On Monday, Fox News responded to a lawsuit filed against the company, former CEO Roger Ailes and other executives by Andrea Tantaros, a former Fox News host who says she was sexually harassed and then banned from the network.
Tantaros says she was harassed by Ailes but also by a number of other men who are not named as defendants, including John Roberts, former Senator Scott Brown and the network’s biggest star, Bill O’Reilly.
In response, Fox News has filed a scathing reply to Tantaros, calling her an “opportunist” and a “wannabe.” Fox’s lawyers say the company is committed to “making things things right with those women who were not treated with the respect they and every employee deserve.” Tantaros, in their view, is not one of those women.
Most of the filing concerns a technical legal matter — Fox News insists that Tantaros needs to take up her claims in private arbitration rather than in court. Fox News builds an arbitration provision into all of their contracts. This generally keeps disputes like this from the public eye. Private arbitration also generally provides more favorable outcomes to corporations. There are some circumstances that would supercede an arbitration provision and the lawyers are arguing about whether any of them apply here.
The most interesting part of Fox News’ filing, however, had nothing to do with the legal arguments. Rather, it was contained in an unusual “ADDENDUM” that the lawyers attached to their filing.
In this attachment, Fox News seeks to clear the name of everyone mentioned in Tantaros’ complaint. The assumption seems to be that everything is made up and therefore, attributable to Tantaros. For example, Tantaros alleges in her complaint that Ailes called Fox News contributor Kimberly Guilfoyle a “Puerto Rican whore.” The Fox News addendum treats this as a smear leveled by Tantaros and counters that Guilfoyle “is a former Assistant District Attorney in both Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
The addendum goes on to deny Tantaros’ sexual harassment allegations against several men not named as defendants. Fox’s lawyers say that they “already investigated all of these accusations and found no evidence to support them.”
They name, and specifically deny, allegations against John Roberts, Scott Brown and Ben Collins. The filing says, for example, that Scott Brown’s interactions with Tantaros “were professional and cordial, and in full view of other personnel and talent.”
One person who is not mentioned at all: Bill O’Reilly.
Tantaros’ complaint makes very specific allegations against O’Reilly:
[C]ommencing in February 2016, Bill O’Reilly (“O’Reilly”), whom Tantaros had considered to be a good friend and a person from whom she sought career guidance, started sexually harassing her by, inter alia, (a) asking her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be “very private,” and (b) telling her on more than one occasion that he could “see [her] as a wild girl,” and that he believed that she had a “wild side.” Fox News did take one action: plainly because of O’Reilly’s rumored prior sexual harassment issues and in recognition of Tantaros’s complaints, Brandi informed Cane that Tantaros would no longer be appearing on O’Reilly’s Fox News show, The O’Reilly Factor.
While taking pains to deny the allegations against every other man and woman mentioned in the lawsuit, Fox’s filing is silent on O’Reilly.
In a statement, O’Reilly’s lawyer said “Don’t read anything into it…[He’s] not a defendant.” The lawyer also denied Tantaros’ allegations.
Still, the statement from O’Reilly’s lawyers provides more questions than answers. It’s true that O’Reilly is not a defendant but neither are the other men discussed in the “Addendum.”
Why was O’Reilly left out? Did Fox News offer to include him in their denials? Or did their investigation preclude such an offer?
We may find out the answers as the lawsuit proceeds. Or, the case might be sent back to arbitration where these issues can be resolved behind closed doors, which is exactly where Fox News wants them.