Fox News CEO Roger Ailes is publicly rebuking former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson just hours after her attorneys filed an eight-page sexual harassment lawsuit against him in New Jersey. In a statement sent to multiple news outlets, Ailes called Carlson’s unsettling allegations “offensive” and “defamatory”:
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.
Ailes seems to have brought up Carlson’s ratings because the original lawsuit argues that her ratings were so good that the only logical reason Ailes would endeavor to fire her would be her resistance to his sexual advances. Since neither Carlson’s lawsuit nor Ailes’ response deals in raw audience numbers—or agrees on the methodology used to measure such numbers—it’s not entirely clear what their point of disagreement is.
In any case: Ailes and his network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, do not seem to have coordinated their responses to Carlson’s lawsuit, which alleges that Ailes pressured her into having sex with him and later sabotaged her career after she resisted his advances (among many other things). Around the same time as Ailes’ statement, a spokesperson for 21st Century Fox distributed a very different statement:
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.
This is pretty much the opposite of calling Carlson’s lawsuit “retaliatory” and “false.” What could account for the tamer response? Perhaps the executives who crafted the statement were chastened by what Carlson’s law firm told CNN earlier this afternoon:
In the hours since the lawsuit was announced, “at least ten” other women have contacted the law firm, wanting to speak about Ailes’ treatment, according to a spokesman for the firm.
Carlson’s not the only woman to accuse Ailes of such behavior. One female Fox News contributor, who asked to remain anonymous, said that she had a similar encounter with Ailes. “He asked me to turn around so he can see my ass,” the contributor said, describing one of her meetings with the chairman.
Another Fox News employee ... described a story that she said Ailes often told about his hiring process for on-camera personalities. “He always brags to people about how he doesn’t do polling or testing when he chooses his on-air talent. He told me that if he was thinking of hiring a woman, he’d ask himself if he would fuck her, and if he would, then he’d hire her to be on-camera,” the employee said.