In 2006, after nearly a decade at CNN, Rudi Bakhtiar came to the Fox News Channel in New York with a command of foreign policy, an appealing personality and a delivery that easily switched between light and serious.
After a six-month freelance arrangement, Fox signed her to a three-year deal. Pretty quickly, she was spending half her time in Washington, where the network sent her to fill in as a weekend correspondent, a post she hoped to win permanently, she said.
Her break seemed to come in early 2007, she said, when she met for coffee in the lobby of her Washington hotel with a friend and colleague, Brian Wilson. He told her he would soon become Washington bureau chief and wanted to help her get the weekend job. Then he said, “You know how I feel about you, Rudi.”
Recalling the encounter, Bakhtiar said that she was thrilled and told Wilson she would make him proud. 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.”
She politely rebuffed him, she said. After that rejection, she said, network executives canceled her Washington appearances, directed her to report her allegations to human resources and, a few weeks later, let her go, with the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, telling her that her tenure was ending because of her performance. On Saturday, a senior Fox News executive repeated that assertion.
After a mediation process, she reached a settlement in which Fox News paid her an undisclosed amount.
Contacted on Friday, Wilson, who went on to get the bureau chief job, said of her account: “I take strong exception to the facts of the story as you have relayed it to me, period. Beyond that, I will have no further comment.”
Bakhtiar conceded that she agreed in her settlement not to speak of her experience. But she said she was emboldened to step forward by the sexual harassment lawsuit that former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson brought against Ailes this month, and a subsequent investigation that has brought to light at least 10 other claims of improper behavior involving him. Ailes resigned on Thursday.
The investigation by Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, focused narrowly on Ailes. But in interviews, current and former employees described instances of harassment and intimidation that went beyond Ailes and suggested a broader problem.
About a dozen women said that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and a half-dozen more said they had witnessed it. Two of them cited Ailes and the rest cited other supervisors. With the exception of Bakhtiar, they all spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retribution. Several said that inappropriate comments about a woman’s appearance and sex life were frequent.
In a statement Friday, Julie Henderson, a spokeswoman for 21st Century Fox, said, “As we’ve made clear, there’s absolutely no room anywhere at our company for behavior that disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.”
The networks were run with an iron fist by Ailes, the founding chairman, who established the channels as a lucrative profit center and an influential voice in politics.
One woman who is still there said that a producer of a show on which she frequently appeared persuaded her to go on dates with him. When she decided that she had had enough, he ceased to have her on his show, she said.
One former reporter said that behind closed doors, Ailes often made provocative comments. She also said that each meeting with Ailes began and ended with a hug and a kiss, a ritual that made her uncomfortable. Messages sent to Ailes’ lawyers seeking comment were not returned.
One current employee said she was with a male supervisor in 2009 when she asked to work on an assignment. He turned to her and said, “Sure,” then conditioned it on oral sex. The woman said she laughed it off, thinking that she would face retaliation if she said the comment was inappropriate.
Other women, however, said the environment was not as bad as recent news suggested. Ashana Clark, a makeup artist for Fox News from 2003 to 2014, said that the company held sexual harassment training sessions at which employees were told not to make sexual jokes or references. “After that,” she said, “you didn’t see a lot of it.”