Longtime Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson stunned the media world on Wednesday when she sued Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, one of the most powerful men in the news industry, for sexual harassment.
The suit from Carlson—who rose to fame as one third of the anchoring team for the notoriously hard-right Fox & Friends before moving to host her own afternoon show on the network—alleges a lengthy history of crude remarks, aggressive come-ons, and inappropriate behavior from Ailes.
Carlson pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of Ailes' notoriously secretive conservative media empire, depicting it as a boys club in which her complaints were met with retaliation, and eventually led to her firing.
While Fox News has long been tagged with a reputation for on-air sexism, Carlson's lawsuit paints a significantly more unsettling picture. In her telling, Fox News knowingly and maliciously subjects its female employees to overt harassment, and follows up with career-damaging retribution for anyone brave enough to speak out.
In one typical claim, Carlson alleges that in 2009 she complained to a supervisor about harassing behavior from her Fox & Friends cohost, Steve Doocy. She says that "after learning of [her] complaints, Ailes responded by calling Carlson a 'man hater' and 'killer' and telling her that she needed to learn to 'get along with the boys.'" Ailes is then accused of limiting Carlson's access to high profile interviews and on-air appearances, and eventually assigning her to a different time slot.
Beyond the alleged retaliation by Ailes, Carlson charges that the Fox News boss was himself responsible for a longstanding pattern of wildly inappropriate, sexually suggestive comments and belittling behavior. Incidents described in the lawsuit include Ailes:
- Ogling Carlson in his office and asking her to turn around so he could view her posterior.
- Commenting that certain outfits enhanced Carlson's figure and urging her to wear them every day.
- Commenting repeatedly about Carlson's legs.
- Wondering aloud how anyone could be married to Carlson, while making sexual advances by various means, including by stating that if he could choose one person to be stranded with on a desert island, she would be that person.
- Boasting to other attendees (at an event where Carlson walked over to greet him) that he always stays seated when a woman walks over to him so she has to 'bend over' to say hello.
- Embarrassing Ms. Carlson by stating to others in her presence that he had "slept" with three former Miss Americas but not with her. [Note: Carlson was crowned Miss America in 1989]
- Telling Carlson that she was "sexy," but "too much hard work."
According to Carlson, the final straw came in September, 2015, when during a meeting with Ailes, he'd suggested the two of them "should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago," because "sometimes problems are easier to solve" that way. When Carlson rebuffed this advance, Ailes is alleged to have continued his retaliatory tendencies before finally opting not to renew her contract on June 23rd, 2016.
Carlson is seeking unspecified compensation for money potentially lost due to Ailes' damage to her career, and reputation, as well as for mental anguish, and punitive damages.
"I value your support and friendship, especially now, so please stay in touch with me."
Neither Ailes nor Fox News had any initial public comment, but the network is known to be extremely vicious towards its enemies—and Carlson is now one of its biggest enemies in some time.