Gretchen Carlson’s bombshell lawsuit against Roger Ailes not only brought down one of the most powerful men in the country but it spurred colleagues to come forward, too. But few, it seems, have thanked her. UPDATED
Yesterday, on the fifth anniversary of Carlson’s lawsuit, Variety published a lengthy interview with her about the cultural changes she spurred. I recommend the whole article.
Unfortunately, Carlson signed a non-disclosure agreement when she settled her suit (for $20 million) and is now constrained from speaking about almost everything related to her experiences. As the article notes, she has since co-founded a non-profit dedicated to banning NDAs and forced arbitration clauses over toxic workplace issues.
If her former colleagues appreciate her efforts, they are keeping quiet about it. The Variety interview includes this surprising exchange:
As a result of the investigation, numerous women — including Megyn Kelly — came forward to talk about their own experiences with Roger Ailes at Fox News. I assume you were hearing, not just from news reports, but from friends at the network that that was going on. How did that feel on a personal level?
Actually, I wasn’t hearing from hardly anyone at Fox. I can still tell you that I have more fingers on one hand than people I’ve heard from at Fox — still.
As someone who has followed Carlson since the days when she played the role of a Fox “bubble-headed-bleach-blonde,” I have become fascinated by her, not just because of her unexpected courage and moxie but also by how she has evolved. The burning question in my mind is, how have her thoughts about Fox News and her role in its mission changed and what spurred that change? Was it the sexual harassment? The lack of support from her colleagues? The pro-Trump radicalization of the network since then? All of the above?
I’m hoping one day, she’ll be able to talk. Meanwhile, she gives hints. For example, when asked if her politics changed “because of what you’ve been through,” Carlson replied, “I have always been a registered Independent. I’ve always fought for women’s rights.” Which is a way of saying her politics have not changed but also distances herself from the GOP propaganda machine that is now synonymous with Fox News.
She made that even clearer in this exchange:
What was it like watching Fox News during the Trump administration, when the two were in lock-step with one another?
I guess I wasn’t surprised. I think to a certain extent, Fox became rudderless. So I wasn’t surprised at it. But glad I wasn’t there.
If you follow Carlson on Twitter, as I do, you can see that she tweets what she almost certainly would never have dared to utter if she was still cohosting Fox & Friends:
Now he tells the truth? Former Attorney General under Trump, Bill Barr, admits there was never any election fraud, and he just went along with it while he was still in office.@QuakeMedia https://t.co/oi87E8uhm4 pic.twitter.com/GS2OtBz2Ut— Gretchen Carlson (@GretchenCarlson) June 28, 2021
I seriously doubt Carlson has become a full-fledged liberal. But she has, in my view, become a better person since the days she played dumb on Fox & Friends. I can’t wait to learn more.
(Carlson image via screen grab)
July 8, 2021 update: I started to respond to reader Robert Weisberg's comments in our comments section. But I think my response clarifies a bit of what I was trying to say in the post, so I am putting it here.
I did not mean to sound like a Carlson fan girl in this post. What I was trying to say is that it is pretty clear to me she has evolved to some extent and I would love to hear her frank assessment of her time at Fox from her current vantage point. I wish the interviewer had pressed her more on her role in validating and promoting past Fox propaganda.
I suspect Carlson would say that she believed in the earlier version of Fox - ironically, the Ailes version - when it was more mainstream Republican. But I don't know and she either can't discuss it or chooses not to or both. It is clear she does not support the current version, regardless of any workplace improvements.
Yes, I have seen Jon Stewart's blistering critique of her and it was right on the money. In fact, I watched it twice when writing this post. It is not currently embeddable but I linked to it above (where I say "she played the role of a Fox 'bubble-headed-bleach-blonde'").
But Carlson had at least begun moving away from that act before the lawsuit. You can see it in her now-famous commentary about banning assault weapons, shortly before she was fired. (It's also linked in my original post)
So yes, Carlson should be held accountable for her past behavior but that behavior has changed and, IMO, it's for the better. Did she only change because Ailes wouldn't do what she wanted and she saw a way to get big bucks? Or was her ultimate fight with Ailes the culmination of a slow internal reckoning? Both? That's what I am so curious about.
I'm not saying we should forget Carlson's role at Fox. But people do change their views (Carl Cameron, e.g., was so upset with Fox he joined with a lefty to fight right-wing Trump propaganda ). Also Derek Black evolved from white nationalist to anti-racist. I believe these people deserve grace. How much Carlson deserves remains to be seen but I think at least some is in order.
Lastly, Carlson spoke out and brought down a sexual predator who was preying on herself and her colleagues. It's shocking to me that they have ostracized her. Was she disliked at Fox all along? Were they angered by her airing their dirty laundry? Would they have preferred to leave the status quo in place? That seems a story in itself and more of what I would love to know.