Fox News personalities are training their fire on former colleague Gretchen Carlson after the former host filed a “sexual harassment/retaliation” lawsuit against Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. Carlson’s suit comes after years of overt sexism by Fox guests and on-air personalities and stirred a flurry of new attention to Ailes’ notorious track record of vulgar conduct and sexist behavior toward women.
Carlson Sexual Harassment Suit Sets Off Media Firestorm
Former Fox Host Gretchen Carlson Accused Ailes Of Pervasive Misconduct. On July 6, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a “sexual harassment/retaliation” lawsuit against her former boss, Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. According to the official complaint, “Ailes has unlawfully retaliated against Carlson and sabotaged her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.” [Complaint and Jury Demand submitted to Superior Court of New Jersey, 7/6/16]
CNN Reported That 10 Additional Women Contacted Carlson’s Legal Representatives About Similar Treatment From Ailes. On June 6, CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter reported that ten additional women had contacted Carlson’s legal representatives “wanting to speak with the law firm because they say they also have stories to share about treatment by Roger Ailes.” [CNN, The Lead, 7/6/16]
NY Magazine Reported Statements From Six Women Detailing Harassment By Ailes. New York magazine national affairs correspondent Gabriel Sherman reported that six women had agreed to speak to the magazine “publicly for the first time” about their own experiences of sexual harassment by Ailes “dating back to the 1960s.” Sherman noted that “Ailes is clearly trying to keep these stories out of the press and the courts” by employing delay tactics and moving to have the cases heard in private arbitration. From the July 9 article:
Fox News host Gretchen Carlson may be the highest-profile woman to accuse Roger Ailes of sexual harassment, but she is not the first. In my 2014 biography of the Fox News chief, I included interviews with four women who told me Ailes had used his position of power to make either unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate sexual comments in the office.
And it appears she won’t be the last, either. In recent days, more than a dozen women have contacted Carlson’s New Jersey-based attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, and made detailed allegations of sexual harassment by Ailes over a 25-year period dating back to the 1960s when he was a producer on The Mike Douglas Show. “These are women who have never told these stories until now,” Smith told me. “Some are in lot of pain.” Taken together, these stories portray Ailes as a boss who spoke openly of expecting women to perform sexual favors in exchange for job opportunities. “He said that’s how all these men in media and politics work — everyone’s got their friend,” recalled Kellie Boyle, who says Ailes propositioned her in 1989, shortly after he helped George H.W. Bush become president, serving as his chief media strategist.
Six of the women agreed to speak with New York publicly for the first time. Two spoke on the record; the others requested anonymity for reasons that include shame and fear of retribution. “I didn’t tell my husband, it was so mortifying,” said Marsha Callahan, a former model who says Ailes harassed her in the late ‘60s, shortly before he became Richard Nixon’s media adviser.
Ailes is clearly trying to keep these stories out of the press and the courts. Late on Friday, his lawyers filed a motion in federal court in New Jersey seeking to move Carlson’s lawsuit to arbitration, which would prevent witnesses from being called in court. [New York, 7/9/16]
Fox Personalities Rally To Ailes’ Defense
Fox’s Howard Kurtz First To Rally To Ailes’ Defense. Fox News host and media analyst Howard Kurtz was the first Fox employee to file a story on Carlson’s allegations of pervasive sexual harassment from Ailes. Kurtz’s July 6 column for FoxNews.com leaned heavily on Ailes’ official statement denying the allegation. Kurtz returned to the same script during the July 10 edition of his Sunday media criticism program MediaBuzz, noting that Carlson’s show was the lowest-rated program on Fox and implied that her sexual harassment allegations were undercut by her prior praise of Ailes and Fox. [Media Matters, 7/7/16; Fox News, MediaBuzz, via Media Matters, 7/10/16]
Fox’s Jeanine Pirro: Carlson Lawsuit Is “Absurd,” Ailes Is A “No-Nonsense Guy” And “I Just Love Him.” In interviews with entertainment news outlet The Wrap and People magazine, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro vigorously promoted Ailes’ supposedly high character. Pirro asserted that Ailes is a “no-nonsense guy” who she “just loved” and slammed the alleged unwanted sexual misconduct described by Carlson as “so absurd.” From the July 7 article in The Wrap:
Asked by TheWrap if Ailes ever subjected her to the kind of sexual advances Carlson says her boss made toward her in September, Pirro replied: “Are you kidding? That is so absurd.”
“When I read what was clearly absurdities, in this complaint, I said to myself, ‘How sad that you’ve got this woman who is making these complaints when there are real victims out there,'” Pirro told TheWrap. [The Wrap, 7/7/16; People, 7/8/16]
Fox’s Greta Van Susteren: “This Is Not The Roger Ailes I’ve Ever Heard About Or Seen.” In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren was described as “eager to go on the record with a ringing defense of her beleaguered boss.” Van Susteren suggested that Ailes had been “falsely accused” by Carlson who was “unhappy that her contract wasn’t renewed” and claimed that the individual described in Carlson’s suit “is not the Roger Ailes I’ve ever heard about or seen.” From the July 8 article:
Fiercely impassioned, as though delivering an argument to the jury, the non-practicing criminal defense attorney and former law professor continued: “Historically, I don’t like it when I think somebody is being falsely accused or wronged. I’m an old criminal defense attorney. This one’s wrong, based on my experience. The facts I know are that this is not the Roger Ailes I’ve ever heard about or seen.”
“I went through it [the lawsuit] and it’s completely foreign to my experience, and my knowledge of the environment,” Van Susteren said. “Don’t forget: I’m a lawyer with two law degrees [a juris doctor and master of law from Georgetown University]. I wouldn’t stick around if this were a weird place like that.”
“I’ve been in his office a million times. I’ve had lunch, I’ve had Diet Cokes, I’ve been around him. He just doesn’t do this stuff,” she insisted. “You know how corporations gossip. If this were going on, I would have heard about it. I’ve got an apartment in New York and I’m back and forth. This is a rather small corporation. We’re a rather small group of people.” [The Daily Beast, 7/8/16]
Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo: Sexual Harassment Is “Just Not In Keeping With What I Know, And My Experience At Fox.” In an exclusive interview with Variety’s Brian Steinberg, Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo defended Ailes against Carlson’s allegations. Bartiromo argued that the hostile work environment described by Carlson was “not in keeping with” her “experience at Fox.” From the July 9 article:
“Nobody wants to see anybody have any bad experiences,” said Bartiromo of the allegations, during an interview with Variety. “It’s just not in keeping with what I know, and my experience at Fox.”
She also demurred when asked about an anecdote related in an unauthorized 2014 biography of Ailes, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” in which an anonymous source tells writer Gabriel Sherman that Ailes once made a crack about Bartiromo’s weight and physical appearance when considering an opportunity to hire her before her 2014 arrival. “I did not see that,” Bartiromo said. The book, a controversial one, has been the subject of much scrutiny in recent days. [Variety, 7/9/16]
Fox’s Kimberly Guilfoyle: “Nobody Believed This” Because Ailes “Champions Women.” In an interview with TVNewser, Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed that of the women she’s talked to at Fox, “Nobody believed” Carlson’s allegations, adding Ailes “is a man who champions women.” Guilfoyle asserted that after speaking with 30 women at Fox “Nobody that I’ve spoken to said that this was their experience.” From the July 10 article:
This morning TVNewser talked with The Five co-host, who has been one of the fill-ins on Carlson’s former show, The Real Story, since Carlson’s abrupt departure on June 23. Guilfoyle first learned about the suit when the rest of us did, late Wednesday morning. Her first reaction? “Total disbelief. I’ve known Roger Ailes for 15 years and I have been treated with the utmost professionalism and respect,” said Guilfoyle, a former assistant district attorney, who began a career in TV news after her successful prosecution of a high profile dog mauling case. “He’s been a fantastic mentor in television for me.”
“This is a man who champions women,” said Guilfoyle, who pointed out that Ailes had hired women for many top leadership positions at Fox News, including the heads of legal, human resources, public relations and one of the top news executives, Suzanne Scott.
“Nobody believed this,” said Guilfoyle of the women she talked to at Fox last week, more than 30 she figures. “Nobody that I’ve spoken to said that this was their experience.” [TVNewser, 7/10/16]
Fox’s Sean Hannity Responds To Reporters Covering Ailes Allegations. In a series of July 9 tweets, Fox News host Sean Hannity attacked New York magazine correspondent Gabe Sherman, calling him a “stalker”, and questioned the reporting by CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter, and Politico reporter Hadas Gold:
Gabe Sherman stalker alert! What sources? Media matters? Gretchen C publicity seeking atty? The Clinton campaign? https://t.co/3uas8f8hgN
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) July 9, 2016
Brian talk to the hundreds of woman at Fox that I talked to this week both on air and off. They say it all BS https://t.co/L7JECOMMPD
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) July 9, 2016
Hadas I have spoken to many woman who work at Fox that have the most amazing stories of how kind Roger is to them https://t.co/sxKGuLp6lF
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) July 9, 2016
Fox’s Neil Cavuto: Carlson’s Accusations “Don’t Remotely Resemble The Roger That I Know.” Fox anchor Neil Cavuto wrote in an opinion piece for Business Insider that Ailes “was and is ALL professional” and that “I've never witnessed” incidents of harassment. The accusations, wrote Cavuto, “don't remotely resemble the Roger that I know” and are just “sick.” From the July 12 Business Insider piece:
In individual meetings, those with staff members, and groups large and small — at Fox, at CNBC, with women and men, top executive producers to production assistants, all stripes, all colors, all personalities — Roger was and is ALL professional. He wants us to have fun, and he can be funny, but in ways that matter and not in demeaning nonsense that does not.
He leads by example, and his meetings, those large and small of which I have been a part over all these years, are dominated by issues that matter and not once — not ONCE — by issues that have suddenly come up out of the blue in the press.
I've never seen it. I've never witnessed it. Not even hints of it. Meetings with Roger aren't about nonsense. He doesn't have time for it, and God knows he wouldn't countenance male or female staffers allowing it. That's just not the Roger I know or any of my staff members know. It's his demand for keeping focused on the things that matter that have typified these exchanges — nothing less. It's why we are all still here, some staff members nearly as long as me. He brought us here. He is the reason we stay here.
These accusations that don't remotely resemble the Roger that I know — that WE know — are just ... sick. [Business Insider, 7/12/16]
Fox’s Bret Baier: “I Can’t Say Enough Good About Roger, And Any Other Thoughts Are Foreign To Me.” Fox anchor Bret Baier told The Daily Beast that the Ailes described in Carlson’s accusations is “not the Roger I know” and that Ailes “is somebody who has always been amazing to me and my family.” Baier added that “I can’t say enough good about Roger, and any other thoughts are foreign to me.” From the July 12 Daily Beast article:
“It’s not the Roger I know,” Baier told The Daily Beast on Tuesday in his first public comments on Carlson’s lawsuit, in which she claims the Fox News chairman and chief executive sexually harassed her—allegedly telling her in a meeting last September that having sex with him would help her career—and fostered a frat-house workplace environment in which she was regularly demeaned and denied career opportunities.
“The Roger I know is somebody who has always been amazing to me and my family…so it’s not familiar to me,” Baier said about Carlson’s allegations and those of other women—both former Fox News employees and others who claim ugly encounters with Ailes dating back to the 1960s when he was executive producer of The Mike Douglas Show. “I can’t say enough good things about Roger and I’ve told him as much.”
“These people have been telling their own stories of their interaction with Roger…There’s a ton of people who have been here since the start. People wouldn’t be here that long if it wasn’t the family atmosphere,” said Baier, who joins Sean Hannity, Brit Hume, and Neil Cavuto—but not, so far, Bill O’Reilly—among the male Fox News personalities who are publicly expressing solidarity with the boss.
“I can’t say enough good about Roger, and any other thoughts are foreign to me.” [The Daily Beast, 7/12/16]
Fox’s Bill O’Reilly: “I Stand Behind Roger 100 Percent.” In an interview with NBC’s Seth Meyers, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly praised Ailes as the “Best boss I’ve ever had,” adding that “95 percent of the people who have worked for Roger Ailes would say exactly the same thing.” O’Reilly concluded by stating, “I stand behind Roger 100 percent.” From the July 13 edition of NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers:
SETH MEYERS (HOST): Gretchen Carlson, your old colleague at Fox News, has issued some allegations, some sexual harassment allegations, over your boss Roger Ailes. What is your position on this, or what did you think when you heard this?
BILL O’REILLY: Well, I think it’s a very sad situation, number one. And I’m just going to say this about it. I’ve worked for Roger Ailes for 20 years, right. Best boss I’ve ever had. Straight shooter, always honest with me. And I believe that over the years, he’s been in the business for 50 years, 95 percent of the people who have worked for Roger Ailes would say exactly the same thing that I just told you. In this country, every famous, powerful, or wealthy person is a target. You’re a target, I’m a target. Anytime, somebody could come out and sue us, attack us, go to the press, or anything like that. Until Amer -- and that’s a deplorable situation because I have to have bodyguards. I have to hire bodyguards, physical bodyguards, all right? Until the United States adopts the British system of civil law, whereby if you file a frivolous lawsuit and you lose, the judge has a right to make you pay all court costs. Until we adopt that very fair proposition, we’re going to have this out of control tabloid society that is tremendously destructive. I stand behind Roger 100 percent. [NBC, Late Night with Seth Meyers, 7/13/16]
Fox’s Geraldo Rivera: “I Stand With Roger Ailes.” Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera defended Ailes in a tweet, writing “He’s about as flirty as the grizzly in #TheRevenant.” Rivera proclaimed “I stand with Roger Ailes.” From the July 12 tweet:
I've known him 40 years. He's about as flirty as the grizzly in #TheRevenant. I stand with Roger Ailes
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) July 13, 2016
This post has been updated with additional examples.