Roger Ailes, the powerful founder and chairman of Fox News, struck back at former anchor Gretchen Carlson on Wednesday, blasting her sexual harassment lawsuit as an attempt at revenge.
“Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false,” Ailes said in an emailed statement. “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.”
Ailes’ statement came shortly after Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, owner of the cable-TV news network, issued its own comment late on Wednesday, saying it had begun a review of the allegations. Ailes and Fox had come under criticism earlier in the day from commentators, including its chief rival Time Warner’s (TWX) CNN, for not commenting earlier on the lawsuit, which became public before noon in New York.
In its statement, Fox appeared to circle its wagons around Ailes, whose leadership at Fox News has provided the company with billions of dollars in profits. Fox, though, took care to demonstrate sensitivity to charges of workplace sexual harassment.
“The company has seen the allegations against Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy,” New York-based 21st Century Fox said in its emailed statement. “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.”
Fox’s statement also named Steve Doocy, who co-hosted the morning show Fox & Friends with Carlson. Although Doocy isn’t named as a defendant in the lawsuit, he is accused of making sarcastic and insulting statements about Carlson. The lawsuit charges that Carlson was removed from anchoring the show after complaining about Doocy.
Filed in Superior Court in New Jersey, where Ailes has a home, the lawsuit alleges that Fox terminated Carlson’s employment at the network on June 23 after “she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.”
The suit claims that when Carlson, who joined Fox in 2005, met with Ailes to discuss what she describes as a pervasive culture of sexual harassment, he was said to say in a conversation in the fall of 2015 that, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better,” adding that “sometimes problems are easier to solve” that way.
As for damages, Carlson doesn’t ask for a specific dollar amount though she does make clear she will pursue compensation for “damage to career path, damage to reputation and paid and suffering,” as well as “punitive damages” and “attorneys’ fees and costs of suit.”
Ailes’ supporters were quick to counter that when Carlson left Fox and Friends in 2013 she said on air that “I am going to be leaving Fox & Friends after seven great years with the guys here on the curvy couch – thanks so much to both of you. Thanks very much to Roger Ailes who runs this corporation for believing me and giving me this opportunity.”
Ailes, 76, pulled no punches, portraying Carlson, 50, as a jilted employee, seeking retribution for having lost her job.
“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,” Ailes said in the statement. “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.”
Carlson, a graduate of Stanford University and a former Miss America, was a host of Fox & Friends from 2006 until 2013 when she was replaced by Elisabeth Hasselbeck and given her own show, The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson. Carlson joined Fox after a five-year stint at CBS where she was a news correspondent and co-host of The Saturday Early Show.
According to Ailes, Fox chose not to renew Carlson’s contract at the network when ratings for The Real Story, a one-hour afternoon show, sagged. The program has yet to name a permanent replacement.
Apart from her allegations of sexual harassment, Carlson demonstrated an occasional willingness to deviate from Fox News’ strict platform of conservative pro-Republican talking points.
A little over a week before Fox chose not to renew her contract, Carlson piqued political attention during a June 14 segment of The Real Story focused on the Orlando shooting massacre at the gay Pulse nightclub when she called for congressional action on gun control.
“Yes, the Orlando massacre was terror, but there is no doubt that Omar Mateen was able to kill so many people because he was firing an AR-15,” Carlson said on Fox News, traditionally a staunch opponent of gun control. “Do we need AR-15s to hunt and kill deer? Do we need them to protect our families?”
She went on to say: “I know a lot of you aren’t going to agree with me today. That’s fine, but I’m also with the majority today taking a stand.”