Fox News' Biggest Scandals Ever

Launched in 1996 as part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, Fox News was the brainchild of former Republican political strategist Roger Ailes. "Will FNC be a vehicle for expressing Mr. Murdoch's conservative political opinions?" a report by The New York Times asked rhetorically about Fox News' launch.

More than 20 years later, that question has been answered pretty definitively. "It's Time for Fox News to Stop Using the Misnomer 'News' in Its Channel Name," read a headline in Variety, lamenting how a network that once used the tagline "fair and balanced" had evolved to become a vehicle for "full-blown propaganda." In that vein, HuffPost took Fox News to task for promoting "debunked conspiracy theories and unproven allegations to millions each night."

Beyond questioning the veracity of what Fox News tells its viewers, the cable news net has experienced its fair share of controversy over the years. Along with billion-dollar defamation lawsuits and outrage over hosts' incendiary comments, the network has been dogged by persistent allegations of sexual harassment — so many, in fact, that they even made a movie about it. Keep on reading to learn all about Fox News' biggest scandals ever.

Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment lawsuit sent a seismic shock through Fox News

Gretchen Carlson exited Fox News in 2016, after spending a decade with the cable news network. Shortly after her exit, Carlson sent shockwaves throughout the media industry when she launched a blockbuster lawsuit against her former employer. Her suit, reported The New York Times, claimed Fox News chairman Roger Ailes sexually harassed Carlson for years, even "explicitly" requesting they have "a sexual relationship during a meeting in his office."

In a statement, the network promised to get to the bottom of her accusations by launching an investigation, insisting, "We take these matters seriously." Ailes released a far more defiant statement, blasting Carlson's allegations as "false" and characterizing her legal action as "a retaliatory suit for the network's decision not to renew her contract," which he pinned on her "disappointingly low" ratings.

Just a few months after the launch of the lawsuit, reported Vanity Fair, Fox News settled out of court. NPR's David Folkenflik confirmed via Twitter that Carlson received a $20-million settlement and "a highly unusual public apology," in which the network regretted she "was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Megyn Kelly and more women accused Fox News boss Roger Ailes of being a sexual predator

Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment lawsuit caused the floodgates to open. Within weeks, numerous other female employees of Fox News came forward to share their stories of being sexually harassed by Fox News head honcho Roger Ailes. Among these was Megyn Kelly, then one of the most popular personalities on the network. According to Intelligencer, it was during the course of Fox News' investigation into Carlson's claims that Kelly revealed Ailes had made "unwanted sexual advances toward her" a decade earlier, describing what took place "in detail."

Meanwhile, it quickly became evident that the allegations of Carlson and Kelly were far from isolated incidents. As Vox reported, other women subsequently lodged accusations against Ailes. One of these was Laurie Luhn, a former Fox News booker who told Intelligencer that Ailes subjected her to 20 years of "psychological torture" after she accepted his quid-pro-quo offer to provide him with sexual favors in exchange for advancing her career. In addition, producer Shelley Ross wrote a devastating piece for Daily Beast explaining Ailes wasn't the only culprit, pointing to "a pervasive culture populated by more than a few morally repugnant executives."  

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Roger Ailes was drummed out of Fox News due to multiple allegations of sexual misconduct

As the allegations against Roger Ailes increasingly piled up, in 2016 Intelligencer reported that Megyn Kelly's claims proved to be the tipping point. Ailes was given an ultimatum: resign by August 1, or be "fired for cause."

Ultimately, Ailes resigned on July 21, ending a career that saw his leadership rake in $2.3 billion for the network. "Roger Ailes has made a remarkable contribution to our company and our country. Roger shared my vision of a great and independent television organization and executed it brilliantly over 20 great years," said Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch (via NBC News). "I am proud of our accomplishments and look forward to continuing to work with you as an adviser in building 21st Century Fox," Ailes wrote in his resignation letter. Ailes may have resigned in disgrace, but he didn't walk away empty-handed; according to CNN, he reportedly received a $40-million payout, the remainder of his multi-year contract.

Less than a year later, 77-year-old Roger Ailes was dead. As The New York Times wrote in its obituary, Ailes succumbed to complications from a subdural hematoma he suffered after an accidental fall.

Glenn Beck called President Obama a 'racist'

Right-wing pundit Glenn Beck has been no stranger to controversy over the years, and that was particularly true during his brief tenure on Fox News (hired in late 2008, Beck was fired in 2011). Of Beck's many incendiary statements, it's tough to top the time he appeared on "Fox and Friends" and accused then-President Barack Obama of racism. "The president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or white culture," said Beck, adding, "this guy, I believe, is a racist."

Outrage quickly ensued. Fox News exec Bill Shine, reported NBC News, was quick to point out Beck had "expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel."

Beck later walked back his comments but stopped short of actually apologizing. "It shouldn't have been said; it was poorly said; I have a big fat mouth sometimes, and I say things," Beck said during an on-air chat with Fox News' Chris Wallace, as reported by Politico. "I don't want to retract — I want to amend," he said, claiming Obama's beliefs stem from "Liberation Theology" and that he "miscast it as racism."

Fox News paid $32 million to settle just one of many sexual harassment allegations against Bill O'Reilly

While Gretchen Carlson's 2016 allegations of sexual harassment ultimately led to the ouster of Fox News chief Roger Ailes, the following year saw the network's biggest star become embroiled in a disturbingly similar scandal. In 2017, The New York Times reported that Fox News had settled no less than five different sexual harassment complaints filed against Bill O'Reilly, host of "The O'Reilly Factor." Defending himself against the allegations, O'Reilly characterized himself as the real victim, an innocent man who'd been falsely accused. "This is horrible, it's horrible what I went through, horrible what my family went through," he declared. "This is crap, and you know it."

A subsequent report in The New York Times revealed a sixth settlement which was by far the largest: a jaw-dropping $32 million, which the Times described as "an extraordinarily large amount for such cases." The complaint alleged "repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material" to the complainant. Strangely, this settlement was made before Fox News signed O'Reilly on for a new four-year contract, set to pay him $25 million per year.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Bill O'Reilly became so toxic he was finally fired

As The New York Times pointed out, in January of 2017, Fox News' owner Rupert Murdoch conferred with sons James and Lachlan and "made a business calculation to stand by" Bill O'Reilly, given that he was the network's highest-rated personality. However, the continued drip of negative stories about O'Reilly and the increasing creepiness of the allegations about him led to a change of heart. By April, it became apparent that the negative press "posed a significant threat to their business empire," and the Murdochs decided the time had come to cut bait. "After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O'Reilly have agreed that Bill O'Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel," 21st Century Fox said in a statement to Variety.

That September, an unrepentant O'Reilly visited Today for his first interview since his firing. "If you look at the totality, this was a hit job — a political and financial hit job," declared O'Reilly. Promising to eventually present "more things to come" that would exonerate him, O'Reilly added, "My conscience is clear. What I have done is organize a legal team to get the truth to the American people."

A Fox News contributor accused anchor Charles Payne of rape

In July 2017, The New York Times reported Charles Payne, host of "Making Money" on Fox News' sister network Fox Business, was suspended following a report in The National Enquirer in which a woman accused him of sexual misconduct. Payne confirmed he'd had an extramarital affair with the woman, a former contributor on his show, and apologized. An investigation was undertaken, yet Payne was ultimately cleared and returned to the air that September (via Los Angeles Times).

Shortly after Payne's return, that contributor, Scottie Nell Hughes, sued Fox News. According to The New York Times, her lawsuit went far beyond misconduct, claiming Payne had raped her. In addition, she alleged she'd been blacklisted as a contributor after bringing her allegations to the network. Payne's lawyer told the Times that he "vehemently denies any wrongdoing" and dismissed the complaint as "baseless." A Fox News attorney slammed the lawsuit as "bogus" and "downright shameful," promising to "vigorously defend this."

A few months later, reported The Hollywood Reporter, a judge tossed out several of the lawsuit's claims but allowed her to move forward on her claims of "failure-to-hire and retaliation based on her status as a job applicant." Fox News subsequently settled.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Eric Bolling was axed for sending lewd text messages to female colleagues

It wasn't long after the ignominious firing of Bill O'Reilly that Fox News personality Eric Bolling wound up in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. In August 2017, HuffPost reported that three female colleagues had accused Bolling of texting them an "unsolicited photo of male genitalia." When reached for comment about the allegations, a Fox News spokesperson (who, by that point, was deserving of hazard pay) responded, "We were just informed of this and plan to investigate the matter."

Meanwhile, Bolling's attorney also issued a response: "Mr. Bolling recalls no such inappropriate communications, does not believe he sent any such communications, and will vigorously pursue his legal remedies for any false and defamatory accusations that are made."

Despite Bolling's declarations of innocence, he was suspended the following day. His show, "Fox News Specialists," was subsequently canceled. A network spokesperson issued a statement (via Los Angeles Times) to announce that "Bolling and Fox have agreed to part ways amicably. We thank Eric for his 10 years of service to our loyal viewers and wish him the best of luck."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Advertisers bailed on Laura Ingraham after she attacked a survivor of the Parkland school shooting

The horrific mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students dead and transformed several of the survivors into vocal gun-control activists. One of these teenagers was David Hogg, who pushed for more effective gun-control legislation in various television appearances. 

Hogg apparently irked Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who took to Twitter to gloat that he'd been "Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it." Hogg responded by issuing a tweet calling for a boycott of her show, "The Ingraham Angle," with a follow-up tweet listing 12 companies that advertise on the show. As The New York Times reported, enough advertisers bailed on Ingraham's show that she was forced to issue a mea culpa, writing, "I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland."

Hogg wasn't buying it. Asked during a CNN interview if he accepted her apology, he retorted, "No. She's only apologizing after a third of her advertisers pulled out, and I think it's really disgusting, the fact that she basically tried promoting her show after 'apologizing' to me."

Fox News was criticized for downplaying COVID-19

Fox News' reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic has been, well, erratic. Luckily, the Media Matters website has been keeping tabs on the network's persistent attempts in the early days of the pandemic to convince viewers that the deadly virus was no big deal. Case in point: the time that "Justice with Judge Jeanine" host Jeanine Pirro insisted that "talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly [than the flu] doesn't reflect reality."

Then there was Fox News' Pete Hegseth, who dismissively declared (via Media Matters), "the more I learn about this, the less there is to worry about." Fox News medical contributor, Dr. Marc Siegel, visited the network and claimed (via The BMJ), "At worst — worst case scenario — it could be the flu." Laura Ingraham likewise bashed the "panic pushers" in the media, per Media Matters, for going "into overdrive" in their reporting of the virus and then claimed China was using the virus to "hurt Trump in his reelection."

Meanwhile, over on Fox Business, Trish Regan delivered a fiery monologue about the "coronavirus impeachment scam," accusing the "liberal media" of "using coronavirus in an attempt to demonize and destroy the president." Soon after that broadcast, reported The Daily Beast, Regan was fired.

Sean Hannity called COVID-19 a 'hoax' used by Democrats to 'bludgeon Trump'

Of all the dubious information spread about COVID-19 on Fox News, perhaps the most egregious claim came from Sean Hannity. According to The Washington Post, on a March 2020 edition of his primetime show "Hannity," he chided the media for "scaring people unnecessarily" about the virus (via Newsweek). He continued by stating some dubious facts of the alternative kind, claiming that the only people at risk are those with "an immune system that is compromised, and [those that] are older, and have other underlying health issues."

Hannity continued by slamming the media for "scaring the living hell out of people — I see it, again, as like, let's bludgeon Trump with this new hoax." Many in the media picked up on those final words, leading to criticism (and even a lawsuit) claiming that Hannity was lying to viewers by calling COVID-19 a hoax. 

However, Hannity fired back by denying reality, claiming (via NowThis News) he never said what he said, despite having actually said it. "This program has always taken the coronavirus seriously and we've never called the virus a hoax," Hannity stated. 

Fox News was sued for billions for hosts' on-air lies about imaginary election fraud

In the weeks following Joe Biden's 2020 election victory, outgoing POTUS Donald Trump began disseminating what has come to be known as "the big lie," declaring the election was rigged and he actually won. Several lawyers working on Trump's behalf — including Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell — came up with a theory that voting machines and software produced by Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems had been rigged (apparently at the behest of a dead Venezuelan dictator) to switch Trump votes for Biden votes. While those thoroughly untrue claims were parroted by Fox Business hosts such as Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, more than 50 court challenges were shot down. 

The companies who manufactured those voting machines sued Powell and Giuliani before launching a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News. According to Reuters, Dominion's suit claimed the "radioactive falsehoods" spewed by the network's hosts and guests would cost the company hundreds of millions in lost revenue. 

Smartmatic then followed suit, launching its own $2.7 billion suit against Fox News. "The First Amendment does not provide the Fox defendants a get-out-of-jail-free card," Smartmatic's lawyer wrote in the brief, reported The New York Times

Lou Dobbs was fired and his show canceled after election fraud lies

Even though Chris Krebs, Trump-appointed director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, declared the 2020 presidential election to be the "most secure in American history," some Fox News hosts continued to disseminate the "big lie" that Joe Biden's win was due to fraud involving Dominion and Smartmatic. Arguably the loudest and most vociferous voice behind these utterly debunked claims was Lou Dobbs of Fox Business, described by the Los Angeles Times as "television's staunchest supporter of Donald Trump and of his assertions of voter fraud."

In February 2021, the Los Angeles Times reported, Fox News Media canceled Dobbs' Fox Business show, "Lou Dobbs Tonight." Curiously, the cancelation of Dobbs' show and his sudden vanishing act from the network came one day after Smartmatic's lawsuit, in which Dobbs was mentioned specifically. While it's pretty easy to connect the cancellation of Dobbs' show and the lawsuit, a Fox rep insisted that wasn't the case. 

"As we said in October, Fox News Media regularly considers programming changes and plans have been in place to launch new formats as appropriate post-election, including on Fox Business," said the rep in a statement, claiming Dobbs' exit was "part of those planned changes."

Tucker Carlson has a long history of controversy

Tucker Carlson made a lot of headlines in April 2021 when he told viewers of his Fox News show that whenever they encounter someone wearing a mask as a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they should "politely but firmly" order them to remove it. Furthermore, if any viewers saw a child wearing a mask, Carlson instructed they should call the police or child protective service to report child abuse.

That was just one of many controversial Carlson comments over the years, with his greatest hits including: claiming (via Daily Beast) that Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff is "clearly, demonstrably mentally ill;" stating, per The Guardian, that immigrants to America make the country "poorer and dirtier;" describing white supremacy as "a hoax" that was "not a real problem in America" (via Business Insider), and claiming increased immigration was a Democrat ploy to "replace the current electorate" with "more obedient voters from the Third World," per GBH News.

Those latter remarks about replacement, in fact, led the Anti-Defamation League to urge advertisers to boycott Carlson's show, as reported by Forbes. "Choose to pause or even pull your ads, not just from problematic programs, but altogether from networks that don't respect all people or that repeat baseless conspiracies that endanger all of us," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told advertisers.