Alisyn Camerota left Fox News in March 2014 without another job lined up. She had spent 16 years at the network, working as a correspondent, a co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend” and a daytime news host. There was no good official explanation surrounding her departure. “From her days reporting, to hosting Fox & Friends and anchoring afternoon programs, she has done it all with enthusiasm and professionalism. We appreciate her contributions to the network and hope for all the best as she embarks on the next chapter of her life,” read a statement from Bill Shine, then the network’s executive vice president of programming (he’s now the co-president of Fox News).
In her own missive to colleagues, Camerota mentioned Roger Ailes, the Fox News founder who was ousted last summer amid a sexual-harassment scandal. “I want to thank Roger Ailes for having me as part of the FOX family and giving me many amazing opportunities to grow. Roger taught me a lifetime of valuable things about what makes great television,” wrote Camerota.
Several months later, Camerota caught on with CNN, where she co-hosts the morning program “New Day” along with Chris Cuomo.
And three years after leaving Fox News, Camerota is now ready to speak in non-PR terms about it. In an interview with CNN colleague Brian Stelter, host of “Reliable Sources,” Camerota talked about her treatment at the hands of Ailes, who is alleged to have sexually harassed a couple of dozen women over the course of his career; he has denied all the allegations against him.
Early in her Fox News career, Camerota tells Stelter, she went to Ailes with a request for a bigger portfolio at Fox News. The response from the boss squares with other accounts that surfaced in the summer of 2016: ”Well, I would have to work with you,'” responded Ailes. “I would have to work with you on that case. I would have to work with you really closely, and it may require us getting to know each other better, and that might have to happen away from here, and it might have to happen at a hotel. Do you know what I’m saying?” And I said, ‘Yeah. I think I do know what you’re saying.’ ”
Camerota refused the advance. “But I didn’t know what that meant for me and for my career. And I remember vividly that I had sort of an out-of-body experience hovering over us in the office and thinking, ‘Is this it? Is this the end of my time here? Will I be fired if I don’t do this?’ ”
No, as it turned out. Camerota went on to a rather mediocre career at Fox News, never quite piercing the inner ring of hosting talent at the network. She did her work at “Fox & Friends Weekend,” a backwater of the worst franchise in all of television news. She filled in at the weekday version — again, the most execrable of all televised news offerings in the United States. She co-hosted an afternoon news program. And there things stood at the time of her departure.
Could her stalled career prospects have stemmed from her having spurned Roger Ailes? That’s not entirely clear, though Camerota did cite another element of friction in her interactions with Ailes. “It was sort of emotional harassment. Roger Ailes ruled with an iron fist, and he wanted us all to fall in line and have his worldview and say the things that he wanted us to say on Fox News,” said the former Fox News host. “He targeted me because he sort of figured out early on that I didn’t share his worldview. And he said, ‘You’re not saying the conservative things that I want you to say, and you could be a real role model, and you could be a real star if only you could sound conservative sometimes.’ I said ‘Uh. Well, Roger, that’s not my job. I’m not supposed to sound conservative or liberal. I am supposed to be a fair and balanced, in your terms, journalist, and I’m supposed to be open, and I’m not supposed to take a side.”
This counterargument didn’t impress the boss, according to Camerota: “That, he didn’t appreciate or particularly like. I was often, you know, sort of called on the carpet for things because he thought that I wasn’t reflecting the conservative agenda, so he and I had a lot of interaction and sometimes arguments. Sometimes, he would lecture me. Sometimes, he would insult me,” said the CNN host. When Camerota noted that her role is to play devil’s advocate and take the “other side,” “He said, ‘There is no other side.’ In Roger’s worldview, there was no other side. Liberals were always wrong, conservatives were generally right, and that’s what he felt that we should be reflecting on the air, and so when I say that there was bullying, it was very unpleasant at times to be alone in Roger’s office when he would, you know, boom and bellow at me about how I was getting it wrong.”
For those seeking to understand why something such as Obamacare never stood a chance on Fox News, just mark Camerota’s words.
Susan Estrich, an attorney for Ailes, tells this blog: “These are unsubstantiated and false allegations. Mr Ailes never engaged in the inappropriate conversations she now claims occurred, and he vigorously denies this fictional account of her interactions with him and of Fox News editorial policy.” In a measure of further pushback, Estrich cites previous and very favorable comments that Camerota had made about Fox News, including a short profile that described her as having “loved” her time at the network. Another entry in Estrich’s case-building is the glowing comments that Camerota made about Ailes upon her departure from Fox News.
Let’s not hold those comments against Camerota. The television industry — like many white-collar industries — is addicted to phony assertions of glee driven by public-relations imperatives. That Camerota said nice things about Fox News means only that she was seeking to extend her TV career. Or perhaps she was complying with the terms of her departure from Fox News.
Consider the case of Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News star who ditched the network for a job at NBC News. Over the course of her career at Fox News, she made extravagant claims about Ailes’s sound mentoring and influence on her career. And then, after Ailes was named in a sexual-harassment suit from former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, Kelly came forward to tell her own story, which involved Ailes pursuing her about a decade ago. When the full weight of Kelly’s allegations came packed inside Kelly’s 2016 memoir, Estrich released this statement:
“This is what Ms. Kelly had to say about Roger Ailes only one year ago on the Charlie Rose program, ‘I really care about Roger. And he has been nothing but good to me. And he’s been very loyal. And he’s had my back. And he’s looked out for me.’ Mr. Ailes denies her allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct of any kind.”
In explaining why she’s telling her story now, Camerota cited the cataclysmic events of this past week, in which star host Bill O’Reilly found himself relieved of his job as the Fox News “table setter” following a series of sexual-harassment allegations. A trio of Murdochs — Rupert and his sons James and Lachlan — reached that pivotal decision. “When Roger Ailes was ousted in July, there was a lot of talk about what the culture was there, and now, with Bill O’Reilly having been fired, it feels as though, if I take the Murdochs at their word, they really want to know what was wrong there and what the culture was like, and I don’t know how you get that from silence. So, it feels like this might be the right time to just have this conversation and let some daylight in.”
Last summer the Fox News-Murdoch team moved swiftly against Ailes, forcing him out in the same month that Carlson’s suit was filed. And this past week, they scrambled to dismiss O’Reilly and patch up the resulting hole in the network’s prime-time lineup. The women who’ve worked with these fellows, however, are on their own schedule. They’re telling their stories when they’re ready, and all of them deserve to be heard.