Less than a month after parting ways with one of its hosts over allegations of sexual harassment, Fox News is being sued by a political commentator who says the network smeared her after she reported her rape.
Scottie Nell Hughes filed suit against the network on Monday, alleging that anchor Charles Payne raped her and then forced her into a years-long sexual relationship in exchange for promises of favors, according to Emily Steel at the New York Times.
In her suit, Hughes says Payne, the host of Making Money on Fox Business, raped her in July 2013. Then, she says, he coerced her into a relationship by offering her appearances on Fox News and Fox Business and the promise of a contributor contract at one of the channels, which she never received.
Hughes says she was blacklisted from the network after ending her relationship with Payne. She also says after she reported his actions this June, the network leaked a story to the National Enquirer that the two had engaged in an affair.
“In July of 2013, I was raped by Charles Payne,” Hughes told the Times. “In July of 2017, I was raped again by Fox News. Since then, I have been living an absolute hell.”
Meanwhile, Payne’s lawyer told the Times that the former anchor “vehemently denies any wrongdoing,” and the network labeled it a “publicity stunt of a lawsuit.”
The allegations, chilling on their own, are part of a growing pattern for Fox News. More than a dozen women have accused anchors and executives at the news network of sexual harassment and assault in recent years. And while Fox News made changes in 2016 in the wake of a suit against Roger Ailes, Hughes’s lawsuit alleges that the old practices of covering up allegations against powerful men are still very much in place.
At least five high-profile men at Fox News have now been accused of harassment or assault
The founder of Fox News, Roger Ailes, who died in May, was forced to resign in 2016 after more than 20 women, including former anchors Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, accused him of sexual harassment. In her suit against Ailes, Carlson also accused Steve Doocy, her co-host at Fox & Friends, of “a pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment,” including “mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, belittling her contributions to the show, and generally attempting to put her in her place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist rather than just a blond prop.” Doocy remains at Fox & Friends.
In April of this year, Fox dropped Bill O’Reilly, who had been accused of sexual harassment by five women. The accusations went back to 2002 and cost Fox more than $13 million, but O’Reilly wasn’t ousted until after a New York Times story on the complaints sparked an advertising boycott.
In August, Yashar Ali of HuffPost reported that Eric Bolling, a co-host of The Fox News Specialists, had been accused of sending unsolicited photos of male genitals to three women colleagues several years ago. Bolling responded by suing Ali, whose story had 14 sources. Fox News dropped Bolling and canceled The Specialists earlier this month, according to Steel at the Times, but the future of that lawsuit remains unclear.
Charles Payne is the fifth high-profile man at Fox to be accused of sexual harassment or assault in a two-year period. While workplace harassment remains distressingly common — at least a quarter of women in general have experienced it, according to the National Women’s Law Center — the many allegations against Fox anchors may reveal a larger cultural problem at the network, as Vox’s Constance Grady explains.
“Fox News is the network that in 2014 endorsed calling date rape ‘mistake sex.’ It’s the network that has joked about how female soldiers are ‘boobs on the ground,’” Grady writes. “Under the Fox News ideology of women, it makes perfect sense that powerful men like O’Reilly and Ailes would sexually harass their employees. They’re not doing anything more than practicing the theory Fox News has been espousing for years.”
The commentator who made the “boobs on the ground” remark, incidentally, was Eric Bolling.
As Steel reported after Bolling’s departure, Fox has made some changes since Carlson sued Ailes in 2016, including hiring a new head of human resources and urging employees to report misconduct. But in her lawsuit, Hughes says two Fox executives moved to discredit her allegations rather than dealing with them. She accuses Dianne Brandi, Fox’s executive vice president of legal and business affairs at skyypro News, and Irena Briganti, the executive vice president of corporate communications, of planting the story in the Enquirer, and says they “knowingly and maliciously aided and abetted the unlawful employment practices, discrimination and retaliation.”
It’s not clear what, if anything, will happen to Charles Payne, who denies any wrongdoing. Fox has called Hughes’s lawsuit “bogus” and promised to “vigorously defend” itself against it. The network suspended Payne in July after the publication of the National Enquirer story mentioned in Hughes’s suit. In the story, he apologized for an extramarital “romantic affair.”
Fox said in July that it was investigating Payne’s conduct. According to the Times, that investigation has concluded, and Payne is back at work.