Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Leaves Network Outfoxed
Vulpine wordplay notwithstanding, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson has laid serious allegations against FNC chief executive and chairman Roger Ailes.
In a complaint made in New Jersey superior court, available here, Carlson alleges a pattern of gender discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment.
The Stanford graduate alleges consistent harassment from Ailes and others during her tenure at Fox News. Once famously quipping that "pants aren't allowed" on Fox & Friends, Carlson has long rankled at the painfully old fashioned attitudes of her coworkers.
According to the complaint, Ailes regularly made sexual advances on Carlson during her employment. He claimed to have slept with three other Misses America and, when she refused, said Carlson was "sexy, but too much work."
Ailes seems to have often resorted to name calling when he didn't get his way. Waffling between tongue-wagging insinuations, and when rebuffed, petty insults. Not unlike a sexually frustrated teenager.
In 2009, when Carlson made complaints about her co-host Steve Doocy, Ailes called her a "man-hater" and "killer," telling her to "get along with the boys;" despite that Doocy had done his best to belittle her both on and off the air, even mocking her during commercial breaks.
But Ailes' behavior isn't limited to his engagement in, and tolerance of, sexual harassment. It extends to retaliation against Carlson for having the nerve to speak out about it.
According to the complaint, Ailes sabotaged her career, assigning Carlson fluff pieces, moving her to worse time slots, and ultimately fired her from Fox & Friends in 2013.
All the while ensuring that things would be easier if she just played along. He liked to make it clear that he had the power to make or break or her career. Of course, if she would only have sex with him, he could make anything happen. "Sometimes problems are easier to solve that way," he reasoned.
The complaint quotes him saying "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." Roger Ailes was making it clear how he did business with female subordinates.
And when Carlson spoke out against the harassment, Ailes fired back, trying to intimidate her into doing what he wanted. The bottom line is that despite Carlson's constant protestation Ailes, Doocy, and men like them refused to see her as anything but a blonde prop.
After all, to a 76 year old executive, who has long been head of the least balanced news network on television, what good is a woman except for eye candy and sexual favors? To Ailes, Gretchen Carlson's years at Stanford and Oxford were just elaborate finishing school.
Small wonder then that Carlson, a journalist as qualified as any of her colleagues, walked off stage during a show in 2012 following sexist remarks made by her co-hosts.
Her pretensions to equality and serious journalism did not fly at Fox News, and for years she was made to suffer for it. Now she's fighting back and it's Ailes' bosses feeling the heat.
21st century Fox made a cautious response to these allegations. The company released a statement saying they have "full confidence in Mr. Ailes," but would "take these matters seriously" and launch an internal investigation.
Ailes recently released a more aggressive response, saying “this defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”
This suggests two things about the exec, one, that he doesn't seem to realize how much trouble he's in. And two, that he probably thinks he didn't do anything wrong.
Even if the lawsuit never makes it to court, the damage has been done. Allegations of this kind have been brewing under the surface for years, and all it took was a big enough name to bring it to light.
While it's too late for Ailes it's not, on the other hand, too late for James and Lachlan Murdoch who have recently wrested some control over Ailes in a deal with their father.
There is some speculation that the younger generation of Murdochs will lead to a kinder, gentler Fox News. This has yet to be seen. At any rate, it's in their best interest to get their house in order.
Fox has long defended the antics and outbursts of its anchors, chalking all criticism up to "political correctness" and "feminism gone awry." It should be clear by now that these excuses no longer pass muster. And with the median age for FNC viewers in the 65+ range, something needs to change if the Murdochs want to sustain the channel's popularity.
Since Ailes' ascension to power in the 90's, Fox News has been a bastion of backward social conservatism in a time of social change. Its popularity has been sustained by a demographic that fears change. FNC has been able to capitalize on those fears to create its own truth, one that serves them best. And now we're beginning to see the cracks in the little dome they've built between themselves and the world.
The last real-world enclave of these Mad Men antics may have, at long last, been outfoxed.
Thank you for reading. And, as always, if you have suffered sexual harassment, or have another employment issue, don't hesitate to schedule a consultation with one of our knowledgeable employment attorneys.