Rupert Murdoch’s media company has been struggling for nearly a year to contain a sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed its Fox News unit in New York. Now, fresh allegations of a boorish workplace culture are dogging yet another unit — this time in Los Angeles — as Fox Sports announced that it had abruptly fired its controversial head of sports programming.
Jamie Horowitz’s dismissal Monday came about a week after Fox began investigating allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace in its sports division. The company interviewed several women at L.A.-based Fox Sports about Horowitz’s behavior, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to publicly discuss it.
The women included prominent on-air personalities and show producers, according to two people who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.
“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,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said in an email to staff members, announcing Horowitz’s departure.
“These values are non-negotiable,” he said.
Late Friday, Horowitz, the president of Fox Sports National Networks, was told to report to his West Los Angeles office at 8 a.m. Monday for a meeting. That request, his attorney said, was the first indication to Horowitz that anything was amiss.
He met with Fox Sports’ human resources executives, who informed Horowitz that he was being fired, effective immediately, said one of the people familiar with the situation.
“The way Jamie has been treated by Fox is appalling,” said Horowitz’s attorney, Patricia L. Glaser. “At no point in his tenure was there any mention by his superiors or human resources of any misconduct, or an inability to adhere to professional conduct. Jamie was hired by Fox to do a job that until today he was performing in exemplary fashion.
“Any slanderous accusations to the contrary will be vigorously defended.”
Fox immediately hired a high-powered attorney, Daniel Petrocelli of the O’Melveny & Myers firm, to defend its decision to fire Horowitz.
“Mr. Horowitz’s termination was fully warranted and his lawyer’s accusations are ill-informed and misguided,” Petrocelli said in a statement distributed by Fox.
Fox has not paid any financial settlements related to Horowitz’s behavior, according to one of the sources familiar with the matter.
Fox Sports is a profitable arm of Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox media company. Horowitz, 40, a former ESPN executive, ripped a page from Fox News’ playbook by introducing loud and opinionated pundits who argue about issues in sports. The shows often feature an attractive young woman who serves as a foil for the boisterous men.
Sports Illustrated on Monday reported that a production assistant told human resources executives at Fox Sports that Horowitz once tried to kiss her. “I have been working in sports for a long time, and no one has ever been that bold with me,” the unidentified woman told the magazine. “I saw him at Fox one day, and he said he wanted to catch up.… The hook was that he could get me more work.”
The parent company has been grappling with problems in workplace culture for nearly a year. In July 2016, Fox fired its powerful chairman of Fox News, Roger Ailes, amid allegations that he made lewd comments to women and created an atmosphere of intimidation. Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News co-host, filed a lawsuit last July that exposed the allegations against Ailes, who died in May. Fox spent more than $40 million settling claims of harassment at its news division, which included a $20-million settlement for Carlson.
In April, Fox fired its star conservative host, Bill O’Reilly, amid another sexual harassment investigation. Los Angeles radio personality Wendy Walsh alleged O’Reilly promised her a position on his highly rated show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” if she would have sex with him. When she refused, she was not invited back on his show, according to Walsh. O’Reilly, who has been producing a weekly podcast since leaving Fox, has denied the claims.
The scandals have rocked Fox — affecting not just its prime-time lineup at Fox News but also its corporate image. As the company attempts to close a $15-billion deal to acquire European satellite TV giant Sky, it has reason to take a harder line on allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Horowitz — whose biographical page listing his accomplishments was deleted from Fox’s corporate website early Monday — joined Fox Sports in May 2015 and immediately overhauled its programming strategy. He tried to position Fox Sports 1 as a more provocative alternative to the talk programs on ESPN, a unit of Walt Disney Co.
“The Fox culture allows us to talk about sports news in ways that perhaps would be frowned upon at other companies,” Horowitz told the Los Angeles Times in a December interview. “There is an appetite here for raw, fearless talk.”
He was given license to spend heavily on talent and used his budget to promote opinion and debate programs hosted by big names that he raided from ESPN. Those included Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd, who jumped ship for $5.5-million and $6-million annual deals, respectively.
Horowitz also made runs at other ESPN personalities when their contracts came up.
He joined Fox Sports after a brief and tumultuous stint at NBC’s “Today,” from which he was fired in 2014 after two months on the job. On-air personalities at “Today” complained to superiors that Horowitz was sowing discord on the set, suggesting that high-profile anchors, including Natalie Morales and Willie Geist, were on the verge of being fired.
NBC, at the time, released a statement saying that Horowitz was “not the right fit.”
Before that, Horowitz was a rising star in the executive ranks at ESPN.
His ouster comes amid much upheaval at Fox Sports. Last week, the company laid off more than a dozen writers and producers at Fox Sports’ digital properties amid a corporate move to focus more on videos rather than text.
Horowitz’s termination is more bad publicity for Fox as it awaits regulatory approval in Britain for its takeover of Sky, the jewel of European pay-TV. Last week, Britain’s media watchdog, Ofcom, acknowledged the harassment allegations — which it called “extremely serious and disturbing” — in its review.
Federal prosecutors in New York have been investigating whether Fox News executives properly accounted for payments made to women to settle claims of harassment before the scandal exploded last July.
Until Fox hires a replacement, Shanks said he would assume all of Horowitz’s responsibilities.
“We realize this news may come as a surprise for many of you,” Shanks said in his email to staff, “but we are confident in this decision.”