LONDON — Rupert Murdoch built his incomparable global empire by conquering the varied media landscapes of both London and New York, but unfortunately for him his latest foe has now gone Transatlantic to face him down.
After months of sexual harassment allegations—that forced resignations and recriminations at the very top of Fox News in the U.S.—the fight arrived in London on Monday as part of a two-day media blitz that will saturate the British airwaves in a bid to damage Murdoch in the country where the Australian native’s overseas media empire began.
This whirlwind of bad publicity is being wrought by Lisa Bloom, a lawyer representing four women who say they were sexually harassed or discriminated against at 21st Century Fox.
“Fox knew about [Bill] O’Reilly’s harassment since at least 2004 when one of his employees reportedly came forward with records of him masturbating while on the phone with him,” she said, standing on a windswept bridge in Central London just yards from Murdoch’s London HQ.
A bank of TV cameras rolled as she claimed that the media mogul had presided over an organization where sexual harassment and racism were rampant. Murdoch had stood by senior staff for years, she said, as accusations, lawsuits and multi-million dollar payouts became routine.
Bloom had just emerged from the offices of Ofcom, Britain’s media regulator, where she had given evidence about the corporate governance of 21st Century Fox alongside her client Dr. Wendy Walsh, who says she was harassed by O’Reilly.
Ofcom will submit its findings to the government which will decide next month whether to allow 21st Century Fox to complete a $14 billion buyout of Sky, the highly profitable European television, phone and internet company set up by Murdoch. He already owns 39% of the company, but regulators prevented him completing a full takeover in 2011 under rules that limit the scope of media control by a single owner. Murdoch must convince them that he is a “fit and proper person” to be allowed full control.
For an ordinary lawyer, the statement on the River Thames and evidence given behind closed doors might have been considered a sufficiently grievous blow to Murdoch’s reputation.
Bloom is no ordinary lawyer. The daughter of media-friendly legal celebrity Gloria Allred will now dominate the London media scene for the next two days with a series of interviews lined up on Britain’s blue chip platforms.
She will appear on the BBC’s flagship TV news show the News at 10 on Monday night before she is interviewed on the Today program on Radio 4 on Tuesday morning. The agenda-defining Today program is essential breakfast listening for every British Member of Parliament and Westminster politico; Bloom is unlikely to be pulling any punches while Britain’s ruling classes enjoy their cornflakes.
Walsh will join Bloom for further sit-downs on the BBC and Channel 4 before they take the message global on BBC World and CNN.
Murdoch is an extremely well-known and controversial figure in Britain and the highly contentious decision over ownership of Sky was delayed until after the election on June 8 as the ruling Conservative government knew how explosive it could become.
Cosy relationships between Murdoch and prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron have become legend.
Despite the widespread scrutiny of Murdoch in Britain after the phone hacking scandal, the recent troubles at Fox News have not been widely covered on this side of the Atlantic.
That will change this week.
“I told Ofcom about the epidemic of sexual harassment and retaliation and allegations of racism rampant inside the Murdoch media empire in the U.S.,” Bloom said in her opening salvo beneath gray skies. “It’s phone hacking part 2. The Murdoch media hacks, harasses and hides it with hush money.”
The Bloom and Walsh trip to London began with a selfie at the airport soon after they landed. It is likely to end with the sand shifting beneath Murdoch’s feet.