Internal communications released in the buildup to the Dominion Voting Systems defamation suit against Fox News betray an obsessive devotion to upholding Fox’s “brand” among the cable network’s senior executives and on-air talent. But a new legal action against the network points up another notorious facet of the Fox brand: a workplace of patriarchal intimidation and rampant gender discrimination. Abby Grossberg, a former booker for Maria Bartiromo’s Sunday Morning Futures show and senior booking producer for Tucker Carlson Tonight, alleges that executive higher-ups at Fox coerced her testimony in the Dominion case in an effort to deflect culpability away from Fox News’ corporate parent, the Fox Corporation. The net effect of such efforts, Grossberg alleges, was to direct blame for the network’s reckless platforming of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election to individual female actors such as Bartiromo and Grossberg. (Grossberg, who is Jewish, also alleges that she was subject to religious discrimination at Fox.)
There’s certainly a well-documented pattern of discriminatory—and, indeed, predatory—treatment of women employees at Fox. Sexual harassment claims alone have cost the network an estimated $200 million in legal settlements—and furnished the basis for a Hollywood movie. During the reign of the late CEO Roger Ailes, Fox was a glorified “locker room,” as one former staffer called it, with Ailes himself fielding accusations of harassment from 25 erstwhile female employees, and notoriously hiring women to serve as on-air talent on the basis of their blonde-ness and legginess. Even though Ailes’s successor, Suzanne Scott, was charged with upgrading this dismal status quo, the harassment suits and arbitration settlements have just kept coming.
Fox, as it always does, released a sharp-elbowed statement in response to Grossberg’s suit, calling its allegations “baseless” and pledging to “vigorously defend” itself against them; the network has placed her on administrative leave during the suit’s duration, and, for good measure, the company’s PR flaks alleged that the suit came in the wake of a “critical performance review” for Grossberg. This, too, is from the standard Fox playbook—deriding an accuser’s performance and isolating her as a bad-faith opportunist in search of a big payday. The irony is that this line of attack reinforces the claims of Grossberg’s suit; she contends that company attorneys instructed her to provide evasive replies to Dominion’s legal team, and to refrain from mentioning chronic staffing shortages on the Bartiromo show, so as to create a false impression that she and Bartiromo were eager merchants of the election lies of Sidney Powell, Rudolph Giuliani, and other grifters in the orbit of the Trump administration. (Grossberg contends that she was at times the only full-time employee involved in the production of Sunday Morning Futures.)
According to the suit:
Ms. Grossberg left the deposition preparation sessions without knowing that by giving such false/misleading and evasive answers like the ones Fox’s legal team reacted to positively to during the prep sessions, she not only opened herself up to civil and criminal liability for perjury, but was subtly shifting all responsibility for the alleged defamation against Dominion onto her shoulders, and by implication, those of her trusted female colleague, Ms. Bartiromo, rather than the mostly male higher ups at Fox News who endorsed the repeated coverage of the lies against the Dominion.
Nor do the ironies end there; Fox attorneys initially sought a restraining order to prevent Grossberg from circulating sensitive and privileged attorney-client exchanges relating to the Dominion suit. In other words, Grossberg and Bartiromo were unlicensed entrepreneurs of 2020 election lies when Fox needed to assert that their company interests are at odds with the content they aired—but also repositories of critical company intelligence when the network’s legal retainers wanted them to sit down and shut up. (In apparent acknowledgment of the absurdity and futility of this argument, Fox’s legal team abruptly dropped this counterclaim, without explanation.)
To grasp the sort of corporate culture that rationalizes this purely instrumental view of how women are to be treated in the workplace, you only need to skim the other charges in Grossberg’s complaint. Company executives dubbed Bartiromo a “crazy bitch” and “menopausal,” the suit contends, and directed Grossberg to keep her out of the loop in discussions of her show. Over at the Carlson show, meanwhile, the frat boys ran free, according to Grossberg’s suit. The workplace featured an image of former House speaker Nancy Pelosi in “a plunging bathing suit revealing her cleavage,” and staffers debated which of the two women vying to be governor of Michigan—incumbent Democratic Gretchen Whitmer or Republican Tudor Dixon—would be a better sexual partner. Grossberg’s supervisor at the Carlson show also allegedly told her she was being paid less than her male counterparts.
Grossberg alleges that her decision to follow legal advice from Fox’s attorneys grew out of this daily atmosphere of harassment and intimidation. When, for instance, Dominion lawyers, quoting a text exchange to her in which Carlson called Sidney Powell a liar and a “cunt,” asked Grossberg whether such language made her uncomfortable, she replied that it didn’t. In reality, her suit now alleges:
Ms. Grossberg knew full well that Mr. Carlson was very capable of using such disgusting language about women. She also knew how terribly she had felt every time she had heard her prior male superiors and colleagues at Fox News spew misogynistic phrases at her (or within her earshot) on a constant basis. Ms. Grossberg also knew, however, and was conditioned to constantly remember that she could not do anything to jeopardize her new position, such as becoming Dominion’s “star witness,” so she again kept quiet.
In other words, Fox News remains a workplace where women are expected to observe a studied silence in the face of rampant exploitation and harassment. That, it seems, is the crowning irony here: For all the C-suite agita and concerted lying that the network sanctioned in order to preserve market share in the wake of the 2020 election, there was never the remotest chance that the workplace at Fox would go off-brand.