Fox News responded in court Monday to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former co-host Andrea Tantaros, saying "she is not a victim; she is an opportunist."
In the network's first full response to the suit, the Fox filing says Tantaros never made any claim that she had been harassed by former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes during an internal investigation of her complaints of mistreatment by others at the company. The suit, says Fox, is “filled with falsehoods.”
The suit names Ailes along with and several Fox executives, who have denied the allegations.
Fox suspended Tantaros with pay in April, saying that she breached her contract by publishing a book without permission. In that book, “Tied Up in Knots,” Tantaros “appears on the cover in a submissive and sexualized position with her arms tied over her head,” as Fox put it.
Tantaros, a former co-host of “Outnumbered” and before that “The Five,” contends the suspension was in retaliation for her harassment complaints.
Fox says that the “unverified” suit by Tantaros “bears all the hallmarks of the ‘wannabe’: she claims now that she too was victimized by Roger Ailes, when, in fact, contrary to her pleading, she never complained of any such conduct in the course of an investigation months ago.”
In a separate filing, Ailes said Tantaros’ suit smears him, “reverts to tabloid fodder,” is “full of lies and half-truths” and “a desperate attempt to sell books and speeches,” adding that she praised him in her book.
Tantaros went public with her claims about Ailes earlier this month, after he had resigned under pressure in the wake of a sexual harassment suit by former host Gretchen Carlson, whose charges he denies. Ailes’ negotiated settlement followed an inquiry by parent company 21st Century Fox, in which other female Fox personnel have alleged harassment by Ailes.
Her suit drew substantial media attention because of its lurid language, claiming that Fox News operated as a “Playboy mansion-like cult” filled with “intimidation” and “misogyny.”
“Not to be outdone by anyone, she contends that she was sexually harassed by an ever-shifting collection of employees at Fox News,” says the company’s response.
The main thrust of the filing in New York state Supreme Court is to urge that Tantaros be compelled to pursue her allegations in confidential arbitration proceedings, which have already begun, as the company says is required by her contract. Tantaros remains on the Fox payroll.
In the company’s internal investigation, which included interviews with 13 people, according to the filing, “the four men accused of sexual harassment vehemently denied it.”
During the inquiry, Tantaros was twice asked, "Can you recall any specific statements of a sexualized nature that anyone said to you?" Tantaros said she could not recall, according to the Fox response.
One aspect of the Tantaros suit that generated headlines was its allegation that Ailes had made disparaging private comments about various Fox journalists and commentators. The company’s response lists their professional credentials, saying, “Tantaros's entirely gratuitous attacks on her former colleagues reveals more about her than about them.”
Three people accused by Tantaros of inappropriate conduct—correspondent John Roberts, former senator Scott Brown and former Green Beret Ben Collins—deny those allegations, according to the filing. In Roberts’s case, for instance, “Tantaros’s allegation that he asked her an improper question relating to in vitro fertilization is dishonest and takes Roberts's words entirely out of context (they occurred after several serious discussions with Roberts and his wife about his wife's forthcoming book on this subject).”
The suit has obviously continued to focus media attention on allegations of harassment involving Fox News and its corporate culture. The filing makes a point of saying that 21st Century Fox responded by “immediately launching an investigation in which women were encouraged to report their experiences under conditions of confidentiality, and by committing to make things right with those women who were not treated with the respect that they and every employee deserve.”
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.