David Zurawik

Gretchen Carlson's suit against Roger Ailes could be bad news for Fox News

UPDATES: Roger Ailes, 21st Century Fox respond.

Gretchen Carlson's lawsuit charging Fox News CEO Roger Ailes with sexual harassment and retaliation could have a profound effect not just on the 76-year-old media titan's career, but the channel he built as well.


Without pre-judging, there is a history of such charges at Fox News dating back to the sexual harassment suit host Bill O'Reilly settled with a female producer in 2004.

In 2014, Gabriel Sherman's biography of Ailes, "The Loudest Voice in the Room,"  included allegations from a female producer who said Ailes offered her an extra $100 a week to have sex with him whenever he wanted.


If what Carlson alleges in her suit is true, Ailes has created a truly sick and vile culture at the right-wing channel.  This is one lawsuit that is going to be followed closely by many constituencies, and this is one time Ailes' bluster and I'll-crush-you tactics will only help convince some of his guilt.

If Carlson's claims are validated, I guarantee viewership for the channel will suffer — and it will be considered by some as an even less favorable place for serious journalists to work than it is now.

In the suit, Carlson, who spent 11 years at Fox, charges that she was fired without warning last month for refusing Ailes' sexual advances.

Her complaint alleges that the firing was "the ultimate retaliation against her after she rebuffed Mr. Ailes' sexual advances and also tried to challenge what she felt was unequal treatment of her in the newsroom by some of her male colleagues."

Carlson's lawsuit says she was fired on June 23, the day her contract was set to expire, as host of "The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson," which aired from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Her show regularly ranked first among cable news programs with the key demographic of viewers ages 25 to 54.

Hosting the afternoon show was a demotion, she further alleges, from being a co-host on the morning show "Fox & Friends," where she says she endured more harassment from co-host Steve Doocy. Carlson is only suing Ailes.

"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," the complaint quotes Ailes as telling Carlson in a meeting last September. "Sometimes problems are easier to solve" that way, Ailes added, according to the complaint. The suit also alleges that Ailes called the 50-year-old Carlson a "man hater" who wanted to "show up the boys."

The complaint also alleges that "Ailes asked Ms. Carlson to turn around so he could view her posterior, commented repeatedly about her legs, and instructed her to wear certain outfits that he claimed enhanced her figure."


The suit also says that "when Ms. Carlson approached Mr. Ailes to say hello at an industry event, he boasted to fellow attendees that he always stays seated when a woman approaches so she has to 'bend over' to greet him."

"We believe that the evidence will confirm that Gretchen was fired from 'Fox & Friends' for speaking up about demeaning and discriminatory behavior on and off the set," Nancy Erika Smith, one of Carlson's attorneys, said in a statement Wednesday.

Ailes and 21st Century Fox responded late Wednesday with statements.

Ailes statement:

Gretchen Carlson's allegations are false. This is a retaliatory suit for the network's decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup. When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit. Ironically, FOX News provided her with more on-air opportunities over her 11 year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book. This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.

Here's the statement from 21st Century Fox promising a "review" of the allegations:


The Company has seen the allegations against Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy. We take these matters seriously. While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter.

An "internal review of the matter" by Fox isn't going to inspire much confidence in anyone.