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Fox News fires 'The Five' co-host Bob Beckel over racist comment

Bob Beckel

LOS ANGELES - Fox News Channel is parting ways -- again -- with Bob Beckel, the co-host of its primetime program, "The Five."

"Bob Beckel was terminated today for making an insensitive remark to an African-American employee," the network said in a statement.

The dismissal opens -- or perhaps closes -- another chapter in an off-and-on relationship Beckel has had with the 21st Century Fox-owned cable-news outlet over the years. Beckel, a longtime political consultant as well as a former campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale, joined Fox News in 2000, and had a years-long tenure on "The Five" when it aired in the late afternoon. Indeed, he was one of the program's original co-hosts.

He departed in 2015 while recuperating from back surgery in a split that was seen as less an amicable. "We tried to work with Bob for months, but we couldn't hold 'The Five' hostage to one man's personal issues," said Bill Shine, who was then the network's executive vice president of programming, in a statement at the time. "He took tremendous advantage of our generosity, empathy and goodwill and we simply came to the end of the road with him."

But Beckel returned to Fox News in 2017 after doing a stint at CNN, and was greeted with open arms. "Bob was missed by many fans of 'The Five' and we're happy to welcome him back to the show," said Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News Channel and its corporate parent, 21st Century Fox, in a prepared statement, in January.

Fox News' human resources department was made aware of a complaint about what one person familiar with the situation characterized as a "racially insensitive remark" on Tuesday evening. Executives conducted an internal investigation, this person said, and decided to part ways with Beckel Friday morning.

Douglas Wigdor, an attorney who represents several current and former employees who have alleged racial discrimination at Fox News in a lawsuit, said he is representing the employee who complained about Beckel. In a statement, Wigdor alleged Beckel "stormed out of his office" when an African-American information-technology employee came to service his computer, "telling our client that he was leaving his office because he was black." Wigdor alleged Fox News executives tried to get the employee to withdraw the complaint. "As with our other 22 clients, we intend on holding 21st Century Fox accountable for these actions and will be filing multiple other complaints in other matters next week," Wigdor said.

Fox News disputed that account in a statement. ""As Mr. Wigdor knows, Fox News made the decision to terminate Mr. Beckel after a prompt and thorough investigation. His client raised the complaint to Kevin Lord, EVP Human Resources, on Tuesday evening via email and within 7 minutes Mr. Lord responded and began the investigation. Today, Fox News delivered that message to Mr. Beckel and facilitated an apology from Mr. Beckel to the employee minutes after he was terminated. No one tried to persuade Mr. Wigdor's client to withdraw his complaint."

Fox News' internal culture has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks. Wigdor's clients have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Fox News in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, adding to a wave of litigation set against the network that levels claims of sexual harassment and cultural insensitivity. Fox continues to grapple with perceptions in the wake of the ousters of both Roger Ailes, its former chief executive, last year, as well as Bill O'Reilly, its top host. Both men had been accused of sexual harassment. Ailes denied the allegations and O'Reilly has said his fame made him a target had made settlements to accusers out of a desire to protect his children.

The network has set in place a new human-resources chief and hired female executives to fill an open chief financial officer slot as well as its head of ad sales. Staffers have been urged to come forward if they believe they witness discriminatory behavior. In a memo to employees sent in April, Fox News' human resources chief told employees, "We want to give you every opportunity to be heard" about workplace concerns.

Beckel leaves after Fox News made "The Five" part of its primetime lineup just a few weeks ago, part of an effort to realign the most-watched part of its schedule after O'Reilly's departure last month. Despite its name, the show employs more than five co-hosts, all of whom rotate in across various nights. Juan Williams, another Fox News political analyst with Democratic leanings, is expected to appear more regularly on the show, which also includes Jesse Watters, Dana Perino, Greg Gutfeld, and Kimberly Guilfoyle as co-hosts.

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