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Fox News is facing a new sexual harassment lawsuit, the same week that saw Fox News co-President Bill Shine resign. He's the latest shoe to fall in a sexual harassment scandal that also saw Chairman Roger Ailes and host Bill O'Reilly leave the network.
Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Kelly Wright (@kellywrightnews), the only male African-American anchor at Fox News, who is part of a class-action lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and harassment at the network. She also speaks with Wright's lawyer, Douglas Wigdor (@WigdorLaw).
On the complaint
Kelly Wright: "It's one of marginalization and institutional racism. This kind of bias covers a lot of African-American male talent throughout the country. We're not able to go out and step out and have the same opportunities that some of our white colleagues have in order to grow with the company and get in more prominent roles. In my situation, the prominent role that I once had was taken away towards the end of 2007, beginning of 2008. That's when I was the co-anchor of ‘Fox & Friends Weekend.’ And I remember a lot people were asking me, 'What happened?' And I said, ‘To be honest with you, I don't know.’ I was just told by Bill Shine that, 'CNN is catching up with us, we're gonna change the team.’ At the time, I didn't know where to go in terms of protesting it. I just said, ‘Well, look, it's not my toy store. I have no control over these decisions that are being made, but I will continue to strive to give 1,000 percent and do my best. They replaced me with a white colleague of mine, or actually they hired a new guy in. And so ‘Fox & Friends Weekend’ at that time had gone all white."
On other allegations of racism at Fox News
Douglas Wigdor: "What we have here at the very highest level, where you have 37 board and executive team members, you only have one black person. How could you say in 2017 that there's only one qualified black person to sit on the board and the executive team? That's just impossible. You then have a general counsel who turns a blind eye since 2008 of the racist behavior due to [Judith Slater], who’s the comptroller of Fox News. We're talking about some of the most racist comments that this woman was making to our clients, including things like questioning whether one of our clients who had three children had the same father. Raising her hands and mocking the [Black Lives Matter] movement by saying, ‘Hands up, don't shoot.’ To people actually who reported to her. She would threaten them, she would ask them to repeat words such as mother, father. She would ask why black men were only women beaters. People complained to her as early as 2008. And as I said the general counsel, the top lawyer at Fox News, said, ‘Look, there's nothing I can do, because this woman knows too much.' So when you have the chief lawyer turning a blind eye to racism, when you have the comptroller engaging in open racist conduct, the question really isn't whether Kelly Wright or any other black male or female is being viewed subjectively. It's obvious that there is systemic racism going on."
"This is not about playing anybody's race card, or being a crybaby. This is about righting the ship. Because I believe that Fox News still has better days ahead, but it has to change, because we are better than this."Kelly Wright
On other allegations of racist comments made to Wright
KW: "There were several times, not just from one colleague, but other colleagues have said, ‘Gee, if you just would change your hair blond, you may have a better role to play here.’ Because many people thought, ‘Well, why is Kelly on an overnight shift?’ And actually I accepted that with the understanding that perhaps it would lead to doing more, but the inside joke was, ‘Gee, if Kelly had a different color, he might rise to all the highest ranks available to him.’ Those things are, they hurt, actually. Especially when I was saying to management, to leaders there, ‘We are viewed as being too white. Can we at least look at the possibilities?’ Quite frankly, when I was raising my hand saying, ‘Put me in the game, put me in the mix, I don't care what you do, just put me out there on some of your prime-time shows, on some of your main shows.’ And I want to make this very clear: It's not about me. It was really about trying to show and be reflective of what the country is. We're not all white."
On the allegation that Bill O'Reilly recommended Wright offer to sing the national anthem at Fox News Town Halls
KW: "That happened in a sequence of things. I remember going to him on the heels of Ferguson and I said, ‘Look, as long as you're talking about Ferguson, as long as you're talking about the ills of the black community, would you please consider having me on as a guest to talk about what's right about this community? And perhaps you could show a little bit of my series 'Beyond the Dream.'' And he said, ‘What is it?’ And I said, ‘Basically, I go into communities like a black community where — and I don't overlook the negatives — but I show how people are proactively involved in changing the community by mentoring, by helping people understand that they have the ability to pursue their American dream, and there are ways to do it without being a thug or a gangster. The response was, ‘It's too positive.’ I was actually kind of taken aback by that, and then at a later time, Bill had always liked the fact that I was a singer, and he said, ‘Well, gee, why don't you consider asking Bill Shine and Roger Ailes — and don't tell them I told you this — but why don't you consider asking them to do the national anthem or some patriotic song at some of these Fox Town Hall events or before some of the debates.’ And I thought, ‘Well that's odd, I really wanted to come to you on a professional level as a two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist to talk about a serious problem. I don't mind singing, but that's not how I want to proceed when I came to you with something that I think could have benefited America, other than me singing a nice song.’"
On why Wright stayed at “Fox & Friends”
KW: "When I was with ‘Fox & Friends,’ they didn't have that dismissive attitude because I was on the air to knock that down, in a very professional and courteous kind of way. After 'Fox & Friends,' I kept working on the inside, thinking that I could change the system and the culture from within. I would get frustrated. I remember going home so many times, and I remember my family saying, ‘Why do they take you so far, and then it's almost as if they pull the rug out from under you?' And, 'How long will you put up with this?’ I guess I was guilty of, like any other person in that particular situation — I'm an African-American male, I'm putting two kids through college, so I kept my head low, kept doing the work. There are other people who go through the same thing, not just at Fox but across the country, who are on-air talent. We realize that if we go forward, it's a very dangerous place to go, because you've run the risk of retaliation. But I stayed there because I was talking to them, and I was believing them that they, in fact, wanted to do something to change the culture. Until I saw what happened in the other department. And then I began to really look at me and say, ‘How long will I remain silent?’ I came forward with hurt, because it hurts. It's painful. These are people that I know. These are people that I expressed my intentions to, my best of intentions. And again, I have to stress, this is not about me. This is not about playing anybody's race card, or being a crybaby. This is about righting the ship. Because I believe that Fox News still has better days ahead, but it has to change, because we are better than this. And it's not about 'us against them.' It's not just about Fox News. It is about America."
This segment aired on May 5, 2017.
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