Rudi Bakhtiar is speaking out about the alleged sexual harassment she faced while at Fox News Channel, which she believes eventually led to her termination in 2007.
In a New York Times report, Bakhtiar told the publication she joined the station as a freelancer in 2006 before she was signed to a three-year deal after a six-month trial period. It was in 2007 that she met for coffee with her colleague Brian Wilson, who told her he’d soon be promoted to Washington bureau chief and would try and help her move from being a temporary to a full-time weekend correspondent in the Washington station.
“Recalling the encounter in a recent phone interview, Ms. Bakhtiar said she was thrilled and told Mr. Wilson she would make him proud,” the Times piece reports. “But, she said, he repeated himself, asking, ‘You know how I feel about you?’ When she asked him what he meant, he said, ‘Well, I’d like to see the inside of your hotel room,’ adding that he wanted a friends-with-benefits relationship.”
Bakhtiar told the Times she rejected his advance and even apologized for giving any wrong impression. However, following the encounter, Bakhtiar said network executives began canceling her planned Washington appearances. She also went to a manager, Bill Shine, to inform him of the incident. He “urged her to make a formal complaint,” the Times piece states.
In the beginning, though, Bakhtiar didn’t want to. She told her managers, “‘I know what happens to women. We’re expected to shut up about it.’ But she said she did as she was told.”
According to the report, weeks later Roger Ailes informed Bakhtiar that she was being fired because of her performance, citing senior news executive John Moody as one of her critics.
Moody told the Times, “My lack of confidence in her reporting predated any knowledge that I had of her claims of sexual harassment.”
Bakhtiar didn’t believe that, though. According to the Times, she told Ailes, “I said, ‘You know very well why I’m getting let go, and it has nothing to do with my abilities. You guys came to me and sought me out,’ Ms. Bakhtiar said. “I said, ‘This is all about what happened with Brian. You know it, and I know it.’ “
Bakhtiar was officially let go; meanwhile, Wilson went on to become bureau chief.
According to the Times piece, she eventually received a settlement “in which Fox News paid her an undisclosed amount.” Though Bakhtiar legally agreed not to speak of her experience, she opted to step forward with her story after Gretchen Carlson’s recent sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes.
While parent company 21st Century Fox was investigating Carlson’s claims, the Times was attempting to dig deeper into Fox News.
“The Times spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it,” the Times piece said. “Two of them cited Mr. Ailes and the rest cited other supervisors.”
Like Bakhtiar, these women were afraid to speak out in fear of retribution — causing them to speak anonymously.
The Times piece goes on to describe several instances of harassment, ranging from proposals of trading oral sex for assignments to supervisors routinely questioning a woman’s sex life.
However, the Times also cites one woman, former Fox News makeup artist Ashana Clark, who said the company “held sexual harassment training sessions at which employees were instructed not to make sexual jokes or references.” She told the Times, “After that, you didn’t see a lot of it.”
Now, Bakhtiar works as a producer for Reuters, but admitted that finding a new job after her post at Fox wasn’t particularly easy. She told the Times, “It took a couple of years for me to bounce back.”
After she made the recent decision to speak up, Fox News contacted her old lawyer saying she was in breach of her agreement. That didn’t stop her, though. “I just feel like I shut up because I didn’t want to hurt my career,” she told the Times. “It’s awful what happened to me, and to other people, with a nod from management.”