Two years ago today, Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a civil lawsuit against then-Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, detailing serial sexual harassment and retaliation by Ailes and persistent gender-based harassment from her former co-host Steve Doocy. Two years later, the toxic culture for women at Fox has been exposed and Ailes and his deputy have both left the network in disgrace, but Doocy continues to co-host “the most powerful TV show in America.”
Carlson held several on-air roles at Fox News from 2005 to the day she was fired from the network in 2016, about two weeks before she filed the lawsuit against Ailes. Her suit detailed pervasive harassment by Ailes and retaliation when she rejected his propositions. This included repeated sexual comments about Carlson’s body and several instances in which Ailes told Carlson that she should engage in a sexual relationship with him in order to improve her job standing.
Carlson’s lawsuit further detailed allegations of harassment by her former Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, also dismissed by Ailes:
Carlson complained to her supervisor that one of her co-hosts on Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy, created a hostile work environment by regularly treating her in a sexist and condescending way, including by putting his hand on her and pulling down her arm to shush her during a live telecast.
Doocy engaged in a pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment of Carlson, including, but not limited to, mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, belittling her contributions to the show, and generally attempting to put her in her place by refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist rather than a blonde female prop.
After learning of Carlson’s complaints, Ailes responded by calling Carlson a “man hater” and “killer” and telling her that she needed to learn to “get along with the boys.”
Since Carlson filed the suit two years ago, a lot has changed. Ailes resigned shortly afterward, just as a flood of stories began to spill out reporting that he engaged in serial abuse of women at Fox. He died in May 2017. His right-hand man, Bill Shine, was named in subsequent reporting and lawsuits for reportedly aiding Ailes in covering up serial sexual misconduct. Shine also resigned from Fox, though he has now found another job for which this resume is perfectly suited.
Media and activists have forced a spotlight on Fox News. More employees have come forward, reporting that the men in power -- Ailes, now-former host Bill O’Reilly, and several others -- subjected them to inappropriate misconduct. The stories also revealed a systemic, cultural disregard for the safety and autonomy of women at 21st Century Fox, exposing the toxic roots of the system. A movement has begun, and Carlson is now one of its pillars.
But Steve Doocy still has a job.
21st Century Fox’s initial statement about the 2016 lawsuit acknowledged Carlson’s statements about both Ailes and Doocy: “The Company has seen the allegations against Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy. We take these matters seriously. While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter.”
A former Fox News staffer told Politico shortly after the lawsuit was filed, “Everyone on staff knew about or saw Doocy make inappropriate comments.” Yet a Fox News source told CNN’s Brian Stelter that the internal investigation launched after the lawsuit appeared to be focused solely on Ailes. Carlson settled the lawsuit for $20 million in September 2016, and Fox issued a public apology as part of the settlement conditions. The apology did not mention Doocy (or Ailes) by name.
Doocy continues to co-host Fox & Friends every weekday morning, beaming his inane and propagandistic commentary right onto the president’s TV screen. The program has been deemed “the most powerful TV show in America” because of its direct line to perhaps the nation’s most powerful sexual harasser.
The years since Carlson’s lawsuit have yielded an important lesson: Fox News acts for the good of its employees only when it’s absolutely forced to -- because advertisers are fleeing, because the public is watching, because someone is loudly demanding accountability. Doocy has benefited from media silence for far too long.