CNN's Alisyn Camerota: “Roger Ailes Did Sexually Harass Me”

From the April 23 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

Video file

BRIAN STELTER: The culture of harassment at Fox News came from the top-down. It came from Roger Ailes. The same man who built up Fox News into a conservative force, allegedly also tore down women through sexist behavior and ideological bullying. Ailes had a long history in Republican politics and TV before creating Fox News. According to Gabriel Sherman's reporting, Ailes was investigated for hurling an anti-Semitic slur at a colleague back in the mid-1990s when he was running CNBC. Then he went over to Fox News. So, what was he like to work with? What tone did he set at Fox for Bill O'Reilly and other employees? You know, anchors rarely jump from Fox to other networks, which is what makes this next interview unusual. Alisyn Camerota did leave. She spent more than a decade at Fox before joining CNN in 2014. For the first time she is speaking in depth about the harassment she experienced at Fox. Alisyn, thanks for sitting down with me.


STELTER: This week on your program New Day, you said there was harassment at Fox. It sounded like you were speaking from first-hand experience. You're speaking about this for the first time. Why now?

CAMEROTA: Well, I don't relish the idea of talking about this. I left Fox about three years ago and have, you know, tried to respect my previous workplace. I still have lots of close friends there, talk to them all of the time, I have lunch with them, I see them and I don't like the idea of even criticizing my past workplace where I was for many years. But something feels different this week. It felt like there was a tipping point this week. You know, when Roger Ailes was ousted in July there was a lot of talk about whether the culture was there, and now, with Bill O'Reilly having been fired, it feels as though, if I take the Murdochs at their word, they really want to know what was wrong there and what the culture was like, and I don't know how you get that from silence. So it feels like this might be the right time to just have this conversation and let some daylight in.

STELTER: And you said on the air Bill O'Reilly never harassed you, but you didn't say that about Roger Ailes. Did Roger Ailes ever sexually harass you?

CAMEROTA: Yes. Roger Ailes did sexually harass me. Let me be clear. Roger Ailes was -- could be charming, he could be quite charismatic. He could be uproariously funny. He could also be a bit of a bully and mean. And he also was often kind of grossly inappropriate with things that he would say. And I think that many of us experienced that. He would talk about body parts. He would say give me a spin. He would want to be greeted with a hug. But the time that I remember most was when I was first starting out at Fox and I was single. And I remember being in Roger's office and I was saying that I wanted more opportunity. And he said, “Well, I would have to work with you.”

STELTER: Work with you?

CAMEROTA: “I would have to work with you on that case. I would have to work with you really closely. And it may require us getting to know each other better. And that might have to happen away from here. And it might have to happen at a hotel. Do you know what I'm saying?” And I said, “Yeah, I think I do know what you're saying.” And I just want to say that I knew in my head at that moment I'm never going to that hotel under any circumstances. But I didn't know what that meant for me and for my career. And I remember vividly that I had sort of an out of body experience hovering over us in the office and thinking, “Is this it? Is this the end of my time here? Will I be fired if I don't do this?” And I just want everybody to understand that when it happens, there is a visceral reaction that you have where you recognize my career and everything I've worked for is under threat, and I don't know what's going to happen next.

STELTER: And you end up then doing what?

CAMEROTA: Well, I just went home and I didn't tell anybody at the time because I was embarrassed. And it is sort of humiliating.

STELTER: Embarrassed?

CAMEROTA: It's embarrassing. When this man you have gone to tell about your strengths and to sort of see if you're doing a good job at work, you know, makes that sort of proposition, it is demeaning and it is humiliating. And so I was sort of embarrassed to tell people. And I decided, personally, and everybody deals with it differently. “I'm going to ignore that. I'm going to pretend that never happened.” He then changed his M.O. and when I say that I experienced harassment there, it was different. For me it was no longer sexual harassment it was harassment of a different variety.

STELTER: What do you mean?

CAMEROTA: It was sort of emotional harassment. Roger Ailes ruled with an iron fist. And he wanted us all to fall in line and have his world view and say the things that he wanted us to say on Fox News. And he targeted me because he sort of figured out early on that I didn't share his world view. And he said, “You're not saying the conservative things that I want you to say and you could be a real role model and you could be a real star if only you could sound conservative sometimes.” And I said “Well, Roger, that's not my job. I'm not supposed to sound conservative or liberal. I'm supposed to be a fair and balanced, in your terms, journalist. And I'm supposed to be open and I'm not supposed to take a side.” And that, he didn't appreciate or particularly like. I was often you know, sort of called on the carpet for things because he thought I wasn't reflecting the conservative agenda. So he and I had a lot of interaction and sometimes arguments. Sometimes he would lecture me, sometimes he would insult me.

STELTER: So that's a different form of cultural rot within an organization -- bullying or emotional harassment.

CAMEROTA: You have to make a choice at that point. Of whether or not you're just going to make it easy, your life easy and go along with what he wants you to say, or if you're going to try to fight it and try to stand up for sort of finding the truth or try to stand up for representing both sides. And I would, you know, say to him when he would identify something that he thought that I hadn't been conservative enough sounding, and I would say, "You know, Roger, first of all, isn't it supposed to be fair and balanced? Aren't I supposed to be playing devil's advocate? Aren't I supposed to be representing --

STELTER: Isn't that my job?

CAMEROTA: “Isn't that my job? Aren't I supposed to be representing the other side?” And he said, “There is no other side.” Roger's world view -- there was no other side. Liberals were always wrong. Conservatives were generally right. And that's what he felt that we should be reflecting on the air. And so when I say that there was bullying, it was very unpleasant at times to be alone in Roger's office when he would, you know, boom and bellow at me about how I was getting it wrong.

STELTER: Is Ailes' behavior part of the reason you left Fox a few years ago?

CAMEROTA: Yes. It is. I realized that, you know, Roger was quite clear about how “If only you could say these things I could make you a big star and I could give you great time slots.” 

STELTER: You're saying it was first “come to my hotel room.” When you rejected him, then it became, “say the things I want you to say on air.”

CAMEROTA: Yes, but I don't believe those two are mutually exclusive. He liked -- both of those things were things he was obviously interested in. But I didn't -- I don't believe that's journalism. And I really wrestled with that. I didn't want to only have to talk about Roger's agenda and the things that Roger thought were best for this country. I thought that there was room for debate, and there was certainly room to hear the other side. And so it became clear to me fairly early that I was in a dead end job and Roger was never going to convert me, and that I was never going to be the person, the mouthpiece that he wanted me to be, and that I needed to go. I don't like the idea of being summoned to the boss' office and being called on the carpet and being either yelled at or criticized or insulted. And it got really tiresome, so much so that towards the end, I started refusing to go to Roger's office.


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