Fox News Streaming Service Reeling After Misconduct Claim Goes Public
The network said it has "resolved" a claim that host Britt McHenry leveled against co-host Tyrus. She has hired an employment lawyer.
Late last year, Fox News launched its ambitious foray into the future of digital media, betting that its "super fans" would pay an additional $5.99 every month (or $64.99 a year) to access streaming opinion content featuring a roster of mostly conservative hosts.
That streaming gamble, Fox Nation, debuted with a slate of personality-driven shows including offerings from network stars Laura Ingraham (Laura and Raymond) and Brian Kilmeade (What Made America Great), as well as regular shows featuring a duo of conservative stars, Tomi Lahren (First Thoughts) and Britt McHenry (UN-PC).
Ahead of the Nov. 27 launch, a promotional video showed the network's stars celebrating the new service, popping bottles of champagne, taking photos of each other and playing pool and darts.
John Finley, a veteran Fox News executive, was elevated earlier this year to run the service. "Does anybody need another OTT service where it's just people sitting behind a desk reading headlines all day? I don't think so," he told The Hollywood Reporter at the time of the launch.
But the streamer has quickly been beset by internal conflict and controversy, putting Finley's leadership under a microscope.
McHenry, a former ESPN personality, accused her co-host, the former wrestler Tyrus, of misconduct. Instead of parting ways with Tyrus, the network handled the complaint by moving him off UN-PC and giving him his own show (NUFFSAID), which a Fox News veteran interpreted as a "promotion" rather than a punishment. "No one wants to have a co-host," this source said.
On June 12, after The Daily Beast reported that the complaint was "sexual" in nature, Fox News said it "independently investigated" and "resolved" the matter. McHenry, though, has hired an employment lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, who has a history of suing the network and tweeted that she has "proof" of her claims.
Finley's decision-making is complicated by his own history at the network. In 2011, when he served as executive producer of Sean Hannity's show, Finley himself was the subject of an employee-initiated human resources investigation for misconduct, THR has learned.
The network's HR department investigated a producer's claims and ultimately cleared Finley after finding insufficient written evidence of misconduct, though the network turned up one problematic email chain as part of the investigation.
Asked about the allegation made against Finley, the network provided this statement: "This 2011 allegation of misconduct was immediately reported to the Human Resources department with a request for an investigation. Although no evidence was found to back up the claim, further steps were taken to ensure the comfort of the staffer, including the implementation of a new reporting structure.”
In response, a former Fox News producer with firsthand knowledge of the situation believes that whatever changes were implemented had no practical effect in alleviating the situation.
Two former Fox News producers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the woman told them at the time that she felt pressured to leave the network after the investigation concluded. According to the former producers, she felt that her professional progress at the network was being hindered and that she was being unfairly singled out for trivial infractions, such as tardiness. "They started calling her out for what was basically routine behavior," one of the former producers said. (The network denies that the woman was pressured to leave.)
The woman, who declined comment to THR, ultimately chose to leave Fox News and no longer works in the television business. Within days of giving the network her two weeks' notice, she was asked to leave the building, according to two former producers.
Finley's star has risen in the intervening years. He was promoted in February to evp development and was given oversight of Fox Nation. In advance of the streamer's launch, he spoke extensively to the press, raising the public profile of a historically behind-the-scenes executive.
"John has played a fundamental part in the development of some of our most successful and signature programs," Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said in announcing the promotion in February. "For nearly two decades, he has been an asset to the network, and we are looking forward to him taking on this new key role in overseeing Fox Nation.”
McHenry ultimately deleted her tweet alleging proof of misconduct and recently deleted her Twitter account entirely. Her show has aired on Fox Nation as scheduled, and she's made several appearances as a guest on Fox Business Network, suggesting her status at the network is unchanged.
Fox Nation has also been hampered by questions about the political activities of two hosts, Diamond and Silk, who have recorded videos for Donald Trump's re-election effort and were called "beloved and appreciated volunteers and supporters" by a campaign official.
The network has not taken action against the video bloggers — their show still airs as scheduled on Tuesdays — but has put some distance between them and Fox News. "Diamond and Silk license short weekly videos to Fox Nation — they are not Fox News contributors or employees," a spokesperson told THR in March. "When they appear on FNC and FBN, they do so as guests."
Meanwhile, Lahren has openly voiced her support for Trump's campaign, crossing a line that the network's linear opinion hosts generally steer clear of. On June 18, a few hours before the kickoff of Trump's 2020 campaign, Lahren wrote on Instagram: "Happy Reelection Kickoff Day @realdonaldtrump the silent majority is behind you and we are getting LOUDER! #TeamTomi #Trump2020 #MAGA."
"I think streaming services can get away with a lot more than traditional cable networks," a former Fox News executive explained. "At the same time, they need to have a different kind of more aggressive talent in order to recruit paid subscribers."
For a streaming service like Fox Nation, the biggest measure of success is just that: the ability to get people to sign up. While the network has still not released any data on the number of paying customers, the well-attended Fox Nation summit in Scottsdale, Ariz., in May showed that consumers are passionate about the brand and willing to brave the heat and long lines for a chance to see one of their favorite hosts.
In some ways, the ad-free streaming service is uniquely insulated from some of the business challenges that sibling Fox News has faced in recent months. The network has lost advertisers from opinion shows like The Ingraham Angle, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Justice With Judge Jeanine, though it still brought in a whopping $1.09 billion in ad revenue last year.
"There are going to be a lot of voices on Fox Nation," Finley told THR last November. "And that helps balance some of the discussion. But we don't have to worry about ad boycotts on Fox Nation, at least for the time being."