New Fox Harassment Allegations: “A Contributorship…Was Contingent Upon” Sex

A former Fox News guest says a producer close to Roger Ailes sought sex in exchange for a paid gig at the network.

Former Fox executive Woody Fraser and ex-Fox on-air guest Caroline Heldman. Araya Diaz/Stella & Dot/Getty; Rex Features/AP

A former frequent on-air guest at Fox News says that a Fox consultant and top lieutenant to Roger Ailes, the network’s late founder and longtime CEO, sexually harassed her repeatedly for more than a year, including dangling the possibility of a paid job at Fox if she would have sex with him.

The allegation appears in a written declaration by Caroline Heldman, an associate professor of politics at Occidental College who made numerous guest appearances on Fox starting in 2008. The Fox consultant, Woody Fraser, is a veteran television producer who helped create and produce shows such as Good Morning America and Wild and Crazy Kids* and worked closely with Ailes at Fox for nearly a decade. Fraser’s relationship with Ailes dated back to the 1960s, when he hired a young Ailes to work on The Mike Douglas Show. “It was the best hire I’ve ever made,” Fraser told an Ailes biographer.

Heldman wrote in her declaration—signed under penalty of perjury and prepared as part of a potential lawsuit involving separate Fraser accusers—that Fraser “used coded language (an ‘arrangement’) on three different occasions, once in New York and twice in Los Angeles, that he wanted to have a sexual relationship with me.” Heldman says she repeatedly rejected his advances. She goes on to note: “Mr. Fraser insinuated on several occasions that a contributorship at Fox was contingent upon me having a sexual relationship with him. Even though I was a popular guest with numerous appearances and high ratings (according to Mr. Fraser), I was not offered a contributorship because I rebuffed Mr. Fraser’s sexual advances.”

Heldman spoke on the record with Mother Jones about Fraser’s alleged harassment and her interactions with other Fox personalities, including Bill O’Reilly. She says that Fraser’s “quid pro quo” comments and the worst of his sexual harassment occurred in person. But her declaration quotes from multiple email exchanges in which Fraser makes inappropriate comments to Heldman. “Hi. You are amazingly beautiful and so very intelligent,” Fraser wrote to her on July 29, 2010. “Good thing im [sic] married and you r [sic] taken.” In another exchange, on August 19, 2010, he wrote, “too bad u don’t like older guys anymore.” Heldman provided those emails and several others to Mother Jones.

Heldman’s declaration was drafted in connection with a separate set of sexual harassment allegations involving Fraser. According to a source familiar with the situation, two female executives at the Hallmark Channel, which partners with Fraser’s production company, alleged that Fraser had sexually harassed them and and they had threatened to file a lawsuit against the 82-year-old producer. Before any suit was filed, Fraser preemptively issued a statement declaring that he was the target “of a calculated attempt to ruin my reputation.” He added, “Although I am far from perfect, I am confident that when the facts regarding the nature of the allegations are fully revealed, before a jury if necessary, my reputation will be restored.” Lisa Bloom, a lawyer for the two Hallmark executives who also represents Heldman, declined to comment on the matter. “The matter has been resolved,” Bloom wrote in an email. “I can’t talk about it.”

Fraser, through his lawyer, declined to comment on Heldman’s accusations or the Hallmark allegations. His lawyer, Howard Knee, provided this statement from Fraser: “I was disappointed to hear about these allegations as I considered myself a mentor and friend to Ms. Heldman. I continue to wish her nothing but the best.” 

In the past year, two top figures at Fox have faced allegations of sexual harassment. Gretchen Carlson, a host of the morning show Fox & Friends, alleged in a July 2016 lawsuit that Ailes had sexually harassed her on numerous occasions, once saying, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.” Carlson’s suit opened the floodgates. Days later, New York magazine reported that more than a dozen women had contacted Carlson’s attorney with allegations of sexual harassment by Ailes over a 25-year period. On July 19, New York reported that Megyn Kelly, Fox’s star anchor, told external investigators hired by the network’s parent company that Ailes had harassed her as well. A sexual harassment lawsuit by former Fox host Andrea Tantaros described the culture inside Fox News as “a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency, and misogyny.” Ailes, who denied the allegations, resigned on July 21 of last year. He died in May.

Fox’s highest-rated host, O’Reilly, was the next to fall. In April, the New York Times reported that O’Reilly and Fox News had paid out $13 million to settle harassment claims against O’Reilly. Fox opened an investigation, and soon after, O’Reilly was forced out of the network. (Not long after the Times story broke, Heldman, who made numerous appearances on O’Reilly’s show, called in a complaint against O’Reilly on the network’s anonymous hotline, accusing him of sexual harassment.)

The harassment scandals also led to the resignation of Bill Shine, the network’s co-president who worked closely with Ailes. Shine is now reportedly in talks with the White House to join its communications team.

Heldman, a stalwart liberal and a registered Democrat, says she first came into Fox’s orbit when a producer for O’Reilly approached her in 2008 about appearing as an on-air guest. She went on to make dozens of unpaid appearances on Fox News and Fox Business, sparring with hosts including O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. “I wanted to have a voice and a vehicle for interrupting the script at Fox,” she says. Often, a Fox host would dismiss her for her liberal viewpoint. On one occasion, Fox host Eric Bolling referred to her as “Dr. McHottie” on live TV.

Heldman says she met Fraser after an appearance on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s Fox weekend talk show, Huckabee. Fraser was the show’s executive producer. A former Fox reporter who worked with Fraser recalls that he played an undefined but vital role at the network—part fixer, part ideas man, and loyal confidant to Ailes. When a show wasn’t performing well, Ailes would dispatch Fraser to get it back on track. “He trusted Woody and he trusted Woody’s view of TV programming when a show needed fixing,” the former reporter says. (A Fox News spokeswoman says that Fraser was a Fox consultant, not an employee.)

The former reporter also recalls him making inappropriate comments. “Woody struck me as a fossil from another time, from the Mike Douglas Show green room,” the reporter says. “He would often be inappropriate, but I didn’t think twice about it.”

In text messages and phone calls, Fraser assumed a mentorlike role with Heldman, she recalls, coaching her on how to talk and dress during her Fox appearances. But almost from the beginning, she says, Fraser made romantic and sometimes sexual overtures to her. “He wanted to help my career along,” Heldman says. “In the same breath, he was telling me about his wife and their unhappy relationship, how he thinks we might be soul mates…how he would like to spend the rest of his days with me.” (Fraser was then married to Noreen Fraser, a TV producer who battled cancer for more than 16 years and became a prominent cancer-research activist. She died in March at age 63.)

Heldman says she tended to get along with Fraser—in one 2010 email, she wrote that they are “kindred spirits of a sort” and offered to help write his memoirs—because she wanted Fraser to mentor her and help her land a paid contributorship at Fox. “I did have a rapport with the guy,” she says. “That doesn’t mean he didn’t [offer] me a quid pro quo sexual arrangement for working at Fox.”

Other emails provided by Heldman show Fraser flirting or fixating on Heldman’s appearance. In a July 2010 email, Fraser wrote, “We r both busy. Probably a successful couple- we would never see each other.” In a November 2010 email, he wrote, unprompted, “Working late. U popped into my mind.” And in a March 2011 email, after Heldman appeared on Fox, he wrote to her, “But I have to say you are ridiculously beautiful. Add in the intelligence factor – Wow!” When Heldman asked Fraser for advice on how to land a Fox contributorship, Fraser replied that Fox had just “lopped off” more than 30 of its existing contributors. “My push is younger­- attractive­- specifically smart with a life expectancy of 5 years on Fox,” he wrote. “Gee? I wonder who we know who would fit that description??????”

Their friendship soured, Heldman writes in her declaration, over a treatment she’d written for a new Fox show to be called The Green Room, a talk show featuring five men and women representing different ideologies sitting around a table talking about the day’s news. For nearly a year, Heldman writes, she and Fraser discussed the details of her idea, which she claims inspired the talk show The Five. (A Fox News source with knowledge of the network’s inner workings says that Ailes alone created and developed The Five and that Fraser played no role with the show.)

In July 2011, Heldman says she asked Fraser if she would get to co-host the new show. According to her declaration, Fraser “made a rude face and told me I was too old to be the host” when she said she was 38. Fraser also allegedly told Heldman that she didn’t have a sense of humor about Eric Bolling calling her Dr. McHottie. (Bolling was slated to co-host the new show.) “Mr. Fraser then told me that he could work something out if we could make an arrangement,” she writes. “I knew that by ‘arrangement,’ Mr. Fraser meant a sexual relationship.” (The Fox source says the network has “no knowledge of Woody’s dealings with the on-air guest Caroline Heldman, nor does anyone here recall who she is.”)

Heldman says her Fox appearances dried up after she rebuffed him. After Trump’s election, she made a brief return to Fox, making several appearances. Then, in April, she submitted a sexual harassment complaint against O’Reilly using the Fox News anonymous hotline. She alleged that O’Reilly had made inappropriate comments about her physical appearance—she recalls him saying something to the effect of “When I was in college, professors didn’t look like you”—and blacklisting her from his show when she accused him of being sexist. She says she hasn’t heard from anyone at Fox since. After his ouster, O’Reilly said it was “tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.” (O’Reilly, through a spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment.)

Heldman says she isn’t seeking a monetary settlement from Fox. She decided to come forward, she says, to shed light on the culture she experienced there. “It’s my hope that [coming forward] will inspire other folks in similar positions to come forward and seek justice,” she says.

Read Caroline Heldman’s declaration:

Update: A previous version of the story said Woody Fraser helped create the show Nightline based on his own claims to have done so. However, after the story was published, a former Nightline executive producer said Fraser had role on the show whatsoever. Fraser did not respond to a follow-up request for comment. The story has been updated. Return to the story.