Fox News Channel launched in October of 1996 by billionaire mogul Rupert Murdoch, who hired media consultant Roger Ailes as its founding CEO. Today, the company is worth upwards of $11 billion dollars, is available in 90 million homes, and is recognized as the dominant cable news network. The channel has been the most watched cable news network for fourteen years in a row, with more prime time viewers than MSNBC and CNN combined. Despite its massive success, the company's reputation has been tainted by accusations of bias, misrepresentation of facts, and most recently, fostering a work environment in which sexual harassment can easily occur.
Former Chairman and Founding CEO of Fox News
In August 2016, following Ailes’ resignation, reporter Andrea Tantaros also filed a lawsuit against Fox News for sexual harassment, accusing Ailes as well as two other men on the Fox News Team. Her suit claimed that she had spoken to Fox News executives about Ailes' inappropriate behavior toward her in 2015, and that her allegations got her demoted then later taken off the air. One month later, 21st Century Fox announced it had settled a lawsuit with Gretchen Carlson over her allegations of harassment against Ailes for $20 million dollars. The company also made at least two other settlements, the names and details of which were not publicly disclosed.
Reporter, Most Public Ailes Accuser
This controversy involves many stakeholders, more of which seem to be discovered every few weeks. Fox News itself is a stakeholder, as the allegations were made from several employees about another employee. The allegations make for embarrassing headlines and have led to millions of dollars spent on behalf of the company in court. Roger Ailes is an obvious stakeholder, for he was accused of the harassment and asked to resign. Additionally, Gretchen Carlson and Andrea Tantaros, as well as the other six victims who anonymously filed complaints and any woman working for Fox News as a reporter, consultant, or recurring guest are all stakeholders because they either have been or could have been victims of sexual harassment in this workplace. Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly and other women on the Fox News team have also been affected by this case, as they were asked to defend the accused and discredit the accusers.
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Utilitarianism argues that happiness is the only thing of intrinsic value and therefore people must impartially bring about happiness in all beings capable of feeling it. A utilitarian would consider a decision ethical if it maximized happiness and minimized pain for all stakeholders. Fox News suppressed claims of sexual misconduct in the work place, failed to investigate early on, and fired women who came forward. This created a hostile work environment in which a powerful man was allowed to behave inappropriately for allegedly at least a period of one year without consequence, and any young female employee was expected to endure it or leave the company. The company's decision did not impartially bring about happiness, as it appeared to only maximize the happiness of one man, while hurting the company's own reputation, the victims, and other employees. Their behavior does not fit the criteria of utilitarian ethics, and so it cannot be considered ethical under this theory.
The basic principles of Kantian ethical theory are to act rationally, allow and help others to act rationally, respect others and their individual needs, and be motivated by the Good Will. Good Will refers to doing what is right simply because it is right. Kantianism does not allow deception or manipulation, for these behaviors cheat others out of receiving complete information which is necessary to make their own rational decisions. This theory also includes the Formula of Humanity, which requires that people act in such a way that they treat others always as both an end and a mean. The term "end" according to Kant refers to something that is valuable in itself, or a goal, while the term "means" refers to a way to get something else. Essentially what this formula means is that people cannot use other rational people simply as tools to get what they want. Fox News violated some of the key principles of this theory. The company did not respect Roger Ailes' accusers when they fired or demoted them. They were not motivated by the Good Will - Fox News only let Ailes go to avoid further harm to the company's reputation, not because it was the right thing to do. Furthermore, the company never issued an official statement regarding the controversy, instead they issued a kind 'thank you' to Roger Ailes for his decades of service with the company. This, coupled with the secret law suits and anonymity of other victims, left viewers and other stakeholders not fully informed. Fox News did not behave ethically according to Kantian ethical theory.
Virtue Theory is derived from Aristotle's Functionalism, which states that a good person fulfills their function well, and that a person is happy when that function is fulfilled. Virtue Theory focuses on virtues, which are good characteristics that enable things to function properly, versus vices, which enable things to malfunction. There is a plethora of each, but the theory highlights four main virtues. These four main virtues include courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. In business, courage means risk-taking and a willingness to stand for what is right. Honesty refers to agreements, hiring, and employee treatment. Temperance means having reasonable expectations and justice means hard work, fair practice, and quality products. Fox News did take a risk by continuing to employ Roger Ailes amidst the various accusations, but it is not considered virtuous because it inhibited others from doing their jobs. The company was not honest in hiring, as Ailes allegedly offered jobs to women in return for sexual favors and the company did not treat him the way it treated others. Fox News did not exhibit temperance, for its expectations for women to remain silent were not reasonable. Finally, the company did not practice justice when it paid Roger Ailes tens of millions of dollars upon resignation. Fox News violated each of the four main virtues of business in this theory or allow all employees to fulfill their duties well and therefore did not behave ethically.
JUSTIFIED ETHICS EVALUATION
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Upon researching and analyzing the facts of this case, I personally believe that Fox News’ gravest ethical violation was initially siding with him over his accusers with little investigation. In some ways, it appears as though Ailes was even rewarded for his behavior in the form of a $40 million dollar exit deal - twice the amount granted in Gretchen Carlson's settlement - and public praise for his professional career. This behavior reflects poorly on the company's values and priorities. In addition, they suppressed victim claims and even punished those who tried to seek justice by firing, demoting, or discrediting them. Fox News failed to provide a workplace offering fairness, equality, safety, or comfort. My opinion is separate from the ethical theories examined above and could be changed with new information.
Although Roger Ailes has been removed from the position of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, the controversy involving the culture of sexual harassment at Fox News is ongoing. On April 1, 2017 the New York Times published an investigation on Bill O’Reilly, star of cable news’ most popular program, “The O’Reilly Factor.” The story detailed how over $13 million has been paid out to address complaints and settle law suits from women about O’Reilly over the past decade. The complaints alleged either verbal abuse, sexual harassment, or sometimes both. Most recently, Wendy Walsh, a former recurring guest on “The O’Reilly Factor,” was just granted an internal investigation by Fox into her sexual harassment claims.
Since the story broke, the show’s ad time has decreased from just over fifteen minutes to less than seven minutes. This is because advertisers such as Mitsubishi, Aleve, Mercedes-Benz, Allstate, Subaru, and BMW have pulled their ads slated to air during his show. On April 11, amid this exodus of advertisers, O’Reilly announced he would be taking a voluntary, two week vacation to an undisclosed location. As of April 13, O’Reilly is expected to return to his show on Fox News on April 24 with no punishment by Fox or changes to his program.
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