Gretchen Carlson: The Woman Who Brought Down Fox News' Roger Ailes | KERA News

Gretchen Carlson: The Woman Who Brought Down Fox News' Roger Ailes

Sep 6, 2016
Originally published on September 6, 2016 6:47 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The parent company of Fox News has agreed to pay $20 million to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against Roger Ailes, the channel's former chairman and CEO.

This was the case brought by former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson. Twenty-First Century Fox also apologized to Carlson. NPR's David Folkenflik has more on the woman who took Ailes down.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Debra Katz is agog.

DEBRA KATZ: This is a very unprecedented settlement. It's enormous.

FOLKENFLIK: Katz is a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights attorney who has handled sexual harassment cases for more than three decades. Katz says the apology is even more astonishing.

KATZ: It suggests that Carlson clearly had the goods on Ailes.

FOLKENFLIK: At Fox News, Carlson appeared diligent and dutiful, hardly preparing us for what ensued this summer. On air, Carlson emphasized Ailes' favorite topics, such as the deadly disaster at Benghazi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRETCHEN CARLSON: I do think that the four families of the four dead Americans probably were wondering why it took 642 days. So it really has nothing to do with me, personally. We're reporting on the story here.

FOLKENFLIK: Or, as Jon Stewart once described her, Carlson played the troubled mom to miscreants Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade on the morning show "Fox & Friends."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

CARLSON: I just wanted to see how much of an insult it was to be called an ignoramus. Since I didn't know what it meant, I just Googled it.

FOLKENFLIK: Carlson herself - not an ignoramus. So let's take a closer look.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INSIDE EDITION")

CARLSON: I just happened to be a fat little girl from Minnesota who played a wild violin.

FOLKENFLIK: That's how she defined herself last year in talking to "Inside Edition." Carlson had been valedictorian at her high school in Minnesota and went to Stanford University. By 22, she had slimmed down and parlayed her looks and musical skill into a shot at the Miss America crown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen," a violin performance by Gretchen Elizabeth Carlson, Miss Minnesota.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRETCHEN CARLSON PERFORMANCE OF SARASATE'S "ZIGEUNERWEISEN OP. 20"

FOLKENFLIK: She won the national title, too, and studied at Oxford University. Carlson went into local TV news, later joining CBS and then Fox. In 2009, Jon Stewart accused her of playing dumb on "Fox & Friends."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JON STEWART: All I'm saying is baby - Gretchen - come back. You don't have to stash your IQ in an offshore account.

FOLKENFLIK: Carlson told viewers she resented those claims. She'd interviewed presidential candidates and world leaders. In private, Carlson later alleged her co-host Steve Doocy treated her like a blond prop. In 2012, Brian Kilmeade irritated her on the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

BRIAN KILMEADE: Women are everywhere. We're letting them play golf and tennis now. It's out of control.

CARLSON: You know what?

FOLKENFLIK: Carlson walked off the set.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX AND FRIENDS")

CARLSON: (Laughter) You read the headlines, since men are so great. Go ahead. Take them away.

KILMEADE: All right - finally.

CARLSON: Take them away.

KILMEADE: OK.

FOLKENFLIK: Carlson complained of a sexist work environment. She said Ailes shifted her to the early afternoon as punishment. Carlson alleged that Ailes increasingly talked about her looks, asking her to turn around and wear tight-fitting clothing.

Last fall, she said he told her she would've done better if she'd had sex with him. When Carlson sued Ailes, he had many prominent defenders. Donald Trump among them - heard here on NBC's "Meet the Press."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

DONALD TRUMP: And I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining - I know how much he's helped them. And even recently - and when they write books that are fairly recently released, and they say wonderful things about him - and now, all of a sudden, they're saying these horrible things about him. It's very sad.

FOLKENFLIK: It turned out that in 2011, Fox News had paid $3 million to a former booker who alleged Ailes had extorted sex from her for years. This summer, more than two dozen women participated in an inquiry into Ailes' behavior.

Twenty-First Century Fox said it has reached settlements with two other women who said they had also been harassed recently. An executive at 21st Century Fox says the company will pay Carlson in full.

It will have paid more than $60 million to settle the allegations and to dislodge Ailes. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.