Just when the folks at Fox News thought they were finally out of the woods, recovering from the Roger Ailes fiasco while boasting about record ratings, former Fox personality Andrea Tantaros is raining on their parade.
Tantaros, who on Aug. 23 sued Ailes and four other executives for sexual harassment and retaliation, will today file an affidavit from her former therapist that supports her claims against Ailes, his former deputy Bill Shine, now Fox News’s co-president, and even against Fox News’s biggest star, Bill O’Reilly.
Tantaros had filed her lawsuit amid her paid suspension from the airwaves—ostensibly punishment for violating her contract by publishing a book without Fox News’s approval. Shine was promoted after Ailes’s July 21 abrupt ouster in disgrace because of fired anchor Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit.
“In 2014, Andrea told me about meetings with Mr. Ailes in his office where he engaged in highly inappropriate and offensive behavior,” claims Michele Berdy, a Manhattan clinical psychologist, in the affidavit to be filed in New York Supreme Court. “I have a very clear recollection that Andrea was very upset that Mr. Ailes had (a) unsuccessfully asked her to turn around for him so he could view her posterior, (b) unsuccessfully asked her to hug him, (c) asked her if she planned to marry, (d) discussed his negative views about marriage, (e) asked her questions about the sexuality and sexual relationships of other people working for Fox News, and (f) made insulting comments about a number of women working for Fox News.”
As for O’Reilly—who was forced into a multimillion-dollar settlement 12 years ago after being sued for sexual harassment by one of his female producers—Berdy claims: “I also recall a number of occasions when Andrea complained to me about recurring unwanted advances from Bill O'Reilly, which included an invitation to his ‘very private’ beach house, and comments about his perception that she was ‘wild.’” (O'Reilly is not listed as a defendant in Tantaros's lawsuit.)
Tantaros’s attorney, Judd Burstein, made Berdy’s affidavit public, waiving doctor-patient confidentiality, on the same day he filed motions in New York Supreme Court arguing that his client should not be held to her Fox News employment agreement requiring that she submit any dispute to private arbitration. Instead, Burstein argued, she should be permitted to sue in open court.
Ailes’s attorney, Susan Estrich, emailed The Daily Beast: “Taking no chances that her opposition to the motions to compel arbitration would be seen as anything other than an over-the-top press release, Ms. Tantaros has simply released it as an over-the-top press release. No serious litigant waives privileges willy-nilly in a press release, but Ms. Tantaros is not a serious litigant.”
Estrich added: “She knows this case will go to arbitration, and that her half-truths and outright lies will be rejected. This is nothing more than her last chance to sell books through her fabricated story.”
In an Aug. 29 court filing responding to Tantaros’s lawsuit, Estrich asserted that Tantaros “was never harassed by Mr. Ailes,” adding that “not once did Ms. Tantaros ever complain that Mr. Ailes had sexually harassed her, much less that she had been retaliated against as a result.”
Referring to the lawsuit’s other defendants—Shine, general counsel Dianne Brandi, public relations executive Irena Briganti and programming executive Suzanne Scott—Estrich’s brief called them “among the most talented, loyal and honorable men and women in television…That Ms. Tantaros thinks nothing of falsely attacking their reputations is shameful.”
Estrich, a high-profile feminist who wrote a book about rape, arising from her own experience of being sexually assaulted as a young woman, added: “If any defendants ever commented on how Ms. Tantaros looked, it likely was because Ms. Tantaros plastered pictures of herself in a bikini all over the internet (actually nearly nude), and many people at Fox News were shocked and perplexed by this; there was certainly talk.”
Tantaros’s attorney, Judd Burstein, told The Daily Beast: “In my experience, there are lines that you do not cross,” adding, “you don’t abandon principles for which you have stood your entire life.”
Burstein, meanwhile, said that Berdy’s affidavit proves that—contrary to Fox News’s claims that Tantaros made up her sexual harassment allegations to “muddy the waters” of her recent contractual dispute and exploit the Gretchen Carlson case—his client was complaining about the behavior of Ailes and others at least two years before she had any intention of suing.
“Short of a tape recording, it’s really the most compelling evidence you can have in a case,” Burstein said in an interview, “because she [Tantaros] makes the statement contemporaneously, with no motive whatsoever to lie, but in fact a motive to be completely truthful, because it’s a discussion with her therapist.
“And Fox’s whole claim is that she never raised these issues, she invented these issues, in response to the book [problems]. This just blows them out of the water.”
A Fox News spokesman declined to address the claims in the affidavit, saying only: “We stand by our earlier motion to compel arbitration”—a reference to legal wrangling in which Fox News insists that Tantaros’s employment agreement prohibits her from suing in open court and requires her to settle any dispute with the company in a secret arbitration proceeding.
Asked why his client is going public now with Berdy’s affidavit, which was signed and sworn on Sept. 15, Burstein said: “We are being victimized. Andrea Tantaros doesn’t have God knows how many sock-puppet accounts [on Twitter] and doesn’t have the force of the Fox News media machine behind her. And there are two courts: There’s the court down at Centre Street and then there’s the court of public opinion. Each day she stands by and lets Fox get away with the notion that she just made this story up is one more day where her reputation is being besmirched.”
Burstein said Tantaros turned down a seven-figure settlement offer from Fox News, which would have essentially paid her for the duration of her contract, which runs through August 1, 2017. He added that in recent weeks, apparently in response to her lawsuit, Fox News stopped sending her the paychecks she was receiving under the terms of her suspension. A Fox News spokesperson disputed this, however, telling The Daily Beast, “She is still being paid.”
Burstein later said that Fox News missed a payment, and then resumed paying his client at a rate of $850,000 a year—which, ironically, given that Tantaros is suing her employer and hasn’t worked at the cable outlet since April, represents a $50,000 raise that kicked in last August.
In a highly unusual move, frowned upon by the legal establishment, Burstein also released to the media the proposed confidential settlement agreement that Fox News offered Tantaros to resolve each side’s respective claims. Tantaros refused to sign it.
In return for dropping her sexual harassment lawsuit and Fox News dropping its breach of contract claim arising from Tantaros’s book, Tied Up in Knots: How Getting What We Wanted Made Women Miserable, Fox would have continued to pay her full salary through Aug. 1, 2017.
But the proposed settlement also required Tantaros to acknowledge that she violated her contract by publishing the book without approval; agree not to disparage Fox News or discuss her experiences except with her lawyers and family; and assist the company in its legal defense against other potential litigation.
Among other provisions, it would also have kept her off the air until February 1, 2017—at which point she’d be free to seek another television job as long as she notified Fox News and accepted $150,000 or 50 percent of her remaining salary, whichever was less, to end Fox News’s obligation.
The proposed settlement also prohibited Tantaros from suing more than a dozen named Fox News executives and personalities, including Lisa Kennedy, John Roberts, former senator Scott Brown, Bill O’Reilly, Dana Perino, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Kirsten Powers (now at CNN), and Greg Gutfeld.
Berdy no longer treats Tantaros but, according to copies of emails provided by Burstein, contacted her on Sept. 7 to offer help in response to publicity about her lawsuit.
“Dear Andrea,” Berdy wrote on that date, according to the copied email in which addresses and other portions are blacked out. “I know that you're telling the truth--whatever your issues with me or our work together, if I can be of help in validating your claims, please get in touch. Take gd care, Michele.”
In a second email, dated Sept. 11, Berdy wrote: “Dear Andrea, Thanks for your kind words. I dont [sic] feel particularly courageous, nor am I comfortable with public attention, but the excoriation of you in the press as an opportunist and a liar is repugnant to me.
“Todays [sic] NY Times ethics column has in bold print 'the really compelling reason to volunteer a truth is so that other people have, and can act on, a proper understanding of the world.’ Your decision to reveal your experience of the humiliating, erotocized [sic] atmosphere at Fox may also help others to recognize that such behavior is illegal and profoundly unacceptable.
“I dont [sic] know whats [sic] ahead but whatever transpires we can only try to illuminate with the truth. Onward. Take gd care, Michele.”
Burstein said neither Tantaros nor Berdy were available for interviews.
Berdy’s affidavit goes on: “I recall that in 2015, Andrea called me on another occasion, and told me that she was distraught and humiliated because Mr. Ailes had told her in front of two of her peers that she should be wearing a tighter dress. She told me that his deplorable predatory and public sexual harassment of her made her feel disgraced and ashamed, and that she was very concerned about the perception and reputational damage it caused her among her colleagues who witnessed it.”
The affidavit continues: “I also recall that, on another occasion, Andrea told me that she had just been informed that she was, without warning or explanation, being moved from ‘The Five’ to ‘Outnumbered.’ She further told me that it was abundantly clear to her that she was being punished for not acceding to Mr. Ailes' request that she turn around so he could view her posterior.
“Andrea shared with me on multiple occasions that Mr. Ailes was retaliating against her by directing the person in charge of Fox News's public relations department, Irena Briganti, to withhold all substantive support for her to promote and build her public image. Over time, Andrea told me that it had become abundantly clear that Ms. Briganti was not only following Mr. Ailes's directions not to provide any public relations assistance to Andrea, but that he was doing so with great animus.
“I recall Andrea telling me that the sole Briganti-arranged interview following her rebuffing Mr. Ailes's wholly inappropriate conduct consisted of a reporter asking her highly offensive questions, including questions about her breasts and the public's perception of same.”
“Subsequently,” the affidavit continues, “Andrea relayed to me her outrage and embarrassment about the manner in which the interview was conducted, and how emotionally distraught she was over the story when it was published.”
(In fact, Tantaros was permitted to participate in at least one other interview—with this reporter, for an October 2014 feature on Outnumbered.)
“In early 2015,” the affidavit continues, “I received a message from Andrea, sobbing on the telephone, and asking for an emergency phone session. When I spoke with her, she told me that she had been summoned to a meeting with Mr. Ailes where he brought her to tears because he (a) discussed how he thought she would look in a bikini, (b) asked her pointed questions about why she had broken up with her former boyfriend, (c) expressed his view that Andrea was a mean person who had just taken advantage of her former boyfriend and, (d) told her that she 'uses men.'
“Andrea described the meeting as the most traumatic experience of her professional career, and that she was on the verge of breaking down on the air after his vindictive and emotionally torturous treatment of her.
“Over the course of many months (2014 - 2016), Andrea relayed to me on multiple occasions instances of Mr. Ailes' demeaning and overtly predatory behavior toward her, as well as the abusive conduct of Fox News's public relations department.”
Focusing on the conduct of Ailes’s successor, who is co-president of Fox News along with longtime Rupert Murdoch executive Jack Abernethy, Berdy continues: “Andrea also repeatedly told me about a significant number of meetings that she had with Mr. Shine in which she informed him about Mr. Ailes's treatment of her and the Ailes-led retaliation that followed. I recall Andrea being shocked and devastated after a meeting with Mr. Shine in which he told her that she needed to stop complaining about Mr. Ailes's sexual advances towards her, and his subsequent retaliation. He then followed this directive by telling her that she must forget about what Mr. Ailes had done to her, instructing her: ‘Don't fight this; because Ailes ‘is a very powerful man,’ and that she needed to ‘let this one go.’
“Andrea found Shine's warning ‘not to fight this’ as both very threatening and extremely disturbing. On another occasion, I recall Andrea pleading to Mr. Shine for relief from retaliation by Ailes and Briganti by asking him to ‘please let me do my job.’”
The affidavit adds: “In 2016, I recall Andrea telling me that after multiple futile meetings with Mr. Shine, she sought relief from the retaliation and the improper behavior at Fox by requesting a meeting with [programming vice president] Suzanne Scott. Yet again, her complaints were ignored. She repeatedly expressed to me her increasing frustration that the behavior and hostile conditions at Fox was continuing unabated.
“In 2015 and 2016, I recall Andrea expressing how upset she was by the hyper-sexualized and exploitative conditions at Fox News, including the inappropriate behavior towards her by a number of male guests on ‘Outnumbered.’”
Editor's note: this article has had further material added to it since its original posting.