The top executive at Fox News banned one of her star reporters from asking questions about the NFL’s National Anthem controversy out of fear it would blow a multi-billion dollar deal to air football games that was being negotiated, a bombshell lawsuit charges.
The suit filed by news anchor and White House correspondent Ed Henry against Fox News and Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Scott also claims another reason for the muzzling was Scott was “tired of “carrying water”’ for then-President Donald Trump.
The explosive allegations are contained in court papers filed Wednesday by Henry’s attorney Brian M. Block of Mandelbaum Salzberg in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, where Scott lives.
Henry was fired by Fox in July 2020, after Fox producer Jennifer Eckhart filed a civil lawsuit alleging Henry had raped her. Henry quickly denied the claims, and said he had a consensual relationship with Eckhart. That case remains in litigation.
According to Henry’s suit, Fox Vice President Lauren Petterson told Henry that Scott was angling for a new position elsewhere in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire because “she was tired of the pressure at Fox News.’’
“Ms. Petterson said Ms. Scott was willing to do anything to keep the Murdochs happy, and for that reason she was trying to distance herself from the many controversies surrounding Fox News,’’ the suit states.
Petterson confided to Henry that as a result, Fox News’ producers acting at Scott’s direction “were suddenly and sharply downplaying any stories about athletes kneeling for the National Anthem, even though Fox News had previously covered these stories relentlessly,’’ according the suit.
Henry “learned about this new policy because he was scheduled to interview former collegiate and professional football coach Lou Holtz, but he was banned from asking Mr. Holtz about the anthem controversy.’’
Holtz was a vocal supporter of President Trump “who shared the former President’s disdain for players who kneel during the national anthem, and the subject had previously generated great interest among Fox News' viewers,’’ the court papers also state.
Scott told her lieutenants that she was “done’’ with the national anthem controversy because she was tired of “carrying water’’ for Trump.
But Petterson added, according to the lawsuit, “Fox News' change of attitude regarding the ‘anthem issue’ had nothing to do with newsworthiness, much less principle, but everything to do with money …
“Petterson noted the Murdoch family was in negotiations with National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell about renewing a multi- billion-dollar contract to broadcast NFL football games, and they did not want to appear too pro-Trump or otherwise jeopardize the renewal of the NFL contract.’’
As a result Scott and Fox News “strongly discouraged hosts like Plaintiff from reporting about the politicization of sports.’’
In a strong worded statement issued to Newsmax, Fox noted that it conducted an internal probe of Henry’s activities and that they “promptly terminated Mr. Henry’s employment for willful sexual misconduct and stand by the decision entirely.”
“We are fully prepared to vigorously defend against these baseless allegations as Mr. Henry further embarrasses himself in a lawsuit rife with inaccuracies after driving his personal life into the ground with countless extramarital affairs in a desperate attempt for relevance and redemption,” the statement added.
The network also defended Scott, who a spokesperson stated “has worked tirelessly to transform the company culture, implementing annual, mandatory in-person harassment prevention training . . . as well as executing a zero tolerance policy regarding workplace misconduct for which we engage outside independent firms to handle investigations.”
Henry’s 23-page court document also offers a fascinating look into the changing political landscape at Fox, which was once a staunchly conservative network, but has shifted to more establishment views in the past year.
“As control of the company shifts from the aging Rupert Murdoch to his more liberal children, the company has increasingly tried to walk both sides of the left-right political divide,’’ the suit says, referring to the 90-year-old media tycoon.
“The Murdoch children want to appease their left-leaning social circles, but they also want to keep raking in tens of millions of dollars from Fox News' right-of-center leaning audience.
“Thus, their love-hate relationship with former President Trump and the network’s conservative viewers. Ms. Scott wanted to appease the Murdoch heirs and keep her job, thus the motivation for her duplicity toward [Henry].’’
Henry’s suit states that Fox “began blacklisting prominent conservatives who offended friends of the Murdoch family.
“For example, prominent attorneys Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing regularly appeared as Fox News guests for many years, but that all changed when they dared to criticize leftist billionaire George Soros, a friend of the Murdoch family. Both are now blacklisted by Fox News.’’
According to the lawsuit, Henry “learned the hard way, people are expendable so far as the Defendants are concerned, and so is the truth.’’
The lawsuit — in which Henry, 49, charges Fox and Scott with defaming him with false accusations about “willful sexual misconduct’’ before he was fired — asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
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