One news outlet last month reported that former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson was about to sign with MSNBC. Another news outlet countered that such a notion was “bogus.”
What say you, Gretchen Carlson?
“I’m aware but I can’t comment,” said Carlson on Tuesday afternoon after a news conference convened by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to push legislation cracking down on the use of forced arbitration. Franken’s Arbitration Fairness Act would amend the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act to invalidate “agreements that require the arbitration of employment, consumer, antitrust, or civil rights disputes made before the dispute arises,” according to a Franken release.
The issue is a natural for Carlson, who co-anchored the morning program “Fox & Friends” before hosting her own afternoon show on the network. She was dismissed last June and, in a cataclysmic filing, sued then-Fox News chief Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. Among the first legal chores was opposing the effort of Ailes’s lawyers to push the case into arbitration. The suit effectively prompted an internal investigation of Ailes’s handling of women — and it allegedly found plenty of such activity. (Ailes has denied all claims against him.) Just weeks after the Carlson filing, he was out of a job, though he left with a princely sum. Later in the summer, Carlson secured a $20 million settlement from Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, as well as a very good apology.
Andrea Tantaros, a former colleague of Carlson’s at Fox News, recently lost a court fight to keep her sexual harassment suit against the company out of arbitration.
In her remarks Tuesday, Carlson spoke of her efforts to encourage women to speak out about sexual harassment in the workplace. Citing cases at Sterling Jewelers and unnamed Silicon Valley companies, Carlson claimed, “The floodgates are opening.” Not loudly enough, however. Arbitration clauses, argued Carlson, are “forcing women to be silent about illegal and abusive behavior which causes them much pain” — and frequently these secretive compacts allow the employer “to leave the abusers in the workplace to harass again.”
The ex-Fox News host also issued a call for unity around this matter: “This is not a partisan issue. Republicans, Democrats and independents are all sexually harassed. Their harassers come from all political parties as well. There’s a lot of division in our country right now, but on this issue, we are all Americans. Americans who believe that victims of harassment shouldn’t be forced to give up the rights guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment.”
If that appeal sounds thoroughly nonpartisan, that’s how Carlson is determined to project herself. Asked whether she might face difficulties selling herself to neutrality-observing mainstream media outlets after participating in a Franken-led press conference, Carlson said, “I wasn’t involved in partisan politics today. I said that this happens to Republicans, Democrats and independents, and I called on Senator Franken to make sure that he got bipartisan support for this bill.”
“I think I can do both,” she said.
On the broader question of her talks with TV types, Carlson said, “We’ve had many conversations.” The “incredibly busy” Carlson, when she’s not ripping arbitration clauses, is writing for Time magazine’s Motto, a publication for women; is establishing a women- and girl-empowerment fund; is writing a book; and has a speaking career as well. “I could just, I guess, go home and raise my two beautiful children and be quiet,” she says. However: “I really do think that life works in mysterious ways and this is my mission now,” she says.
The former Fox News hosts’s appearance on Capitol Hill coincides with high times at her one-time base of operations — the ratings-killing “Fox & Friends.” In her July complaint, Carlson painted a dire picture of the curvy couch’s professional backdrop. Co-host Steve Doocy, the Carlson filing said, “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.” There was more: Doocy had a habit of “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 as a blond female prop.”
So. We asked Carlson to comment on Doocy, the fellow who recently traveled to the White House to interview President Trump, among other business-as-usual exploits. “I can’t comment on that,” said Carlson. Do legal settlements enforce a bit of silence as well?
Asked if she had a vision of the sort of TV gig she envisions for herself down the road, Carlson responded, “Yes, definitely — one in which I am respected and it’s a safe environment.”