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Eufemia Didonato

The Daily Beast Ed Henry’s Accusers Say His Behavior Was an Open Secret at Fox News When Fox News fired Ed Henry last month for alleged sexual misconduct, the network claimed it took “swift action”as soon as it learned about complaints made against him by former producer Jennifer Eckhart.But according […]

The Daily Beast

Ed Henry’s Accusers Say His Behavior Was an Open Secret at Fox News

When Fox News fired Ed Henry last month for alleged sexual misconduct, the network claimed it took “swift action”as soon as it learned about complaints made against him by former producer Jennifer Eckhart.But according to Eckhart, her co-complainant Cathy Areu, and several current Fox News staffers—including one who also claims to have had an affair with the now-fired anchor—Henry’s reputation for such workplace misconduct was long an open secret inside the network. And there’s simply no way Fox brass had only become aware of the rising-star anchor’s behavior just this summer, the women all claimed.The Daily Beast reviewed text conversations in which Henry repeatedly sent graphic sexual messages and images to colleagues, and spoke with several current Fox News staffers, including one who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Henry—all revealing just how widespread Henry’s alleged behavior was, despite Fox claiming to have only known about it from Eckhart’s complaint.“No one complained to FOX News about Ed Henry sexually harassing them, including former employee Jennifer Eckhart and on air guest Cathy Areu, until the Wigdor firm became involved in late June and July 2020,” a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement.On July 20, Eckhart, a former Fox News associate producer, filed a joint lawsuit in New York federal court alleging that Henry raped and sexually harassed her. (She is represented by Wigdor LLP, the New York-based firm that has filed numerous harassment and discrimination suits against Fox News.) Joining her in the suit was Areu, a frequent Fox News guest, who alleged that Henry, along with primetime stars Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, and other Fox men, sexually harassed her. “Ms. Eckhart was violently raped while helpless and restrained in metal handcuffs, as Mr. Henry performed sadistic acts on her without her consent that left her injured, bruised and battered with bloody wrists,” the complaint read in part. Fox held up its July 1 firing of Henry as an example of its reformed workplace culture—one that is now helmed by a woman CEO, Suzanne Scott, and supposedly no longer tolerates the culture of sexual harassment and intimidation that allegedly occurred under the late Roger Ailes’ regime. But in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Eckhart suggested that her case shows otherwise. After she first complained about a toxic workplace environment to Fox News earlier this year, the network retaliated against her, she said. (Eckhart and I worked at Fox News around the same time, but our paths did not cross. I filed a gender and disability discrimination lawsuit in May 2017 against the network after working there for five years as an on-camera reporter. My complaint was settled in 2018 and I left the company.)“In February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, I told Fox Human Resources I was working in a toxic environment; my concerns were ignored. Human resources never once followed up with me about my serious concerns. Instead, they showed me the exit door,” Eckhart recalled. “With respect to [CEO] Suzanne Scott, [Fox News President] Jay Wallace, [Fox Business President] Lauren Petterson, and other executives in leadership positions at Fox, they have not only fostered and cultivated sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace, but the tone at the top has consistently accepted and rewarded it,” she continued, echoing allegations Eckhart made in the lawsuit. Fox told The Daily Beast in response that “this is a gross mischaracterization and is flat out wrong given how much Suzanne Scott and her leadership team has done to transform the entire culture post Ailes.”Elsewhere in the suit, the ex-producer stated that on Feb. 10, 2020, she registered a complaint with Denise Collins, Fox News’ senior vice president of human resources, and her supervisor, Brad Hirst. Neither of them followed up with Eckhart, nor did they appear to do an investigation into her claims of a toxic workplace. Months later, on June 12, Fox News informed Eckhart that her employment would be terminated two weeks later. And so she moved to sue.“I was retaliated against and informed my employment would be terminated effective June 26, 2020, after more than seven years of employment. On June 25, 2020, prior to the effective date of being terminated, I put Fox on notice that I had retained legal counsel and intended to bring claims in relation to Ed Henry’s misconduct,” Eckhart told The Daily Beast.“Jennifer Eckhart never reported any sexual harassment or sexual misconduct to HR and did not reveal anything about Ed Henry until after she was terminated on June 12. She was given a warning in February and a performance improvement plan in early March prior to the June termination and neither of the two meetings she had with HR regarding her performance involved raising any sexual harassment or sexual misconduct complaints,” a Fox News spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “On the same day that FOX News received Ms. Eckhart’s complaint about Mr. Henry from her lawyer at Wigdor, we retained an outside law firm to independently investigate the matter. On the basis of those investigative findings, FOX News terminated Mr. Henry less than one week later.”In response, Eckhart’s lawyer, Michael J. Willemin, partner at Wigdor LLP said in a statement: “Notably Fox News does not deny that Ms. Eckhart complained of a toxic work environment, and that the company took no effort to investigate or even ask for information related to that complaint. As alleged in the lawsuit, Fox News knew about Ed Henry for years and did nothing until it knew this lawsuit would be filed. That is, of course, the Fox News playbook—look the other way as victims pile up and then pretend to do the right thing. No one buys it.”While the network publicly touted its “swift action” in firing Ed Henry, the 30-year-old Eckhart believes the conservative cable network fired him merely to salvage their public image while also effectively retaliating against her for having come forward. “I believe that my abuser’s employment was terminated because Fox News realized that it was on the precipice of a public relations nightmare, and wanted to rid itself of accountability,” she explained, reiterating a prominent contention of the legal complaint. “Fox’s response to my lawsuit and my abuser’s termination is a textbook example of why many victims of sexual assault unfortunately choose to remain silent. Fox News intentionally downplayed the severity of what happened to me in a public statement by grossly mischaracterizing Ed Henry’s actions as merely ‘sexual misconduct,’ which is an utter slap in the face to every survivor of rape and sexual assault. Fox continues to avoid taking any accountability for permitting and encouraging this type of behavior.”According to Eckhart, Fox News consistently rewarded Henry—once considered a rising star at the network—with prominent hosting gigs, even though his alleged licentiousness and inappropriate workplace conduct were, she said, “well-known” within the building.Several current Fox News employees agree that Henry’s reputation was well-known at Fox HQ long before the network gave him the boot. One staffer, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation from her Fox bosses, recalled how she was repeatedly warned about Henry’s behavior before she engaged in a sexual relationship with him beginning in November 2016 and ending March 2020.“I think Fox News was aware of his behavior. His reputation was mixed. While some saw him as friendly and jovial, others believed he could be unpleasant and harsh-natured in the workplace. It was well-known he flirted with younger women in the office. I heard people say, in general, to be careful with him because of his flirtatious nature,” the staffer explained. “I am unaware of other women who warned upper management about Mr. Henry but I have heard stories of women to whom he sent suggestive messages.”That same staffer said that while she was warned by colleagues about Henry’s alleged penchant for younger female Fox staffers, she carried on a consensual affair with him that ended this past spring. The relationship was “emotionally abusive,” she claimed, adding that Henry was violent with her on one occasion. The woman provided text messages and photos to The Daily Beast corroborating the nature of their relationship.“He and I were romantically involved. He was kind and intelligent, and I got stars in my eyes. I was young and didn’t know better. I should have known better. He should have known better.  He did know better. We made mistakes. It’s a regret of mine that I live with every day; I feel anguish 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While there were good times, there were times of extreme emotional abuse. I felt like I was taken advantage of because I was much younger than him. There was a power imbalance,” the Fox employee said. Ex-Fox News Star Ed Henry Accused of Rape in Brutal New Lawsuit“In the end, I felt manipulated and completely taken advantage of. It hurts badly because I cared for him deeply. I couldn’t fathom how someone who had been so kind to me when I met him, grew to be so cold and so mean-spirited towards me. It made me question myself—if I was smart enough, pretty enough, fun enough, if I was good enough,” she continued. “Unlike Ms. Eckhart, I was not raped. However, during a sexuaI encounter, I was slapped across the face and was shocked at the forceful nature. I immediately cried. An apology followed and I accepted it, but that doesn’t excuse abusive behavior.” Henry did not respond to a request for comment on this story.Eckhart’s complaint alleged that while Henry raped her, the former anchor hit her “violently in the face multiple times.”In her joint lawsuit with Eckhart, Cathy Areu, the once-frequent Fox News guest, alleged that Henry sent her “wildly inappropriate, disturbing and sadistic sexual images and videos and repeatedly suggested that he would help her obtain an anchor position with Fox News if she engaged in sexual acts with him.” (She additionally alleged that network star hosts Carlson, Hannity, Howard Kurtz, and contributor Gianno Caldwell all sexually harassed her and then retaliated against her professionally after she rebuffed their advances. The network and all of those men have vociferously denied Areu’s claims.) The Daily Beast obtained and reviewed several of the graphic texts Henry sent to Areu—the same texts first described in the lawsuit—including a picture of a woman’s vagina being clamped shut by clothespins (captioned: “Another Business Closed by COVID-19”), a meme featuring a woman presumably performing oral sex with the caption “The Male G-Spot Is Located in the Back of a Woman’s Throat), as well as a video captioned “Fastest Interview…Candidate selected in 3 seconds”, featuring a woman pretending to interview for a job, and then uncrossing her legs to reveal her genitalia. Directly after Henry purportedly sent that pornographic video to Areu—a frequent on-air guest who sought full-time work at the network—he added via text message: “Are you avail for an anchor interview.”“I met him [Ed Henry] after he hosted a show I was on, The Story [with Martha MacCallum], and we took a picture together,” Areu explained of her text-based interactions with Henry. “That’s how he got my phone number and texted me constantly after that. There are images he sent that I didn’t understand and now wish I could unsee.”Fox News publicly dismissed Areu’s complaints, claiming in a statement that an outside law firm’s investigation found her allegations about the network and Carlson, Hannity, Kurtz, and Caldwell to be “false, patently frivolous and utterly devoid of any merit.” But regarding her complaints about Henry, the network effectively washed their hands of any responsibility, telling Areu—along with Eckhart—to take it up with the ex-anchor himself. The two women “can pursue their claims against Ed Henry directly with him,” the network said in its original statement on July 20, “as FOX News already took swift action as soon as it learned of Ms. Eckhart’s claims on June 25 and Mr. Henry is no longer employed by the network.” Once again, the suggestion from Fox was that their “swift” firing of Henry was a laudable handling of the ordeal.But because her experiences with the now-former anchor mirror those of several other Fox News employees, Areu is skeptical of Fox’s timeline in learning about his behavior.“It is hard to imagine that Fox was unaware of the conduct of one of its top hosts, particularly given how rampant his misbehavior was. I was warned about multiple people by multiple people. It was well-known that the way for women to get ahead at Fox was to submit to the overtures of the male hosts. I never did, which is likely why my tenure at Fox came to an abrupt end,” Areu said in an interview with The Daily Beast. Although she was never a paid contributor to the network, Areu was a frequent guest across the network from 2018 to early 2020, when she said the bookings stopped after she rejected the advances of the accused Fox personalities. “Women definitely are not treated equally at Fox,” she added. “As one cameraman told me: the men are rewarded while the women have to ‘pay to play.’ I didn’t ‘pay,’ but I was told I had to if I wanted to get ahead.”“Cathy Areu’s allegation that women are not treated equally at FOX News is provably false and yet another malicious attempt to smear the network with meritless claims. In fact, FOX News has provided more leadership opportunities for women than any other cable news network, including featuring more solo women anchors and hosts on-air and retaining a senior staff comprised of more than 50% female executives,” a Fox spokesperson said in response. “We are proud of our track record in elevating women and remain dedicated to continuing our efforts in providing an equal and inclusive workplace for all of our employees.”In another statement, Fox News went after Areu further, alleging that “as revealed in public filings and during a court hearing in the Areu matter on Friday, Wigdor LLP has dropped Ms. Areu as a client following FOX News’ service of a sanctions motion on Ms. Areu and the Wigdor firm arguing that they engaged in serious misconduct by making patently false allegations of sexual misconduct against Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Howard Kurtz. Wigdor’s and Ms. Areu’s allegations are contradicted by e-mails and text messages within Ms. Areu’s own possession, which demonstrate that she knew her claims to be false and that Wigdor either knew the same or should have known through the most basic investigation instead of issuing a sensationalized press release on these false allegations.” (Following last week’s motion, Areu’s new legal counsel is New York-based employment law firm Valli Kane & Vagnini.)“We did not drop [Areu] and Fox News knows that. Their statement is 100% false,” Wigdor LLP partner Willemin said in response. “We are working closely with her counsel to hold Fox News accountable for its abhorrent behavior, including its attempt to mislead the public with respect to our actions. Fox News has a despicable and documented history with respect to sexual harassment and discrimination. The company has no credibility.”Fox News’ New CEO Enabled Roger Ailes’ Harassment Culture, Lawsuits SayThe current Fox staffer, who claimed to have had an extended affair with Henry, agreed with Areu and Eckhart that the culture at Fox News has not changed for the better even with a woman at the helm.“I don’t believe having a female CEO [Suzanne Scott] changed the culture. I think it’s overall the same post-Ailes… There are still on-air racists with millions of viewers,” the woman said, adding that some of her colleagues do not feel particularly safe reporting misconduct to Fox’s human resources department. “If they didn’t feel scared to face retaliation in the past, they may now because of what happened to Ms. Eckhart. The actions against Ms. Eckhart set a bad precedent and will hurt women in the future. While it should be recognized that Fox fired abusers, it’s not enough. The culture needs to change completely from its foundation. The culture of sexual misconduct and bigotry isn’t normal, I refuse to allow it to be normalized.” (Fox News has maintained that no allegations were filed with HR regarding Ed Henry prior to the late-June complaint.)Eckhart agreed. “It is widely known that Human Resources at Fox News is only interested in protecting the company’s image, not its employees,” she said. “Hence why some of the current and former female staffers at Fox came forward to me after I filed my lawsuit, instead of HR.” In one instance, she said, “I was approached by a former Fox colleague who [claims she] was sexually assaulted by an on-air correspondent who still currently works at the Fox bureau in Washington, D.C.”“Fox may be a big company, but things get around. Employees talk. I was sure to ask around among my female coworkers. Heck, I even heard it from some males who were aware about names I should stay away from or watch out for. Ed Henry consistently came up,” that former FNC staffer, who left the network in 2017, told The Daily Beast.Ultimately, Eckhart said, she decided to come forward with a federal complaint in order to push Fox News to finally make the changes it has long claimed to have made following Ailes’ ouster. “Women like me should not have to file a federal lawsuit for other victims at Fox to come forward. Why is that? It’s because the system at Fox is severely broken. It’s because, rather than listening to victims and stamping out harassment and abuse in the workplace, the Fox hierarchy chooses to publicly shame, silence and humiliate survivors,” she said. “I hope this action is a wake-up call for Fox, and results in positive changes to its workplace such that Fox eradicates the type of behavior that I and so many others have suffered.”And even if she does not defeat Fox News in court, Eckhart is certain that her lawsuit will have effected some change.“The way I see it, if I can prevent one person from having to suffer through what I did, I’ll call that a victory. Ultimately, I hope that my lawsuit is a catalyst for change at Fox and for all workplaces where sexual harassment and assault victims no longer feel silenced or afraid,” she said. “When you see predatory behavior consistently accepted and rewarded in the workplace, as scary as it may be, you have a moral obligation to speak up and to do the right thing. Fox didn’t think I had the guts to file my lawsuit, or to challenge them in court. My reaction to that was quite simple: Watch me.”Disclosure: I signed a non-disclosure agreement which prohibits me from discussing my tenure at Fox News as well as the details of my lawsuit. In Dec. 2019, former host Gretchen Carlson, and Julie Roginsky—a Democratic strategist and former Fox News contributor who sued the network for sexual harassment in April 2017—formed a nonprofit organization, Lift Our Voices, to help eradicate NDAs that conceal toxic workplace behavior. Additionally, Carlson, Roginsky, and I have formally requested to be released from our Fox News NDAs several times, however, neither we nor our attorneys have ever received a response.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

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