Last summer when the news first broke about former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against then-CEO Roger Ailes, I said that this was likely the first step toward things getting fairly ugly over at American’s most-watched conservative entertainment network. Almost immediately after the news of Carlson’s lawsuit spread, ten other women had reached out to her lawyers alleging that they, too, had been sexually harassed by Ailes.
Things got even more serious when people found out that Megyn Kelly had told investigators Ailes had sexually harassed her earlier in her career. Almost immediately after that information became public, it was announced that Roger Ailes, the only CEO Fox News had ever known, was “resigning” (though he was really fired) from the network.
Within a matter of about two weeks, Ailes went from being one of the most powerful people in cable news — to a disgraced former CEO accused of being a serial sexual predator.
However, none of this was sitting right with me. As I wrote last summer, there’s no way that this kind of deplorable behavior was isolated to just Ailes. If someone in his position is behaving in this way, usually it trickles down throughout a company. After all, if the CEO feels that sexually harassing women is okay — and nothing is ever done about it — why wouldn’t other people at Fox News think they could get away with the same thing?
Fortunately for Fox News, this all happened right around the same time as the Democratic and Republican presidential conventions and the start of the 2016 general election. This was definitely a story people talked about, but the majority of the country’s attention was focused on the election.
Then, just a few weeks ago, the New York Times published a story concerning the “face” of Fox News, and top on-air talent, Bill O’Reilly’s alleged history of sexual harassment. During their investigation, they found out a total of five women had been paid $13 million in settlements by either him or his employer in relation to accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Soon after that report came out, O’Reilly abruptly “went on vacation.” Within days of this “vacation,” the network’s top asset was fired.
Think about that for a moment. Within a matter of a few months, Fox News’ CEO and top on-air personality were both fired from jobs they had held since the network was founded in 1996 because neither could apparently stop sexually harassing women.
That’s a big deal.
Still, as I said last summer, you can’t tell me that both the CEO and “face” of the network were behaving this way and they were the only two people doing it.
Well, according to a story that came out on Sunday, Sean Hannity has now been accused of sexual harassment by former network contributor and lawyer Debbie Schlussel. She’s accusing Hannity of trying to get her to come back to his hotel room during an event in Detroit both had attended. Schlussel claims that after she denied his request, she was never invited back on his show.
“This kind of stuff is all over the place at Fox News and anything that has to do with Sean Hannity,” Schlussel said during an interview on the Pat Campbell Show.
Considering it’s unlikely that there’s any proof that this took place, I don’t want to accuse her of making it up or him of being a sexual predator based on one allegation and a “he said, she said” scenario.
But as we’ve seen already, this is how it starts.
People like Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity are extremely well-known and fairly popular among their followers, which gives them a good deal of power. In situations like this, victims are sometimes scared to come out publicly because their lives could be turned into a living hell by doing so. History tells us that often when one victim speaks out publicly, that encourages others who might have been reluctant to speak out to tell their stories. So it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens over the next few days/weeks.
At this point, Fox News is already being viewed as a network where sexual harassment had been running rampant essentially since the moment it launched. The last thing they’re going to want to do is try to defend another top on-air personality being accused of sexually harassing women.
Don’t take any of this as me saying, definitively, that Sean Hannity is on his way out at Fox News. The network is highly unlikely to get rid of someone with his stature over one allegation that’s almost certainly lacking any evidence to support it. But if the pattern we saw with Ailes and O’Reilly is any indication of what the future may hold for Hannity, this allegation could very well be the beginning of the end for another big-name at the network.
Now that the election is over, and eyes are back on Fox News, people are going to be digging around to see how wide-spread this sexual harassment scandal goes at the network. In my opinion, it’s not a matter of if someone else is going to eventually be fired for sexually harassing women — just when.
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