Andrea Tantaros, co-host of Fox News’ “Outnumbered,” mysteriously disappeared from the network in April. A Fox statement said “issues have arisen” with her contract, and that she was going to “take some time off.”
Three months later, when Gretchen Carlson and other women accused former Fox chief Roger Ailes of sexual harassment, it seemed like the mystery of what really happened to Tantaros might be solved — especially after New York Magazine reported Monday that she had repeatedly complained to executives in 2015 “about Ailes’s inappropriate sexual behavior.” The magazine reported she was demoted and silenced.
But Tuesday brought another twist. A person with knowledge of the legal situation reached out to TheWrap to say the sexual harassment issue is a way for Tantaros to “muddy the waters when the real issue is her contract.”
The issue, said the person, is that Tantaros promoted her book, “Tied Up in Knots,” on the air without permission, after failing to submit a publishing timeline or detailed outline of the book’s content, as required by her contract.
As Tantaros and the network hash out her future, one likely area of dispute will be whether the alleged contract violation was just a convenient way for Fox News to silence her. Would Bill O’Reilly, for example, have been banished from the airwaves for hawking a book without corporate approval?
Tantaros’ attorney, Judd Burstein, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The network has sued to try to force the dispute over Tantaros’ contract into arbitration. Until the matter is settled, her career is, to borrow from her book title, tied up in knots.
The New York Magazine story says that Ailes asked Tantaros to do a “twirl” in August 2014, and told her in February 2015 that her body “looked good.” That same month, in February 2015, Tantaros was moved from the 5 p.m. show “The Five” to the mid-day show “Outnumbered.”
The magazine said she complained about Ailes to Fox News executive vice president Bill Shine in April 2015, though Shine told TheWrap through a spokeswoman: “Andrea never made any complaints to me about Roger Ailes sexually harassing her.”
The person close to the matter said Fox News’ legal team was blindsided when Tantaros held up her book on-air on February 29, 2016 and revealed the cover art. Some at the network found the cover image, of Tantaros’ raised arms, tied in knots, to be too provocative. “If someone like Dana Perino was tied up on the cover of her book, it would be an issue,” a person with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap.
On March 16, Fox News received a letter from Los Angeles attorney Joseph Cane, who no longer represents Tantaros. The letter said Tantaros’ safety had been threatened, and that “people she doesn’t know” had come on the “Outnumbered” set, which made her uncomfortable, the source said. The letter also mentioned inappropriate male behavior, and mentioned other people, including on-air personalities, but not Ailes, the source said.
“She probably had more complaints about her female colleagues than her male colleagues,” the person told TheWrap, declining to go into detail.
Fox News human resources and Fox attorney Dianne Brandi began investigating the complaints in the letter, but Tantaros initially refused to cooperate, the source said, adding that “probably 15 people” were interviewed. When Tantaros was interviewed in April, with her attorney listening in on the phone, she said she couldn’t recall “any specific statements” made toward her that were “of a sexual nature,” the source said — adding that Tantaros never alleged Ailes harassed her.
Tantaros declined to be interviewed a second time, and was suspended soon after. Her last day on-air was April 25, and “Tied Up in Knots” came out the next day. Carlson sued Ailes in July, and he resigned soon after.
Tantaros is still being paid by Fox News and her contract expires August 2, 2017.