Earned loyalty vs. enforced loyalty — that’s the dichotomy that comes into focus in light of the sexual harassment/retaliation lawsuit filed Wednesday by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson against the Fox News chief. Prior to the filing of the suit, any well-read media critic would tell you that Carlson was on splendid terms with the fiery and brilliant TV pioneer. After all, in her memoir “Getting Real,” Carlson writes about the guy:
And in the book’s acknowledgements: “Special thanks to Fox News CEO and chairman of the board Roger Ailes for continuing to believe in me and giving me the opportunity to do what I love every day.”
Now compare those words with the words that Carlson and her lawyers at Smith Mullin, P.C., placed in her complaint against Ailes following her June 23 termination from Fox News. From our article on the suit:
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 [Carlson] 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.
So Ailes was right, in a sense: Carlson could “do sweet nothings” — when Ailes was acting as censor. After the lawsuit hit the media yesterday, Ailes issued a statement denouncing its allegations as false and “retaliatory” in its own right, seeking to penalize Fox News for the “decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup.” Yet Ailes also inserted this tidbit: “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.”
Perhaps Ailes should have edited that sentence just a touch, to read as follows: “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 that Fox News approved prior to publication.” After Ailes released his statement, lawyers for Carlson lashed back, noting, “Ailes does not allow his employees to speak to the press or publish anything without prior approval. Gretchen was chastised for answering a question from a hometown newspaper about her favorite Minnesota State Fair food. In her book Gretchen told her story while trying to keep her job – knowing that Ailes had to approve what she said.”
Fox News has confirmed the arrangement: “Pursuant to Ms. Carlson’s contract, which included book guidelines, Fox News did review her book prior to publication.”
The Erik Wemple Blog has too much experience with the books of cable-news talent. We’ve read 20 to 30 of these titles, including those of Carlson, Dana Perino (Fox News), Piers Morgan (formerly CNN), Bill O’Reilly (Fox News), Sean Hannity (Fox News), Joe Scarborough (MSNBC), Chris Hayes (MSNBC) and Rachel Maddow (MSNBC). As a rule, the books are pretty bad, yet the ones from Fox News talent have a unique place at the bottom of the throwaway pile. For instance, Perino’s memoir — “And the Good News Is…Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side” — recounts her experiences serving as a key aide to President George W. Bush — experiences that always placed her former boss in only the most flattering of lights. I can’t remember a single insight on her employer. O’Reilly’s umpteen books, it’s clear, are written to serve his ego, not his readers. And Carlson’s book ran the risk of never, ever being quoted again, if not for her stunning lawsuit against Ailes. For the sake of fairness and balance, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld writes some amusing riffs in his books.
Does Fox News pre-scrutinize the books of its people more thoroughly than other cable-news networks? That’s unclear to the Erik Wemple Blog: We’ve asked MSNBC and CNN reps how they handle this stuff and haven’t yet heard back. Via sources, we are hearing that authors-cum-hosts across the industry may be bound by some restrictions on their book work, though the level of review may not be uniform.
In any case, publishing books is lucrative sub-specialty for Fox News types. After every other commercial break, it seems, some personality is finding some clever way to avail themselves of Fox News’s massive audience to break onto the bestseller lists. No one is more shameless about this side job, of course, than O’Reilly, the King of Cable News. He’ll interrupt any daytime program — even Carlson’s — to promote a “Killing Reagan” or a “Killing Jesus.” And he’s at his creative best in manufacturing topical merge points between the news of the day and his umpteen books. Anything for a quick plug.
Fox News megastar Megyn Kelly is releasing a memoir of her own in mid-November under the title “Settle for More.” She plugged it in a soft-focus interview show back in May on the Fox Broadcasting Company, noting that she’d be speaking for the “first time” about her yearlong ordeal with Donald Trump. There was no mention whether Fox News reviewers would be poring over every word. We asked Kelly’s publisher if that’d be the case. No answer yet.
Given what we know about Carlson’s book project, however, reviewers may want to treat all of Kelly’s representations about her life at Fox News with a special, whey-powder-enhanced dash of skepticism. And given what we know about Ailes’ disdain for “shooting inside the tent,” similar suspicions should cloud all the happy talk about Ailes that Carlson dropped into “Getting Real.” That title more aptly describes what she outlines in her suit against Ailes.