The News Corp. building, the New York headquarters for Fox News, in June 2018. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)
Jane Mayer of the New Yorker last week wrote the definitive investigative story on the state of Fox News, which is an increasingly shrill and shameless organ for the agenda of President Trump. “Now a direct pipeline has been established between the Oval Office and the office of Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born billionaire who founded News Corp and 21st Century Fox,” Mayer wrote, on the links between Fox News’s founder and Trump.
Through an article detailed with the symbiosis between Trump and Fox News host Sean Hannity, as well as other indicia of the network’s corruption, Mayer mentioned the current Fox News boss just once. “Under the leadership of Fox’s current C.E.O., Suzanne Scott, a longtime deputy of [former network president Bill] Shine’s, the prime-time lineup has become more one-sided than ever,” wrote Mayer toward the end of her story.
There’s no knock on Mayer here. It’s just that Scott appears to govern Fox News with no public profile whatsoever, a leadership style that has clouded the company’s handling of the ongoing crisis surrounding prime-time host Tucker Carlson. On Sunday, Media Matters for America, the anti-Fox News watchdog organization, published transcripts of radio chats that Carlson carried on with “Bubba the Love Sponge” between 2006 and 2011. The excerpts were, at their best, raunchy, and, at their worst, misogynistic and just plain sick. One woman was described as “c—y,” another as a “pig” — and Carlson professed that if Hillary Clinton “could castrate you, she would.” (Media Matters has since released a number of other offensive comments from Carlson.)
In response to such vileness, Fox News distributed a statement that “must be used in full and all must be attributed to Tucker Carlson.” It said this: “Media Matters caught me saying something naughty on a radio show more than a decade ago. Rather than express the usual ritual contrition, how about this: I’m on television every weeknight live for an hour. If you want to know what I think, you can watch. Anyone who disagrees with my views is welcome to come on and explain why.”
Absent from the defense was a statement from the company, or from Scott. During his show on Monday, Carlson plugged this omission: “Fox News is behind us, as they have been since the very first day. Toughness is a rare quality at a TV network, and we are grateful for that. We will never bow to the mob, ever, no matter what.”
Later that night, the Erik Wemple Blog asked Fox News whether Carlson’s representation was accurate. “Yes,” came the reply. What a circuitous, butt-covering way for a company to support its employee.
Perhaps Scott & Co. didn’t want to put a defense of misogyny and sexism on Fox News letterhead. That would be bad optics, considering the misogyny and sexism that Scott & Co. have been charged with banishing from the network’s hallways. Scott herself was a dutiful lieutenant for mythic Fox News founder Roger Ailes, a man who guided his channel to cable-news supremacy while simultaneously maintaining a sexual-harassment avocation out of his bunker-like office. In July 2016, a former Fox News host, Gretchen Carlson, sued Ailes for sexual harassment, touching off a cascade of similar stories, including one in which Ailes is alleged to have psychologically tormented a network booker for two decades.
“A sexual harassment enterprise” is how Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) characterized the network under Ailes.
Scott climbed this corrupt career ladder. She served as an assistant to Chet Collier, the career television executive recruited by Ailes during the early days of Fox News. “He taught me everything I know about talent, programming, managing a crisis and dogs!” Scott said. During the 2000s, she caught on with cable-news veteran Greta Van Susteren. “She went from being assistant booker to booker to assistant or associate producer to producer,” says Van Susteren, noting that Scott then went on to an executive producer slot. Impressed with her abilities, Van Susteren recommended Scott to Ailes for a network-wide management slot, a level few women had reached. “I though he should put her in management because she knew TV inside and out. She knew control rooms, she had good business sense,” says Van Susteren.
Once in management, Scott concerned herself with . . . hair and makeup, according to several sources consulted by the Erik Wemple Blog. If your lipstick didn’t look right; if your hair was flat; if your wardrobe was too frumpy; if you were wearing glasses; if you were dressed in something very orange — a color that Ailes disliked on his network — then you’d be hearing from Scott. Or perhaps from a low-ranking staffer who’d received corrective aesthetic marching orders from Scott.
A graver picture of Scott’s duties emerges from court filings stemming from Ailes’ wretchedness. In her lawsuit, former Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky tied Scott to the campaign to stick up for Ailes following the complaint from Carlson. Along with then-host Kimberly Guilfoyle and others, says the suit, Scott “sought to recruit Fox News employees and contributors to retaliate against Carlson by publicly disparaging her.” (Scott was not a defendant in Roginsky’s suit.) In its answer to the complaint, Fox News denied these allegations; the suit has since been settled.
The Post’s Paul Farhi explained another low point:
The network’s former director of booking, Laurie Luhn, also implicated Scott in her allegations of harassment against Ailes. Luhn told New York magazine in 2016 that Ailes harassed her for years, and that she suffered a mental breakdown after Ailes’s reassigned her to a new job in 2007. Ailes allegedly attempted to address Luhn’s mental health by flying her from Texas to New York, where Scott reportedly picked her up and checked Luhn into a hotel under Scott’s name. Scott denied this account in 2016 through a spokeswoman.
In May 2017, Scott was promoted to president of programming at Fox News and Fox Business Network. A press release announcing her ascension to CEO recapped her accomplishments:
Among the highly successful changes were replacing Bill O’Reilly with Tucker Carlson Tonight at 8 p.m., moving Hannity back to the 9 p.m. timeslot and launching The Ingraham Angle at 10 p.m.
She also co-created Outnumbered Overtime w/ Harris Faulkner, The Story w/ Martha MacCallum and The Daily Briefing w/ Dana Perino. In the fall of 2017, Scott expanded the network’s schedule to provide 20 hours of live programming and is responsible for having more women anchoring and hosting shows on FNC’s lineup than any other cable news network.
The post-Ailes Fox News celebrated the expanding role of women in a workplace freed of men such as Ailes and O’Reilly:
Faulkner, one of the network’s stars, said in a video while seated in the makeup room, “We’re about to have our ‘Women at Fox’ event. We’re entering into a new chapter at Fox News Channel. So excited, and of course I’m getting my hair pinned back.”
But how new is this chapter? On one hand, the network has rebuilt its HR apparatus — once essentially a plaything for Ailes — to handle allegations of misconduct head-on.
On the other, how new is a chapter in which a clear-cut misogynist is allowed to occupy the table-setting position in the network’s prime-time lineup? And what about Tucker Carlson’s performance during Scott’s tenure as chief executive, which includes bogus, white grievance-driven information about South African land reform, a racist riff on diversity, the claim that immigration makes the country “dirtier,” and now the Media Matters scandal? Do we have what corporate people in shiny garb call a “brand risk”?
On the same weekend that Carlson got reacquainted with his old radio comments, host Jeanine Pirro made this remark about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who is Muslim: “Think about it: Omar wears a hijab,” Pirro said. “Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Shariah law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?” The network issued a statement rebuking Pirro and insisted it had “addressed” the matter. Perhaps Scott thought she’d already addressed the matter back in the summer of 2018, when she told her producers to police inflammatory statements that harm the network’s reputation. “She said, ‘You are responsible for protecting the talent, protecting the brand,’” said an employee quoted by Politico.
Okay, but what if the brand has merged with hatred?
Nancy Erika Smith, an employment lawyer who has represented at least six women who worked at Fox News (including Gretchen Carlson). “My take is that the culture is exactly the same. It’s racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic,” says Smith. “Women selling hate is no better than men selling hate.”
Issues such as these, among many others, are fodder for an interview with Scott. We’ve asked for interviews multiple times during her tenure as chief executive, though the Fox News PR department hasn’t seen fit to arrange a Q-and-A session. Of course, it’s not as though Scott is scheduling long and probing interviews with other journalists. In fact, a professional objective of Scott’s appears to be to stay out of the headlines as much as possible; her minimal role in Mayer’s New Yorker piece met that goal.
We asked Fox News’s PR department to pass along any interviews that she has done. No reply. We asked for a list of her accomplishments and goals. No reply.
We did find this, a January 2019 interview with TVNewser for its “30 Most Impactful TV Newsers of the Past 15 Years” series. Sample exchange:
What’s your favorite professional moment of the past 15 years, and why?
Working with our incredible team here these last two years. We have been through great change and we have been able to create new initiatives, new programs and drive all of our platforms forward. It’s a new Fox News.
Had TVNewser managed to get face-to-face with Scott? It appears not, according to Adweek TV/Media Editor Justin Lynch: “Suzanne Scott talked with us as part of our ’30 Most Impactful TV Newsers of the Past 15 Years’ package, where we asked the same 5 or 6 questions to everyone on the list. Because of the uniformity of the questions in the package, and the fact that this was coming together over the crazy holiday season, we did conduct some of the interviews via email, and I believe Suzanne was indeed one of the people who did an email interview.”