Rudi Bakhtiar’s Unsettling Story: We Have A Long Way To Go In Dealing With Sexual Assault And Harassment At Work

Fox and Fox News are not the only notorious establishments where female employees are demeaned and devalued in their career pursuits.

Far too often, Americans lack sensitivity when it comes to allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment. This has created a climate where victims do not feel comfortable coming forward with their stories. With respect to stories in the public eye, it is more often the case that the victim is scrutinized, rather than the person accused.

This certainly appears to be the case with former Fox News Anchor Rudi Bakhtiar and former Fox CEO Roger Ailes. Subsequent to an investigation about sexual harassment, Ailes was resigned. Rupert Murdoch, who will take over as CEO for an interim period, did not mention the allegations in his public statement.

Ailes will receive $40 million in settlement, which is roughly the equivalent of what he would of made finishing his contract in 2018. Further, he will be allowed to act as an advisor to Murdoch, though he is not allowed to start a competitor of be involved in Fox or Fox news.

More troubling than the luxurious conditions of his resignation is the fact that he was previously under investigation due to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. Another former anchor, Megyn Kelly, also accused Ailes of harassment, which was the catalyst for his being instructed to resign.

Earlier this week, Rudi Bakhtiar’s story made headlines as she too complained about sexual harassment from Ailes. Bakhtiar believes she was fired because of her complaints. Bakhtiar;s accusations included a story about harassment she faced with Brian Wilson.  It occurred around Thanksgiving in 2006, when Wilson was about to be promoted to bureau chief.

As New York Magazine reports, Bakhtiar had a strange encounter with Wilson in the lobby of the George Hotel, “In the lobby of her hotel, he said he would make her a full-time Washington correspondent, which was her dream job. “Oh my God, Brian, that’s wonderful!” she recalls saying.

“And he says, ‘Well, you know what that means for you.’ I said, ‘Brian, I won’t let you down. I’m going to bust my a** for you. You’re going to be so proud.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, I know. You’re great at that. But you know how I feel about you, right, Rudi?’ And all of a sudden I’m like, Uh oh.

“I said, ‘Well … I really respect you, too. I think you’re wonderful at what you do.’ And he says, ‘No, no, no … do you know how I really feel about you?’ I went from ecstasy to my whole body freezing. I said, ‘No, I’m not following, Brian.’ He said, ‘Well, let’s just say I want to see the inside of your hotel room.’”

Bakhtiar edged her way out of the awkward encounter, repeatedly rejecting Wilson’s advances. When Wilson was promoted to bureau chief in 2007, Bakhtiar was informed that she wasn’t assigned to the Washington Bureau.

Bakhtiar says she experienced harassment at her first interview with Ailes in 2005. Bakhtiar recalled, “He said, ‘Can you stand up for a second?’” Bakhtiar recalled. “I said, ‘Excuse me?’ He said, ‘Just stand up. I want to see your legs.’

“So I stood up and said, ‘Is this part of the job requirement?’ He just laughed and said, ‘No, no, no. Sit down.’” Though this made her uncomfortable, she was eager to report in Iran and Ailes gave her the opportunity to do so.

She had just returned from a summit meeting between then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki when the hyper-sexualized atmosphere of Fox really hit her. She describes an unsettling occurrence: “I would never wear skirts at work. One day they rolled in a bunch of skirts for me and said, ‘These are a gift from Roger Ailes.’ They were all miniskirts.

“I said, ‘Are you forcing me to wear skirts?’ And they said, ‘No, we’re just suggesting. Roger really likes it. And you’ve got nice legs. Why aren’t you wearing skirts?’” Though she had just been tasked with appearing on Fox and Friends, this interaction led her to leave the show.

Kelly informed Bakhtiar to speak, urging that the network could not do this to her because she was a good reporter. Ultimately, Bakhtiar met with programming head Bill Shine and later head of human resources Maureen Hunt. She had written to Shine in 2007 about how marginalized she felt as a reporter:

It seems to me that my role … has been diminished. I’m constantly being given ridiculous stories. I realize certain animosities might have arisen from my desire to move to D.C. But it’s gotten to the point where I feel like I’m not wanted on this show.”

“Last week I had the girl who wouldn’t stop hiccupping (among other inane topics) … Today I’m doing love letters from a crazed astronaut.”  When she met with general counsel Dianne Brandi, she was heavily questioned about whether or not she would press charges. Her desires for her career were not brought up.

Shortly after that encounter, Bakhtiar was informed by Ailes that she was being let go – allegedly because she was not a good enough reporter. When her lawyer wrote to Fox News about her unlawful treatment and termination, Ailes lawyer Barry Ansen intimidated Bakhtiar and refuted her claims.

Bakhtiar’s lawyer eventually convinced her to go to court and she received a $670,000 settlement. She was not able to find the same kind of employment she had with Fox. Though she now works as a producer with Reuters, Bakhtiar was compelled to tell her story because she believes more women has suffered harassment and been intimidated into silence at Fox.

As it now stands, no Fox spokesperson will comment on the situation. In spite of her courageousness, Bakhtiar is anxious about the repercussions of her public confession. Rather than let that anxiety hinder her, she’s allowed it to propel her to attempt to change cable news culture for female employees.

Women should feel coerced into tolerating hostile environments for the sake of career development. Further, allegations of sexual assault and harassment should not end with a female employee being humiliated and disbelieved. Sexual harassment in the workplace is not new, but it’s about time that we all educated ourselves and did something. This dangerous culture needs to change.

Photo source.

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