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At Fox News, Kisses, Innuendo, Propositions and Fears of Reprisal

Fox NewsIn 2006, after nearly a decade at CNN, Rudi Bakhtiar came to the Fox News Channel’s headquarters in New York with a command of foreign policy, an appealing personality and a delivery that easily switched between light and serious.

After a six-month freelance arrangement, the network signed her to a three-year deal. Pretty quickly, she said, she was spending half her time in Washington, where the network sent her to fill in temporarily as a weekend correspondent, a post she hoped to win permanently.

Her break seemed to come in early 2007, she said, when she met for coffee in the lobby of her Washington hotel with a friend and colleague, Brian Wilson. He told her he would soon become Washington bureau chief and wanted to help her get the weekend job. Then he said, “You know how I feel about you, Rudi.”

Recalling the encounter in a recent phone interview, Ms. Bakhtiar said she was thrilled and told Mr. Wilson she would make him proud. But, she said, he repeated himself, asking, “You know how I feel about you?” When she asked him what he meant, he said, “Well, I’d like to see the inside of your hotel room,” adding that he wanted a friends-with-benefits relationship.

She politely rebuffed him, she said, apologizing for giving him any wrong impression. After that rejection, she felt caught in a whirlwind in which, she said, network executives canceled her Washington appearances, directed her to report her allegations to human resources and, a few weeks later, let her go, with the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, telling her that her tenure was ending because of her performance. On Saturday, a senior Fox News executive repeated that assertion.

In a short time, she went from thinking she was in line to land the job she coveted to unemployment. After a mediation process, she reached a settlement in which Fox News paid her an undisclosed amount.

Contacted on Friday, Mr. Wilson, who went on to get the bureau chief job, said of Ms. Bakhtiar’s account: “I take strong exception to the facts of the story as you have relayed it to me, period. Beyond that, I will have no further comment.”

Ms. Bakhtiar concedes that she agreed in her settlement not to speak of her experience. But she said she was emboldened to step forward by the sexual harassment lawsuit that the former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson brought against Mr. Ailes this month, and a subsequent investigation that has brought to light at least 10 other claims of improper behavior involving him. Mr. Ailes resigned from Fox News on Thursday.

The investigation by Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, focused narrowly on Mr. Ailes. But in interviews with The New York Times, current and former employees described instances of harassment and intimidation that went beyond Mr. Ailes and suggested a broader problem in the workplace.

The Times spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it. Two of them cited Mr. Ailes and the rest cited other supervisors. With the exception of Ms. Bakhtiar, they all spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing embarrassment and fear of retribution. Most continue to work in television and worry that speaking out could damage their careers.

They told of strikingly similar experiences at Fox News. Several said that inappropriate comments about a woman’s appearance and sex life were frequent. Managers tried to set up their employees on dates with superiors.

Read more about it here: http://nyti.ms/2aqwjEY

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