This Fox Host Is Mounting a #MeToo Charge
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Harris Faulkner has been through the fire — and now she’s determined to douse it.
By Nick Fouriezos
Harris Faulkner is quickly becoming the inescapable woman of daytime cable news. On a busy morning, the 52-year-old emcees a female leadership event for 21st Century Fox employees. By the afternoon, the African-American newscaster is onstage leading a conversation about human trafficking at the Women of the World Summit. Yes, her sculpted eyebrows and blushed cheeks greet viewers each weekday across two shows, but it’s her words that are increasingly ubiquitous — from penning op-eds on the pay equity gap for SWAAY to her upcoming book, 9 Rules of Engagement, a motivational memoir about life as a military brat, which hits the stands in June.
Then there’s “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night.” Faulkner is all over America’s screens, but in this case it’s comedian Leslie Jones playing her as part of the SNL cold open: “Hi, I’m Harris Faulkner, and you’re watching Outnumbered,” Jones says, before deadpanning, “Outnumbered is the title of the show, and also how I feel here at Fox News.”
Amid the #MeToo movement and a critical reimagining of gender and race in media, Faulkner is the only woman of color with her own major cable news network weekday program. And although that might be a surprise considering the conservative reputation of Fox News, her portfolio has continued to expand. She is a cohost of Outnumbered, the noon daytime show where four female panelists discuss the news with “one lucky guy,” a show that has a 107 percent ratings advantage over CNN and a 67 percent lead over MSNBC in the same time slot, according to Nielsen Media Research. She is the host of Outnumbered Overtime, which draws 1.5 million viewers each day.
What’s more, Faulkner is emerging as a crucial voice advocating for women within and outside the conservative movement, having suffered from her own harrowing harassment in a past career pit-stop, although never at Fox. “She walks the talk every day,” providing support and guidance to her female colleagues, says Dagen McDowell, an anchor on the Fox Business Network. That empathy bleeds through the screen, says former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, an occasional guest on her show: “She may be the most thoughtful in the way she presents what she’s talking about. She actually does it in a slightly soft way that lets the viewer come in as a participant. You don’t just get her opinion, but it’s like you’re having a conversation with her.”
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An actual conversation with Faulkner is equal parts comedic and cerebral, a range she showed off in a postshow interview on a recent Friday at the Midtown Manhattan French café Brasserie Ruhlmann. Of that Saturday Night Live cameo, which poked at Fox’s focus on immigrants and relitigating Barack Obama’s offenses, Faulkner is nothing but good-natured: “Do I really shimmy?” she laughs, noting the way Jones shook her shoulders during the bit. “How have I been in the business so long and nobody has exploited this?”
Faulkner orders like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, asking for her chicken to be well done and her salad to be tossed a particular way, and makes an off-color joke about that movie’s famous diner scene. As for that SNL spot? She is a fan of Jones and notes that the details in that bit were perfect, from the fake “news eyelashes” to the blue nail polish. “It reminded me of Mean Girls,” Faulkner says, mimicking Amanda Seyfried’s ditsy line: “On Wednesdays, we wear pink!”
Over lunch, she says women should prepare for battle when confronting the gender pay gap: “We get labeled when we advocate for ourselves too much: ‘She’s too ambitious.’ I don’t care what you call me. Pay me.” She does the same when asked if she worries that Fox’s opinion programming damages the credibility of its news desk. (Sean Hannity’s previously undisclosed relationship with Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had been revealed not long before our conversation.) “I have six Emmys,” she fires back. “I don’t sit up at night worrying if somebody in prime time will make me less of a journalist.”
But Fox’s own complicity in harassment complicates Faulkner’s standing in the gender debate. “When this started off, it was a slow burn,” leading to the ousting of longtime chairman Roger Ailes and anchor Bill O’Reilly, notes Lindsey Blumell, a lecturer at City University of London who specializes in gender representation in news. As recently as last November, Fox paid a $90 million settlement of shareholder claims related to the sex scandals. “We’re still in the stage where we’re not identifying this as a systematic problem, just saying, ‘Oh, here’s a few bad apples,’” Blumell says.
Considering that even NBC legend Tom Brokaw has come under #MeToo scrutiny of late, the problem certainly isn’t unique to Fox. Continued research dating back to 1971 from Indiana University shows women enter the news workforce at the same rate as men, but within five years are left behind in payment and promotions. “Don’t say ‘especially at Fox’; say ‘especially in TV,’ ” Faulkner argues, adding, “There are a lot of perspectives that aren’t wrapped up in our skin color. I’m talking LGBT too. These networks say they want to represent America — I challenge them to.” Still, Faulkner faces an uphill battle: “One person can’t fundamentally change a network,” Blumell says.
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For her part, Faulkner is willing to challenge Fox from within. After recently hearing her Outnumbered co-hosts discuss the misconduct of politicians and news personalities such as Democratic Sen. Al Franken and NBC’s Matt Lauer, she jumped in: “We can’t talk about it like it didn’t happen in our own halls to some degree.” It was Ailes, after all, who interviewed Faulkner while she was at A Current Affair, declaring, “I like your work” before hiring her. Soon after, she arrived at Fox as a breaking news anchor, drawing on her prior experience as an evening anchor in Minneapolis — where the newshound once rocked a vanity license plate reading “BRKNOOZ.”
She carried her own #MeToo tale with her. In the early ’90s, while working at a Kansas City station, she was stalked by a former coworker who followed her from her previous job in Greenville, North Carolina. At one point, he scratched a sexual epithet on her black-and-tan Mazda Miata. On another occasion, he sneaked into her home while she was sleeping. The incident became national news. Eventually, the department led by a prosecutor named Claire McCaskill, now a Democratic U.S. senator, took her case to court. “She was a beast,” Faulkner remembers, but more importantly, Faulkner learned from that legal team to be her own best advocate. “Because being a victim just felt like I was waiting,” she says.
Today, she serves on the Fox News Diversity and Inclusion Council, created after the scandals hit. “It wasn’t easy to stay,” Faulkner says, and she discussed it deeply with her husband, Tony Berlin, who has navigated plenty of hard conversations with her, including how to navigate a biracial relationship and raise their children in an ecumenical home while respecting his Judaism. Her decision came from the gut. “I was born and raised in the military — I don’t cut and run,” she says.
Faulkner bats away attempts to predict her future, saying only that she’s focused on the job at hand, but it’s clear her trajectory is more toward a Bret Baier–type anchor role than as a Hannity successor. Whether or not her star continues to rise for viewers, she is carrying an increasingly important role for female colleagues within the building. Even if they didn’t face harassment directly, “you may have been competing with a woman who was, and who was paying a price different than you to get to that level. And in that sense, we were all damaged,” Faulkner says. “All of those women who stepped up we need to support — loudly.”
Correction: A previous version of this story had an incorrect name for the Fox News Diversity and Inclusion Council and an incorrect figure for the daily viewers of Outnumbered Overtime.