Bill Shine was one of the people who forced me out of my job of 20 years at Fox News.
Despite that, I’m convinced that he was not an enabler of sexual harassment, but a victim.
We worked together for many years, with Bill heading programming and me running editorial at FoxNews.com for the last decade, and I was one of many people close to Roger Ailes forced from the company in his wake. Bill and I were friendly, but not really friends.
A toxic atmosphere?
A common refrain among talking heads is that senior Fox executives “must have known” about “rampant” sexual misconduct. It’s easy to believe, but it’s wrong.
I obviously can’t speak for every employee or know what happened in every closed office, but the overall Fox environment was professional. In nearly two decades managing many Fox employees, I can count on one hand the number of harassment claims filed in my division, and I’m convinced they were all handled well.
Have you seen any serious reporting about the facts behind the many accusations against Fox? All I’ve seen is the repetition of charges under the now-routine headline, “Another woman accuses Fox of misbehavior.” By comparison, a single racial discrimination lawsuit at CNN has attracted 175 likely plaintiffs, a number more than 10 times higher than all of the current lawsuits facing Fox, yet how many stories have you read about that?
To be clear, I don’t deny that truly bad behavior has occurred at Fox. In a company with thousands of employees, people do improper and stupid things, but the image that Fox was some sort of wild frat house has mainly been created by those with an agenda and repeated by many journalists eager to believe it. That doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, it does mean that regardless of the veracity of the allegations, it certainly wasn’t common knowledge among executives at Fox.
Did executives cover up misdeeds?
Although there was a settled lawsuit against Roger Ailes that few executives knew about, I worked closely with him for decades and had never heard a mention of sexual harassment or even a consensual affair during that entire time. Most of my former colleagues have said the same.
So was Bill Shine complicit in helping enable sexual misconduct? Accusers and the press have certainly spun it that way, but there’s very little evidence to support it.
A Google search for “Bill Shine” “at least four lawsuits” yields 901 results. The narrative, told over and over, is basically a version of “Where there’s smoke there’s fire and with so many accusations, he must be guilty.”
I don’t know every fact behind every allegation, but here are some things to consider about some of the accusations…
Rudi Baktier said that her Washington, DC, boss sexually propositioned her in 2006. When her agent informed Bill Shine, he is reported to have responded “I am not in a position to keep this confidential … the network has a zero-tolerance policy for these types of matters. We will have to investigate.”
As a senior manager, his response couldn’t have been better, and Bakhtiar took her issue to Fox’s head of Human Resources. She claims they ignored her complaint and later reached a settlement with the company.
Andrea Tantaros has made many legal claims about her supposed mistreatment at Fox, including that Bill Shine covered up harassment against her.
I don’t know whether she’s telling the truth about being sexually harassed by Roger Ailes, former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, actor Dean Cain, reporter John Roberts, Green Beret Ben Collins and Bill O’Reilly. Nor do I know whether seven executives actually helped cover up this alleged onslaught of sexual abuse.
Similarly, I can’t disprove her allegations that Fox hacked her computer, attacked her via multiple fake online accounts, bugged her phone conversations or cyber-stalked her, but I certainly never heard anything like that. (Incidentally, all of these allegations are readily available to read in public documents.)
Hopefully a jury will determine the truths here, but a reasonable person should pause before tarring Bill Shine with her allegations.
Laurie Luhn alleged a longtime relationship with Roger Ailes and also settled with the company for a reported $3 million. At Ailes’ request, Shine helped her during a period when she had a breakdown and was in serious need of assistance.
Shine says he had no reason to suspect anything inappropriate and I believe him because I also helped her in a similar capacity when Ms. Luhn transferred to New York.
Did it strike me as odd or part of some “cover up”? Not at all. In fact, Roger routinely took care of his employees in extraordinary ways, one reason for an extreme loyalty among his staff.
When Roger called one morning asking me to drive an on-air talent to the Betty Ford center, it wasn’t particularly unusual. Neither was helping protect a reporter against a stalker. Or flying to the mideast to free staffers who had been kidnapped in Gaza. These weren’t “odd” requests, but a routine part of a senior manager’s job. We took care of our people.
Julie Roginsky also claimed Bill Shine retaliated against her. I’ve never met Julie and can’t speak to the merits of her case.
Accusations and punishments
From my many years of working with him, I am convinced that Bill Shine wasn’t an enabler, but rather, a victim of what has truly become a toxic atmosphere of accusations, greed and corporate politics. I would even call it sexual McCarthyism.
No one has ever alleged Bill Shine kissed anyone besides his wife. Or made a sexually harassing comment to anyone. Yet he’s now unemployed with his tattered reputation strewn across the media.
Some of the women suing (or who threatened to sue) Fox are victims who deserve our sympathy and outrage, while I believe others are opportunists who deserve none. In the media buzz, however, they are all evidence that the Fox News Channel was, and is, a horrible place.
Throughout it all, the company has barely lifted a finger to defend any of its employees in the public arena, and a once powerful public relations department has been muzzled.
It’s almost as though the Murdochs don’t mind the bad press, which just may just be the strategy. If you want to “remake” and soften a company that is wildly profitable and popular, it would be unwise to change its leadership without good reason.
Instead, it would be much smarter to let these sexual harassment charges boil and to be the hero who finally “fixed” things over there. You didn’t ruin Fox News … you saved it.
It’s nasty business.
Ken LaCorte worked as Los Angeles Bureau Chief and Senior Vice President, FoxNews.com, from 1999-2016. He is soon launching a digital news operation at www.lacortenews.com.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.