21st Century Fox’s sports group abruptly fired a top executive, Jamie Horowitz, on Monday amid an investigation into sexual harassment, a person briefed on the matter said.
The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the investigation had begun about a week ago.
“Everyone at Fox Sports, no matter what role we play, or what business, function or show we contribute to — should act with respect and adhere to professional conduct at all times,” Eric Shanks, the president of Fox Sports, said in an email to employees. “These values are non-negotiable.”
The company did not explicitly say why Mr. Horowitz had been fired, or what details the investigation had yielded.
Mr. Horowitz was in charge of sports programming, and his radical restructuring of the network caused widespread consternation among its employees. He has hired the lawyer Patricia Glaser to represent him in relation to his firing.
“The way Jamie has been treated by Fox is appalling,” Ms. Glaser said in a statement. “At no point in his tenure was there any mention by his superiors or human resources of any misconduct, nor an inability to adhere to professional conduct. Jamie was hired by Fox to do a job, the job that until today he has performed in an exemplary fashion. Any slanderous accusations to the contrary will be vigorously defended.”
A person familiar with the matter said there were no legal claims against Mr. Horowitz or settlements made regarding allegations of sexual harassment.
Daniel Petrocelli, a lawyer representing Fox Sports, issued a statement countering the assertions made by Ms. Glaser: “Mr. Horowitz’s termination was fully warranted and his lawyer’s accusations are ill-informed and misguided.”
The Los Angeles Times first reported that the company was investigating allegations of sexual harassment.
The swift dismissal of Mr. Horowitz — without a public lawsuit or public pressure — represents a significant departure from how 21st Century Fox has handled other cases. 21st Century Fox, the media giant controlled by the Murdoch family, owns Fox Sports, Fox News and a number of other entertainment properties.
The development is yet another setback for a company that has been reeling for a year from a sexual harassment scandal at Fox News.
On July 6, 2016, the former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against Roger Ailes, the former chairman of the network. That prompted an internal investigation that found several women at Fox News who reported misconduct. Mr. Ailes was forced out of the network, with a $40 million exit package, and the company went on to reach settlements with at least six women who accused Mr. Ailes of sexual harassment, according to a person briefed on the agreements. The company paid $20 million to settle the suit with Ms. Carlson.
Yet women inside Fox News said that issues of harassment and intimidation at the network went beyond Mr. Ailes. Current and former Fox News employees have said that they feared making complaints to network executives or the human resources department.
In late February, 21st Century Fox reached a settlement worth more than $2.5 million with Tamara Holder, a former Fox News contributor, who reported that she had been sexually assaulted by an executive at company headquarters. The network fired the executive.
Then in April, an investigation by The New York Times exposed financial settlements involving multiple women who had accused Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior. After an internal investigation, Mr. O’Reilly was ousted on April 19. The cleanup continued in May, with the dismissal of one of the network’s presidents, Bill Shine, a protégé of Mr. Ailes.
Mr. Ailes, who has since died, and Mr. O’Reilly both denied any wrongdoing.
The continuing scandal has been a financial and reputational hit for 21st Century Fox. The company disclosed that in the nine months leading up to March 31, it incurred $45 million in costs tied to settlements of pending and potential litigation related to harassment allegations. That does not include the exit package for Mr. Ailes and the estimated $25 million payout for Mr. O’Reilly.
The scandal has come under the spotlight on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, federal investigators have looked into the network’s financial practices. And last week, British regulators reviewing 21st Century Fox’s $15 billion deal to take full control of Sky, the European satellite giant, found that the company and its executives were “fit and proper,” despite concluding that the sexual harassment scandal had amounted to “significant corporate failures.”
Mr. Horowitz began his career at NBC Sports, working on Olympic and N.B.A. coverage, before going to ESPN in 2006. He was initially in charge of World Series of Poker coverage before moving into original programming.
In 2008, Mr. Horowitz helped develop “SportsNation,” which became a staple of ESPN2’s afternoon block, and later oversaw “Numbers Never Lie.” But he is best known for taking charge of “First Take” and pairing Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, resulting in one of the most popular, and controversial, shows in sports.
Mr. Horowitz’s later work was less successful, however. In 2013, he created both “Olbermann” and “Colin’s New Football Show,” but neither show gained ratings traction, and both ended after two years. In 2014, he was hired to run NBC’s “Today” show but was fired after just three months, before he had even officially started.
Mr. Horowitz was hired by Fox in May 2015 and was put in charge of programming at the flagship channel FS1, which was then three years old and struggling to compete with ESPN. He revamped the channel’s daytime lineup, hiring away Mr. Bayless, Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock from ESPN, making them and their opinion-driven shows the face of the network.
He presided over a move away from news at Fox Sports, ending “Fox Sports Live” — FS1’s competitor to ESPN’s “SportsCenter” — and letting on-air reporters depart. He was later put in charge of digital operations at Fox Sports, and just last week laid off about 20 online writers and editors in a shift to video content featuring Fox Sports personalities.
Published at Mon, 03 Jul 2017 20:32:18 +0000