A conservative commentator has filed a lawsuit accusing Fox News of orchestrating a campaign to destroy her reputation after she reported she was sexually assaulted and raped by a Fox News anchor. Among the claims: An outside lawyer hired by Fox News suggested a settlement, versus a formal investigation, while a network spokesperson leaked her name to the National Enquirer as someone who had a consensual affair with the Fox News personality.
"In July of 2013, I was raped by Charles Payne," Scottie Nell Hughes, a once frequent guest on Fox Business News, told the NY Times. "In July of 2017, I was raped again by Fox News. Since then, I have been living an absolute hell."
This past July, it was reported that Hughes had accused Payne, a Fox Business News host, of sexual harassment. Payne issued a statement to the National Enquirer, "I would like to extend an apology to my family and friends for having been involved in a romantic affair that ended two years ago."
"In July 2013, while they were both in New York City to appear on a Fox program, Payne pressured his way into Ms. Hughes's hotel room for a 'private discussion,'" Hughes's lawsuit alleges. "Tragically, Payne sexually assaulted and raped Ms. Hughes. Despite her clear refusal of his advances and telling him 'no' and to 'stop,' Payne forced her to engage in sexual intercourse against her will. Too shocked and ashamed to speak out, Ms. Hughes told no one about what happened."
Hughes also accuses Payne of subsequetly forcing her into a "sexual relationship," making "clear that her increase in appearances and other employment benefits would have been withdrawn had Ms. Hughes refused his sexual advances. On those occasions that Ms. Hughes did attempt to terminate the relationship, Payne became enraged and physically violent." The NY Times notes that a "contributor contract... can pay several hundred thousand dollars a year."
After she ended the relationship in 2015, the lawsuit says Hughes "went from appearing on Fox programs four or five times a week to only appearing five times in total over a ten-month period. Eventually, she learned that Fox had blacklisted her" when she tried to book appearances on other networks.
In the summer of 2016, an avalanche of accusations of sexual harassment and company coverup at Fox News emerged, and the parent company, 21st Century Fox, said they were seriously investigating all allegations and urged women to step forward. From the lawsuit:
In late June 2017, Ms. Hughes, confidentially, contacted lawyers at Paul Weiss, the outside firm hired by Fox to conduct “internal investigations” following the barrage of sexual harassment allegations, to disclose the details about the sexual assault and rape, and other relevant facts of her unlawful treatment. The lead independent lawyer suggested that it would be best to reach a business solution rather than conduct a formal investigation. The Paul Weiss lawyer explained that a formal investigation simply would open a can of worms.
Just days later, Fox made clear that a business solution was not feasible. Simultaneously, the wheels of the Fox public relations (“PR”) machine launched into high gear. Suddenly, Ms. Hughes’s manager received a call from a reporter at the National Enquirer seeking comment on a breaking story about Ms. Hughes and Payne. Fox, through its notorious spokesperson, Irena Briganti, leaked Ms. Hughes’s name to the National Enquirer, knowing that Ms. Hughes was a victim of a violent sexual assault.
Briganti, the spokesperson, has been known for spinning stories aggressively to reporters.
A Fox News spokesperson said, "The latest publicity stunt of a lawsuit filed by Doug Wigdor has absolutely no merit and is downright shameful. We will vigorously defend this... It’s worth noting that Doug is Ms. Hughes’ third representative in the last six months to raise some variation of these claims which concern events from four years ago, since it apparently took some time to find someone willing to file this bogus case."
Wigdor's firm is representing a number of people in their lawsuits against Fox News. Wigdor said, "Fox cannot spin its way out of this crisis—especially when only Fox is to blame for what happened. Regardless of the fact that the sexual assault and rape, as alleged, happened in 2013, the events exposing Fox’s liability exposure (as opposed to Payne) occurred less than 2 months ago when Fox Executives at the highest levels leaked Ms. Hughes’s name to a tabloid. The 'representatives' that Fox refers to in its statement include her agent and a lawyer not admitted in NY, so the suggestion that Ms. Hughes was shopping for a lawyer is yet another desperate attempt at avoiding the real issues and blaming the victim. Sadly, nothing has changed at Fox."
"My complaint speaks for itself," Hughes said in a statement. "What is most important to me is that justice will prevent other women from going through the nightmare I’m now living. On my behalf, Wigdor LLP will expose Fox’s unconscionable conduct, including leaking my name to the media. I am grateful to my husband, family, friends and colleagues for the outpouring of love and support."