We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.”

It’s unclear if this apology was meant to encompass Doocy’s conduct as well. But while Ailes was sacked, Doocy received no public reprimand or punishment.

Carlson’s settlement with Ailes and Fox News appears to bar her from discussing Doocy’s alleged sexual harassment.

Last month, the Washington Post’s Eric Wemple asked Carlson about Doocy. “I can’t comment on that,” Carlson said.

Trump’s favorite show

Doocy sticks out as an especially strident supporter of Donald Trump in a network full of strident supporters of Donald Trump.

One thing that didn’t faze Doocy was the tape of Trump on Access Hollywood bragging about sexual assault. Doocy described the entire incident as a “covert attempt to derail the Trump train.”

Since becoming President, Trump has rewarded Doocy and his co-hosts with extensive access, including a recent interview in the Oval Office.

Doocy asks Trump a question in the Oval Office in a March 2017 interview.
Doocy asks Trump a question in the Oval Office in a March 2017 interview.

Trump is not only a regular guest on Fox & Friends, he’s a devoted viewer, frequently live-tweeting the show.

All the love and attention from the President of the United States have, unsurprisingly, been good for ratings. Fox & Friends had its best month ever in February, averaging 1.7 million viewers, up 46% over the previous year.

Questioning Doocy

While Fox News basks in early morning ratings, key questions about Doocy remain unanswered.

Did Fox News investigate Carlson’s claims about Doocy? If so, what were the results of the investigation? Was Doocy subjected to any discipline? If not, does Fox News believe that Carlson is lying or that the conduct described in the complaint was acceptable?

The firing of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, the network’s CEO and top rated host, were billed as an effort by Fox News brass to change the corporate culture.

But how can real change be possible if serious allegations against one of its most prominent personalities go unaddressed?