UPDATE 7:00 p.m.: Here’s the statement of Fox News CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes:
“Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false. This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup. When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit. Ironically, FOX News provided her with more on-air opportunities over her 11 year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book. This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”
It was a significant cultural moment at Fox News. In September 2013, Gretchen Carlson was moving from her morning roost, the awful program “Fox & Friends,” to her own afternoon show, “The Real Story.” When she was interviewed on a colleague’s radio show during the transition, she said, ““Wait a minute. Nobody’s going to recognize me because not only am I dressed casually, I have on pants.”
Then the kicker: “Now, pants were not allowed on Fox & Friends, remember?”
With that, Carlson leaked a bit of her inner turmoil over the gender environment at Fox News. Now she’s doing a lot more of that, filing a civil complaint against Fox News chief Roger Ailes in a New Jersey state court. One sentence sums up the sentiment: “Ailes has unlawfully retaliated against Carlson and sabotaged her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.” Carlson was terminated from her position at Fox News as of June 23.
As the complaint alleges, Carlson’s issues with her work environment date back at least to 2009, roughly four years after Carlson arrived at Fox News after serving as a correspondent and co-host for “The Saturday Early Show” at CBS News. As a co-host of “Fox & Friends,” Carlson was reportedly having difficulties with sidekick Steve Doocy, the show’s signature anchor, he of the folksy asides, conservative viewpoint and, most recently, sycophantic treatment of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. In their interactions, Doocy treated Carlson in a “sexist and condescending way,” a judgment that encompassed Doocy’s allegedly “pulling down” Carlson’s arm during a telecast in an attempt to silence her; “mocking” her; “belittling her contributions to the show”; and, overall, “refusing to accept and treat her as an intelligent and insightful female journalist rather than a blond female prop.”
The complaint states that Carlson, a former Miss America and ace violinist, brought these issues to her supervisor. Upon learning of them, Ailes, the former Republican operative and TV genius, called her a “man hater” and a “killer,” declaring that she had to “get along with the boys,” according to Carlson’s lawsuit, which is drafted by Nancy Erika Smith of Smith Mullin PC. Now the co-host was marked for oblivion, according to the complaint: Ailes decreased Carlson’s interviews with top political figures, yanked her from a popular segment on “The O’Reilly Factor” and otherwise directed that she not be “showcased.”
Another instance of retaliation, says the suit, was removing Carlson from “Fox & Friends.” To the outside world, including this blog, that move appeared to be a promotion — after all, Carlson was taking over part of the time slot that had vaulted colleague Megyn Kelly to superstardom. Yet Carlson claims in her suit that her pay was cut and that she was denied promotional support from the network. Even so, argues the complaint, her show excelled in the ratings.
Amid all the broadcasting work, encountering Ailes in the workplace was a fraught experience. If Ailes wasn’t commenting about her legs, he was asking her to turn around so he could see her “posterior,” or he was saying that if he were stranded on a desert island, he’d like her company, or he was lamenting that marriage was “boring,” or he was telling Carlson, “I’m sure you can do sweet nothings when you want to.” Last September, Carlson attempted to address her various complaint with Ailes. The result? “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better,” according to the suit. In retaliation for raising such issues, Carlson continued to receive the short end of the company’s promotional power, alleges the suit.
The complaint alleges that these actions by Ailes violate the New York City Human Right Law’s prohibitions on workplace discrimination and retaliation.
The Erik Wemple Blog has no independent knowledge of these incidents. A request for comment from Fox News didn’t fetch an immediate reply. Yet we should note for the sake of context the mountain of previous reporting on Ailes’s sexist jabs. One of his bedrock broadcasting planks is to clear the way for viewers to see the legs of his female hosts and guests. “Move That Damn Laptop, I Can’t See Her Legs!” Ailes once reportedly called into a program’s control booth, according to “Loudest Voice in the Room,” a biography of Ailes by journalist Gabriel Sherman. Also according to Sherman’s book, Ailes once said this to a female job applicant before his Fox News years: “If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want I will add an extra hundred dollars a week.”