Bosses ‘Created a White Supremacist Cell’

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty

Four days after Fox News aired a particularly tone-deaf graphic connecting the killings of Black men—including George Floyd and Martin Luther King Jr.—to stock market gains, many of the network’s Black staffers took part in a phone call with company brass to confront Fox’s increasingly racist and hostile rhetoric towards the protests against police brutality.  

It did not go well.

The call on June 9 lasted more than 90 minutes and included Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott, President Jay Wallace, and HR chief Kevin Lord, people familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast. It was led by Scott, who is white, and Marsheila J. Hayes, the vice president of diversity and inclusion at Fox Corporation, who is Black.

It was almost immediately rife with tension. One staffer directly asked why Bret Baier—the anchor of the network’s key weekday news broadcast, Special Report, which aired the offensive graphic—was not on the call, nor any other white on-air talent. (Baier had previously apologized for the “major screw-up,” noting that, because the show bears his name, “the buck stops with me.” Fox News also apologized for the “insensitivity” of the infographic, adding that it “should have never aired on television without full context.”) 

Other participants on the call expressed anger and distress about rampant racism at Fox, both on- and off-air. 

Fox Business Network host Charles Payne, who is Black, was particularly incensed, according to multiple people who attended the call. In fact, he had previously called Scott directly and, per a person familiar, was “ripshit” about the Baier graphic debacle and about racist remarks that Laura Ingraham had recently made on the air. 

At one point on the June 9 call, sources told The Daily Beast, an irate Payne suggested he’d been the victim of racial discrimination, repeatedly passed over for opportunities given instead to white colleagues. Elsewhere, the staffers recalled, Payne, who has been at Fox since 2007, lamented the network’s tone when covering Black cultural stories, including the killing of California rapper and anti-gang activist Nipsey Hussle. How can he talk to his children about Fox News, the host wondered, when it portrays people like Hussle in a racist, stereotypical manner as a gangster?

Ultimately, the conversation was full of “a lot of talking and a lot of emotions,” one staffer said, making sure to note how Fox executives were “deliberate to allow everyone to have a chance to talk.” 

A spokesperson said in a statement to The Daily Beast, “FOX News Media is committed to providing an ongoing dialogue targeting issues of diversity and workplace inclusion, which is why we recently took the unprecedented action of providing an open forum among an intimate group of diverse employees to candidly discuss this critical issue.

“We have long been a leader in cable news for featuring a broad range of voices, and will continue those efforts to ensure all views are respected and celebrated both on and off air.”

But even if the call may have been therapeutic, staffers say the network has since then made barely any progress on confronting its own racism. 

In the month since, on-air talent has continued to rant against the Black Lives Matter “mob” and proclaim that America is “under attack,” while a top writer for Tucker Carlson’s show was ousted just last week for his pseudonymous racist and sexist posts on an online troll forum. 

Two people familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast that Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch personally approved what Carlson would say in his defensive Monday remarks addressing the exit of his top writer. Despite demands from Fox News executives that he pre-tape the segment and strike a conciliatory tone, Carlson barely sounded apologetic, knowing he had the full backing of the Murdoch heir.

A rep for Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment. But The Daily Beast spoke to more than a dozen Fox News insiders, who all suggested that behind the scenes there is a growing despair among employees about the network’s role in demonizing and spreading fear about Black Americans in particular.

One employee was especially angry, saying, “They created a cell—they created a white supremacist cell inside the top cable network in America, the one that directly influences the president… This is rank racism excused by Murdoch.”

Fox News has an apparent racism problem, and it’s not just the network’s critics who notice it. Anger over the cable giant’s shoddy coverage of racial issues is also increasingly coming from inside the building.

Over the past month, the network’s Black employees, including on-air talent, have begun to openly confront management over Fox’s anti-Black rhetoric—especially that of the network’s biggest stars, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson.

Fox News personnel have expressed outrage to network brass over their unwillingness to rein in hosts like Ingraham, whose primetime show—helmed by Tommy Firth, the same executive producer behind Megyn Kelly’s former Fox show—has long made white grievance politics a core feature. On June 29, she did an anti-Black Lives Matter monologue which included a line that many viewed as a racist dog whistle and threat: “We will remember those who desert their colors.”

For further analysis, Ingraham then tossed to right-wing troll Dinesh D’Souza, whose history of inflammatory and often bigoted comments about Black people—including civil-rights icon Rosa Parks—is well-documented.

A complaint to corporate executives prompted an HR investigation into how Ingraham’s segment was conceived and made it to air, which ultimately cleared Ingraham and her team of racist intent in deploying the loaded phrase. Marsheila J. Hayes, the Black HR official who also led the June 9 call, was detailed to explain that the phrase was not racist at all. It was simply a historical military reference, said Hayes. (The phrase appears to have been more often used during the nineteenth century, frequently in reference to Civil War turncoats.)

A Fox News insider, meanwhile, suggested to The Daily Beast that the network frequently deploys right-leaning Black contributors and guests to give cover to racially insensitive content. “That’s something they routinely do—they turn out these people, like Candace Owens, to support these things, and use Black apologists to denigrate other Black men and women and victimize them.”

Tucker Carlson, who is now the network’s most-watched primetime star, has also drawn the ire of his colleagues, as his increasingly unhinged rants about Black Lives Matter and ongoing anti-police brutality protests—the overwhelming majority of which have been peaceful—have made their way into President Donald Trump’s similarly bonkers speeches as of late.

In one such monologue, Carlson warned viewers that a Black Lives Matter “mob” will “come for you.” Fox News PR scrambled to claim his tirade was actually just about Democrats and “inner city politicians,” but some of the primetime star’s co-workers weren’t buying it.

“Bull. Shit. They have the script written that gives them an out,” one Fox staffer told The Daily Beast. “But what the viewers hear is the white supremacist crap. And that crap goes straight to the White House.” 

The company’s inclination to look the other way as Carlson seemingly stokes a race war is also a concern that several staffers mentioned to The Daily Beast—especially because Murdoch sent a company-wide memo in early June urging all employees to “closely listen to the voices of peaceful protest and fundamentally understand that Black lives matter.” 

Furthermore, and in stark contrast to the fact that he is known to personally approve of what his top primetime host says nightly on TV, the Murdoch heir added: “We support our Black colleagues and the Black community, as we all unite to seek equality and understanding.”

Fox’s willingness to give its top-rated star a pass for openly flirting with racist ideology has never been more apparent than in the aftermath of last week’s CNN report that Carlson’s top writer, Blake Neff, had for years pseudonymously posted bigoted comments to AutoAdmit, a notoriously unmoderated message board.

The 29-year-old Neff, who’d worked on Carlson’s show for nearly four years and once bragged that “anything [Carlson is] reading off the teleprompter, the first draft was written by me,” resigned after his extensive history of hateful comments was revealed. 

“Make no mistake, actions such as his cannot and will not be tolerated at any time in any part of our work force,” Fox said in a statement at the time. And in an internal memo, network execs condemned Neff’s “horrific racist, misogynistic and homophobic behavior” while assuring that Carlson would sufficiently address the ordeal during his next broadcast.

But when Monday rolled around, Carlson’s brief on-air remarks were anything but conciliatory. While never actually mentioning what Neff had done, Carlson said the writer was “ashamed” and that his words—which the Fox host did not “endorse”—“have no connection to the show.” 

Before announcing a “long-planned” vacation to go trout fishing, Carlson spent the majority of the monologue attacking and threatening the media for having the audacity to expose his top staffer.

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“We should also point out to the ghouls now beating their chests in triumph of the destruction of a young man, that self-righteousness also has its costs. We are all human. When we pretend we are holy, we are lying,” he said. “When we pose as blameless in order to hurt other people, we are committing the gravest sin of all, and we will be punished for it. There’s no question.”

Network executives had hoped that Carlson’s brief address would temper the internal unease over his on-air conduct. But Fox News staffers told The Daily Beast that his snarling, defensive commentary has only further served to anger the primetime star’s co-workers.

“How hard would it have been to say sorry?” one Fox insider told The Daily Beast. “That being said, I’m not surprised.” Another staffer noted that because Carlson never specified the nature of what Neff had written, his viewers—many of whom are unlikely to be reading CNN articles during the day—were left with no clue of what happened in the first place.

“What has happened since that [June 9] phone call is we’ve taken two steps forward and now three steps back,” another Fox insider told The Daily Beast. “What [Fox executives] don’t understand is you had a white supremacist in a very senior position on [Carlson’s] show. That kind of thing doesn’t live in a garden that isn’t fertile.”

Indeed, Neff is just the latest person employed by Carlson to have a history of secret racist posts or connections to white supremacist groups. At least 11 people who wrote or edited for The Daily Caller—the conservative website Carlson co-founded in 2010 and only recently divested from—were found by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other outlets to have been laundering aggressively racist beliefs, either publicly or anonymously online.

Another source of internal strife at Fox News is that the network has never come close to promulgating any consistent standard as to what constitutes unacceptable, racist rhetoric and what is allowed on its air. 

In 2012, for example, Fox News contributor Jehmu Greene—a Black woman who is prominent in Democratic Party politics—was removed from the air for two weeks after she jokingly referred to Carlson as a “bow-tying white boy” during an on-air debate with him on Megyn Kelly’s primetime show. Carlson angrily objected and Kelly ended the show by telling viewers that Greene’s quip was unacceptable and did not meet Fox’s standards.

Eight years later, in the wake of the recent on-air incidents involving Ingraham and Carlson, for which these white Fox News anchors have suffered no consequences, Greene offered to help the network come up with standards of on-air rhetoric, especially for remarks that can be interpreted as race-baiting, said a person familiar with her offer which has yet to receive a response. (Greene declined to comment for this story.)

And the network’s deeply problematic record regarding race was already well-established by the time weekend anchor Kelly Wright, in April 2017, was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against Fox News that included nine other current and former Fox News employees of color who claimed systemic racial discrimination.

“We literally have a handful of Black and Latino reporters, and only one Black male anchor—which in 2017 shouldn’t be the case,” Wright, then one of very few Black anchors at the network, said during a packed press conference. He added that the situation, along with the alleged denigration of minority employees toiling behind the scenes, was “inexcusable and indefensible” and the result of “systemic and institutional racial bias.” (Wright, who left Fox News shortly after that and currently anchors the 6 p.m. news program on the just-launched Black News Channel, declined to comment.)

That same year, 2017, the network formed a diversity and inclusion council—an in-house group including staffers of color whose membership was determined by Fox’s senior management. During her time on the committee, long-time weekend booking director Patricia Peart registered concerns about racism with the network executives.

Peart, who has been at Fox News since 2005, was treated unfairly, Fox News insiders said, and occasionally tasked over the years with training younger, less qualified white men and women who were ultimately promoted to jobs above her. Fox News insiders told The Daily Beast that several of Peart’s colleagues had advised her over the years to hire an attorney and sue the network, but she hesitated to jeopardize her job by engaging in a public fight with her employer. 

“A lot of us watched her go through it,” said one Black Fox News insider. “A lot of us told her years ago to file a lawsuit…A lot of people are still being hurt.”

Peart recently received a salary bump and a better title: vice president of weekend booking. She initially declined to comment to The Daily Beast, but ultimately offered one on the record in a phone call on Thursday evening.

“There have been a couple of issues that have happened with one person and it got to the point where a complaint was made but that was not made by me,” she told The Daily Beast. “I was asked to meet Suzanne Scott. We had a conversation about it. I was given an option of what I wanted to do—did I want the person fired. I said no. I received an apology and the issue never came up again. The n-word was not used but there were other comments that were inappropriate and insensitive and it was not a one-time thing but it was not something that was ongoing.”

Meanwhile, blatant instances of on-air racism—including dozens of incidents catalogued over the past decade—are often excused or laughed off, especially if the offender is a key star for the network. 

During a 2015 holiday cooking segment on Fox & Friends, in which Outnumbered host Harris Faulkner, who is Black, prepared her mother’s peach cobbler recipe, host Brian Kilmeade, who is white, asked Faulkner if she also serves Kool-Aid at her family gatherings—a stunningly blunt reference to a negative racial stereotype.

Faulkner initially let the incident slide but, as she later revealed to the Los Angeles Times, she eventually confronted Kilmeade in his office. “We sat. He said, ‘I didn’t mean anything by it. I want you to know I have no idea what it really means, blah, blah, blah.’ By the end of the conversation, I apologized. He said, ‘Why are you apologizing?’ I said, ‘Because I need to hear the words ‘I’m sorry’ right now.’ So we moved on.”

“Fox has a reputation for being bigoted and racist, all for very good reason,” former Fox News Specialists host Eboni K. Williams, who left the network in 2018, told The Breakfast Club last year. She now works for Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Revolt TV.

Fox News’ coddling of racist behavior, Williams said, has been a deeply ingrained feature since its founding, not least because the late Roger Ailes saw the opportunity to profit off “the fear of intrinsic devaluation of white people in this country.” When radio host Charlamagne tha God asked if, at Fox, “the fear of a Black and Brown planet drives the message,” Williams agreed: “It feels like a viable threat.” 

And Carlson has launched to Fox News superstardom primarily by appealing to that exact fear—whether it comes from the threat of immigrants, whom he accused of making America “poorer and dirtier” in Dec. 2018, or the Black Lives Matter “mob,” or “hoax” fears about white supremacy, or Muslims like Somali-born Rep. Ilhan Omar, whom the Fox host called “a living fire alarm, a warning to the rest of us that we better change our immigration system immediately or else.”

Such bigoted commentary has driven away many of the network’s sponsors, and yet, according to The New York Times, Lachlan Murdoch personally texted his support to Carlson amid one such advertiser boycott.

All told, advertising during Carlson’s show, the most-viewed on the entire network, has been reduced to an anemic roster of Fox promos, PSAs, low-budget direct marketers, and MyPillow—an aggressively pro-Trump pillow company that now accounts for more than 30 percent of the show’s ads.

But Carlson, along with like-minded Fox News stars like Ingraham, appears to be safe from ever facing any repercussions for his conduct, leaving concerned employees feeling frustrated and resigned.

“It’s unbelievable,” one staffer said. “I know you’re supposed to stay silent, but this is intolerable.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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