Fox News Nightmare May Derail Murdochs’ UK Sky Deal
British media regulator Ofcom to hear evidence of sexual and racial harassment at Fox News, as it considers Murdoch family’s bid to take control of Sky.
Fox News’s continuing legal and corporate image problems seem destined to trigger a sort of London Hell Week for the cable outlet’s parent company, 21st Fox, as well as for 21st Century Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch, and his sons Lachlan, the co-chairman, and James, the CEO.
The Murdochs’ long-planned $14 billion bid to take total control of the highly profitable European television and internet platform, Sky—an acquisition thwarted seven years ago by public outrage over the British phone-hacking scandal involving the Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World—will come under a fusillade of opposition starting on Monday from two American lawyers who have alleged that executives at Fox News and its parent company have fostered a workplace culture that tolerated sexual harassment, retaliation and racial discrimination.
Los Angeles attorney Lisa Bloom and L.A. radio personality Wendy Walsh—one of three Bloom clients whose sexual harassment claims against Fox News star Bill O’Reilly helped force the Murdochs into firing their top-rated cable personality (albeit with a $25 million severance package)—are scheduled to testify in London Monday afternoon before the British regulatory agency Ofcom.
New York attorney Douglas Wigdor—who represents 20 current and former Fox News employees in two racial discrimination lawsuits against 21st Century Fox, Fox News, the outlet’s general counsel, Dianne Brandi, and its former comptroller, Judith Slater—is scheduled to make his own presentation on Thursday afternoon to the communications regulators.
Ofcom will recommend on June 20 whether 21st Century Fox, which owns 39 percent of Sky, is “fit and proper” to be allowed to acquire the remaining 61 percent of Sky—and the decision is expected to be made by Tory MP Karen Bradley, secretary of state for culture, media and sport.
“The Murdochs have made decision after decision over the last 13 years, starting in 2004 with Andrea Mackris’s lawsuit against Bill O’Reilly, to keep the harassers in place and to drive the women out,” Bloom told The Daily Beast.
While their testimony to Ofcom will be confidential and not open to media coverage, Bloom added that she is planning television and press interviews for herself and Walsh in London, along with a Monday press conference coinciding with their presentation. “Listen, in every battle between my clients and me against a very large and powerful company, the press can be our ally to help level the playing field.”
Bloom added: “I can’t compete with the Murdochs’ billions, but I can publicly shame them—and they deserve to be publicly shamed.”
Wigdor—who staged a dramatic press conference in Manhattan last week featuring one of Fox News’s few black anchors, Kelly Wright, emotionally attacking his employer’s alleged “systemic and institutional racial bias”—said he, too, is hoping that the British media will show interest in his appearance.
“If people want to speak to me, I always make myself available,” said Wigdor, who is qualified to practice law in England and Wales. “I see my role as being one who has represented 20 individuals who have been discriminated against…and will provide factual evidence of what my clients have gone through so that Ofcom and ultimately members of Parliament can make an informed decision.”
Neither New York attorney Judd Burstein, who represents fired Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros, nor New Jersey litigator Nancy Erika Smith, who’s suing Fox News on behalf of political commentator Julie Roginsky and web personality Diana Falzone—and famously represented Gretchen Carlson in the lawsuit that toppled Roger Ailes—are planning a trip to London.
Burstein declined to comment, but Smith told The Daily Beast: “I cheer them on. The more pressure on the Murdochs, the better.”
Bloom’s and Wigdor’s trek to London comes amid increasing turmoil at Fox News’s Manhattan headquarters, which on Monday experienced the forced resignation of co-president Bill Shine, an Ailes acolyte, and is rife with rumors about future executive departures in the face of mounting litigation and a federal criminal investigation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, that investigation has expanded its focus from the potentially illicit payments of millions of dollars to silence the alleged sexual harassment victims of Ailes and O’Reilly. The Journal reported on Thursday that federal prosecutors are also looking into alleged “intimidation tactics authorized by Mr. Ailes, including the hiring of a private investigator to dig up negative information on women who complained.”
Asked about Bloom’s and Widgor’s effort next week to exert public pressure on the British regulatory process, a spokesperson for 21st Century Fox didn’t comment for the record or offer a promised statement by deadline.
In the past, the corporation has insisted: “21CF has taken prompt and decisive action to address allegations of sexual harassment and workplace issues at Fox News.”