Former “Fox and Friends” host Gretchen Carlson spoke at the School of Journalism’s My Life As Lecture Series on Tuesday night in the Sidney Gelber Auditorium. In conversation with Marcy McGinnis, former associate dean of the SoJ and former vice president of news coverage at CBS News, Carlson reflected on her experiences with the Me Too movement following her landmark sexual harassment lawsuit against former chief executive officer of Fox News, Roger Ailes.
“Courage is contagious. And we’re seeing that play out right now,” said Carlson. “That when you hand that leap of courage to one person, and they hand it to another, and another, and to another, we end up in this collective experience that enriches up, where more and more women, and men, feel empowered.”
On “Fox and Friends,” Carlson endured sexist and inappropriate behavior from her co-hosts, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade.
Due to the settlement Carlson received, she is not allow to speak publicly about Fox News, but McGinnis spoke on her behalf.
“The years hosting with Steve and Brian had its ups and downs,” McGinnis said. “On the air, even with the occasional jabs to each other, it looked liked the hosts may have been having a lot of fun. But Gretchen alleges their workplace resembled more of a locker room than a newsroom.”
Carlson complained to the network about Doocy as early as 2009, according to a report from The New York Times. Ailes allegedly responded by calling Carlson a “man hater,” and telling her to “try and get along with the boys,” McGinnis said.
By 2013, Ailes had Carlson demoted to an afternoon time slot for three years until she was fired in July 2016. Two weeks later, she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit that alleged that, “she was fired for refusing Ailes’ sexual advances,” said McGinnis. Ailes resigned as CEO shortly after.
In September 2016, Carlson received a $20 million settlement and a rare public apology from Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox.
“For me the most important part of coming to any sort of a settlement or terms was the apology. That never happens, ever,” Carlson said, adding that she hopes the results of her case will inspire similar outcomes in other cases and empower more victims of harassment to break their silence.
“I think other women and men who were victims and living through this in their lives, they felt that, ‘well maybe I can speak up too, because, maybe I’ll be believed because this woman was believed,’” Carlson said.
Early on in her career, Carlson said she was sexually assaulted twice in one week by high ranking men working in television and public relations. “I felt responsibility and I never ever told anyone what happened to me for 25 years,” she said.
Despite the hardships she has endured, Carlson said the Me Too movement has given her hope for the future.
“So much has changed from when I jumped off the cliff on July 6, 2016, [to] the more recent, high profile media stories, and Me Too where men were fired immediately, and women were, for the most part, believed, and there were consequences that were immediate,” she said. “Nobody could have ever predicted that we would have come that far in this revolution because cultural change takes forever.”
Speaking personally with Carlson left McGinnis feeling invigorated. “I feel good that these things are finally coming out in the open thanks to people like Gretchen having the guts, and the actresses and the people in the business that came out against Harvey Weinstein, the people that came out about Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer,” she said after the lecture.
Freshman multidisciplinary studies major Madison Wurtz on the other hand, remained skeptical about the implications of the Me Too movement. “Personally, the Me Too movement, I think it’s really good to empower women; however, I think it does open up the possibility for false allegations,” Wurtz said. Although she said she agreed with most of what Carlson had to say, there were some moments Wurtz took issue with. “She was kinda conforming to a lot of social norms by saying ‘oh we need to raise men to be, not manly but gentlemanly.’ Like what does gentlemanly mean in 2018?”
East Northport resident James Miola said Carlson’s lecture brought to light just how pervasive sexual harassment is in American society. “It shows how this problem is not a handful of bad apples, it’s a systemic issue and it needs to be dealt in a systemic way,” Miola said. “People like Gretchen come out and amplify that signal, it helps get everybody on board.”