On Friday, November 18, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson appeared on ABC’s 20/20 for a sit-down interview with Good Morning America host Amy Robach to discuss her alleged experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace, which Carlson stated have been a staple throughout her entire professional career. Though not permitted to discuss the details of her highly-publicized case against then-CEO of Fox News Roger Ailes due to her $20 million settlement from the network, she did provide accounts of other troubling encounters since first entering the field of broadcast journalism, which was, and continues to be, an overwhelmingly male-dominated occupation. During the interview, Carlson revealed she first began to understand the effects of being sexually harassed after having been crowned Miss America in 1989.
It has been four months since Carlson first filed suit against Ailes, which effectively resulted in Ailes stepping down from his position at the beleaguered network. Since then, several other women have come forward with their own accounts of sexual harassment and misconduct by Ailes, who has continued to deny every allegation made against him. Ailes has labeled a number of his accusers as ‘opportunists,’ ‘fame-hungry’ and ‘out to get him,’ which is part of the reason Carlson chose to speak out regarding her past experiences. Speaking to her case against him, she would only say, “I hope I’ve helped other women to win.”
Speaking to Robach, she said, “We’re still in an environment where you’re not going to be believed. Women should not have to face this in the workplace, period.” The sad truth is that she’s absolutely right; rather than believe the alleged victims, our society has a bad habit of blaming them instead. Perhaps because it’s too hard to suppose someone would be capable of and/or allowed to get away with such disturbing behavior for so many years, or perhaps because we have been conditioned to favor the perpetrators’ impassioned pleas of innocence over the victims’ emotional recollections of events that allegedly occurred. This seems especially true when there are several who come forward after an initial accusation, and particularly when the accused happens to be famous.
Carlson, who is a graduate of Stanford University, first began her career in broadcast journalism shortly after her pageant win. She recalled meeting with television agents, who praised her for her poise and grace under pressure while on appearing on TV. Intrigued, Carlson began to explore her options by looking for jobs in the field; it was during this time she says she was first exposed to an inappropriate and unsettling encounter with a male executive.
After having applied for a certain job, she said she initially felt good; encouraged even. That was, she expressed, until she didn’t. Describing the circumstances, Carlson told Robach, “It was a shocking experience because with this particular man, he spent most of the day helping me. He made a lot of phone calls for me. And I thought, ‘Wow, this guy’s being so nice.’ And we went to dinner and we were in the back seat of a car going to my college friend’s apartment at the end of the evening. And before I knew it he was on top of me and his tongue was down my throat.”
She went on to describe two additional incidents, one which purportedly took place just a few weeks after her first experience, in which a Los Angeles-based public relations representative shoved her face into his crotch so forcefully she was unable to breathe.
Carlson, now 50, concluded the interview by stating she hopes her decision to come forward will help other women feel safe to do the same. She’s currently enjoying her time at home with her husband and their two children, much to her surprise, as she first believed it would be a difficult transition into stay-at-home mom after having worked her entire adult life. However, she receives daily inspiration from her children; her daughter Kaia said, “I do think my mom is a hero for many women and also for many men in the world. She’s teaching them how to treat women and how to be with women and it’s very important not only for girls but also men.”
Carlson also plans to testify before Congress in order to do away with ‘forced arbitration’ clauses in employment contracts, which effectively force employees to forgo their rights to having their day in court by settling with private attorneys employed by the companies should events such as these take place. This particular clause is the reason Ms. Carlson was forced to accept the settlement offered by Fox News, thus preventing her from tarnishing the company’s or Ailes’ public image by providing any further details related to the case.