MEDIA
05/02/2017 05:22 am ET Updated May 02, 2017

Top Talent Agency Discouraged Fox News Contributor From Reporting Alleged Sexual Assault

ICM represents television stars like Ellen DeGeneres and CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Agents from ICM, a top talent agency that represents television stars like Ellen DeGeneres and news anchors like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, discouraged a client, who was a Fox News contributor at the time, from approaching the network with a claim that she had been sexually assaulted by a Fox News executive. Later, when the contributor decided to file a claim against the network, the agents ignored multiple requests from her attorneys to corroborate her story and provide evidence of their communication with Fox News.

The former Fox News contributor, Tamara Holder, told her agents at ICM that Francisco Cortes, the vice president of Fox News Latino, tried to force her to perform oral sex on him in February 2015. She says ICM advised her to stay quiet, but she ignored the advice and filed a complaint with Fox News. The company investigated, fired Cortes weeks later and reached a settlement with Holder worth more than $2.5 million, according to a March 2017 report in the New York Times.

A lawyer for Cortes told the Times he was “considering Mr. Cortes’ legal options.”

An ICM spokesman told HuffPost in response to an email with detailed questions that “ICM Partners has a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment.” He added, “We will thoroughly investigate this inquiry.” 

On Tuesday, ICM confirmed that it was hiring outside counsel to investigate the incident.

Holder declined to comment on her tenure at Fox News, the incident involving Cortes, and her settlement, citing a strict confidentiality agreement she signed with the network. She was, however, willing to talk in a phone interview about her experience with her agents at ICM.

HuffPost also obtained emails between Holder and her agents, along with phone records.

“I believed that my agents’ job was not only to help me find work but also to protect me,” Holder told HuffPost. “Instead, they told me my career was going to be over if I disclosed my abuse to my employer, slammed the door in my face when I went against their advice to remain silent, and intentionally refused to assist my lawyers.”

Holder’s relationship with ICM began in late 2014, when she enlisted the agency to help her with television opportunities outside of Fox News and to negotiate the renewal of her Fox News contract. ICM represents dozens of major entertainers, producers and writers, including Ellen DeGeneres, Beyonce, Celine Dion and Shonda Rhimes.

But representing broadcast news talent like Holder has become an especially tidy business for agencies and entertainment lawyers, because anchors and reporters sign multiyear contracts and don’t require as much attention as actors, directors or writers. And ICM, in particular, has been working to boost its broadcast news division: It recently acquired Headline Media Management, a New York-based firm that represents CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Brianna Keilar and “Today Show” co-host Savannah Guthrie.

Holder’s lead agent at ICM was Steve Levine, a partner at the agency who represents artists including Aretha Franklin and former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart. But the agents who handled her day-to-day representation were Matt Sorger and Will Horowitz.

In late August 2016, Holder says, she met with Sorger to discuss possible business opportunities. She told Sorger that Cortes had sexually assaulted her, and she went as far as acting out the assault in the conference room at ICM’s New York office, she said. She asked Sorger if she should report the assault to Fox News management. She says Sorger told her that giving advice on this matter was “above my pay grade” and suggested she speak with Levine. Despite the fact that Holder had disclosed that she had been sexually assaulted by a Fox News executive, Sorger went on in that meeting to discuss renewing her contract with Fox News.

Emails provided by Holder show that Levine asked her for her phone number on Sept. 12, 2016. According to phone records, on Sept. 13 at 1:52 p.m., Holder received a call that lasted 14 minutes from a number that matches ICM’s New York office number. Holder says it was Levine, and she asked him how she should handle the sexual assault claim. Levine’s message to her was clear, she says: Don’t go there. She said he told her that telling Fox News lawyers about being assaulted could lead her to being branded as “toxic,” and she said his advice was: “You shouldn’t do this if you want a career.”

Holder says she told Levine she was going on a short vacation to Jamaica and would think about how she would handle the Fox News situation.

Returning a few days later, she sent an email dated Sept. 19 to Levine, Sorger and Horowitz. I am NOT going to confront Fox with the incident we discussed,” she wrote. “My career means everything to me. I just want to work. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Please let me know when you speak to Fox about retaining me...or not…”

Levine responded hours later and offered a short reply: “Good news and I think a wise position to take.”

Horowitz also emailed, saying: “Got it, thanks for the update. Glad you’re back Stateside safe and sound. Matt and I have reached out to set a call with Bill [Shine, Fox News co-president who resigned Monday]. Will keep you posted on Fox as well as the other nets we’re reaching out to.”

Emails obtained by HuffPost show an exchange of messages later about a meeting Holder’s ICM agents were to have with Shine, but otherwise Holder says she never heard from Levine or anyone else at ICM again about contract negotiations or meetings with other networks.   

Levine, Sorger and Horowitz did not immediately respond to HuffPost requests for comment.

A few months later, before Holder and her lawyer Lisa Bloom approached Fox News with Holder’s sexual assault claim, they reached out to her ICM agents to ask them to corroborate her claim and to provide evidence of their communication with Fox News on her behalf so that they could establish a timeline for a potential lawsuit.

In a call between ICM, including Levine, and the office of Holder’s attorney, Levine acknowledged that Holder had told him about her sexual assault claim, according to two sources familiar with the call. Levine suggested that Sorger and Horowitz, the two agents who handled Holder’s day-to-day representation, might be able to offer more information, they say.

On a call with Sorger, an associate of Bloom told Sorger what kind of evidence she was looking to obtain, including but not limited to emails he and his colleague had sent to Shine. Sorger was amiable and was interested in helping, two sources familiar with the call said. But neither he nor his colleagues ever provided information to corroborate Holder’s claim, even though they acknowledged on multiple occasions that they were aware of what happened.

Holder says she and her legal team never heard from ICM nor its agents ever again, despite multiple attempts to reach them by phone and email.

After Holder reached a settlement with Fox News, she confirmed her sexual assault allegations and the settlement to the New York Times for a story that ran on March 8. “I was told by agents and lawyers that if I opened up, I would forever be ‘toxic’ and my career would be over,” she told the Times.

As she attempts to move on from the trauma related to her sexual assault, one of her key missions is to not only fight for survivors. “If we want real change, it isn’t solely limited to rooting out people at Fox News,” she said. “We must expose everyone who makes money off of Fox News and is complicit in allowing the institutional abuse, and silencing, of women in the workplace.”

This article has been updated to include ICM’s comments from Tuesday.

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