Last week, former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against the network’s CEO, Roger Ailes, claiming he sexually harassed her and ultimately terminated her contract because she denied his advances.
"Although this was a difficult step to take, I had to stand up for myself and speak out for all women and the next generation of women in the workplace,” Carlson wrote in a statement. The suit alleges she put up with years of abuse and harassment, including Ailes suggesting they have a sexual relationship, commenting on her body, and insisting she learn to “get along with the boys” when she complained to him about the sexist culture at the network.
It’s not very surprising that Fox — which is not named in the suit — has since launched a PR campaign rabidly defending the embattled Ailes and calling into question Carlson’s motives for the suit. Since her announcement, more than a half-dozen women have spoken out to share their own stories of sexual harassment at the hands of Ailes, with some stories dating back to the 1960s. Ailes has vigorously denied all these allegations and this weekend released a statement via his lawyers, arguing that since some of these accusations are as much as 50 years old, they are no longer valid.
Female Fox anchors have also spoken out in support of Ailes. Yesterday, current Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt spoke to People about her positive experiences working with Ailes.
"I want the public to know that this is a man with a really good heart," she told the magazine.
Veteran anchor Greta Van Susteren also jumped to Ailes defense, telling People that in her 15 years with the network, she’s never had an “inappropriate encounter with Ailes.”
"Of course, the first thing that occurred to me is that, unfortunately, we have a disgruntled employee," she told People. "I've often been alone with Roger Ailes in his office over the course of 15 years and I've never seen anything like what I'm reading about in the papers and the magazine."
It’s easy to list a dozen or more reasons why a woman might not come forward and speak up when she’s sexually harassed by her boss. And when the man who is responsible for your livelihood is one of the most powerful executives in the world, it becomes even more difficult. What does Carlson have to win in this situation? She’s putting her career on the line. And as with most sexual-harassment cases, it comes down to "he said"/"she said." Ailes is rich, successful, and has the support of top lawyers and a huge network behind him. If the case goes to trial, Carlson will likely see her entire personal life ripped open for the world to see. She’s already being judged in the court of public opinion — and by former coworkers.
Last month, Carlson’s colleague Megyn Kelly joined Sheryl Sandberg’s new Lean In campaign, Together Women Can, which aims to encourage women to speak up for each other. Kelly has been silent since the charges came out against Ailes, defending neither Carlson nor her boss. Surely, this is one of those times that Sandberg was talking about — when women should defend their female colleagues and not ignore these upsetting allegations. Kelly has proven her ability to hold her own against strong men — her response to Donald Trump’s rude comments has become almost legendary — and yet she hasn’t said anything about the allegations against the man who’s responsible for her paycheck.
Van Susteren and other Fox employees are only speaking to their personal experiences at Fox — and they’re lucky it’s been a good work environment for them. But the only two people who can speak to the private interactions between Ailes and Carlson that are alleged in the suit are Ailes and Carlson. So how can these women be so quick to shut Carlson down? It seems as journalists, they should search for all sides of the story — and remain silent until they’re sure of all the facts. Maybe they aren’t so different from many women out there who feel pressured into toeing the company line in order to enjoy a little job security? That could certainly explain an unwillingness to speak out.
Update: This story has been edited and quotes have been removed.