Days after former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against CEO Roger Ailes alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination, many of her former coworkers publicly spoke out against her and tried to call her story into question. Prominent voices at the network have called the suit “BS,” saying it doesn’t have “a ring of truth” and is “just not in keeping” with their experiences of Ailes.
A number of female hosts cast doubt on the lawsuit by claiming they have never themselves been harassed by Ailes. Greta Van Susteren, a Fox News host, told People, “I’ve often been alone with Roger Ailes in his office over the course of 15 years and I’ve never seen anything like what I’m reading about in the papers and the magazine.”
“People come to me because I’ve been there so long,” Van Susteren said, noting that she thought word of sexual harassment would have traveled. “That’s why this doesn’t have any ring of truth to me. I would have heard it. People don’t keep things silent.”
She added that when she heard about Carlson’s lawsuit, “Of course, the first thing that occurred to me is that, unfortunately, we have a disgruntled employee, a colleague… I read that her show wasn’t being renewed and, being a lawyer, I thought she got angry.” She also argued that “most people…would give anything to have had the air time [Carlson] had on Fox & Friends” and that Carlson should also have seen the network moving her to the 2 p.m. slot for a solo show as a “huge promotion” rather than retaliation for speaking out about harassment at the hands of her co-hosts, as Carlson claims.
Other female Fox hosts had similar defenses of Ailes, saying they personally have not been harassed by him. In an interview with Variety, Maria Bartiromo, current host on for Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel, said that the accusations in the lawsuit are “just not in keeping with what I know, and my experience at Fox.” Bartiromo has a long history with Ailes: he hired in the 1990s to cover the stock market for CNBC, where she was until two years ago when she joined Ailes at Fox. “I’ve known Roger Ailes for 25 years since he first hired me at CNBC and hired me again two and a half years ago. I’ve known him to be nothing but a professional,” she told the site.
Fox News host Jeanine Pirro also told People that she is “a huge fan of Ailes” and never felt uncomfortable around him. “I’ve had lunch with him,” she said. “I’ve been in his office with him. We’ve had phone conversations over the years until I actually started working for him… He had a wicked sense of humor, savvy…he was that kind of no-nonsense guy.”
Carlson is not alone in describing incidents of sexual harassment and even sexual assault at the hands of Roger Ailes, however. Two women told author Gabriel Sherman for his biography of Ailes that he had propositioned them for sex in professional contexts as Carlson has claimed he did to her, with one saying he explicitly told her he would only pay her more if she slept with him. On Saturday, Sherman published six more interviews with women who all claimed Ailes had harassed them, with a few describing actual sexual assaults. Carlson’s lawyer has said at least ten women have come to her recounting similar stories.
But even if Ailes had only targeted Carlson, it wouldn’t be uncommon for her to have kept the episodes to herself. In a massive recent report on harassment in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission noted that the “least common response to harassment is to take some formal action.” Less than a third of people who experience harassment talk about it with a supervisor or union representative. A much smaller share take any legal action. The vast majority instead try to avoid their harasser, deny or downplay what happened, or endure or forget the problem.
It’s not hard to understand why: most fear that they’ll suffer retaliation if they speak up or they won’t be believed. Carlson’s lawsuit claims that she was retaliated against for speaking up about mistreatment from her Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy and then eventually fired. She’s now suffering the other consequences of speaking up: having her former colleagues impugn her story and her character publicly.
Female hosts weren’t the only ones to rush to Ailes’s defense. On Twitter, Fox News host Sean Hannity tweeted that he had talked to “hundreds” of women at Fox who “have the most amazing stories of how kind Roger is to them” and say that Carlson’s lawsuit is “BS.”
Hadas I have spoken to many woman who work at Fox that have the most amazing stories of how kind Roger is to them https://t.co/sxKGuLp6lF
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) July 9, 2016
Brian talk to the hundreds of woman at Fox that I talked to this week both on air and off. They say it all BS https://t.co/L7JECOMMPD
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) July 9, 2016
And Fox News host Howard Kurtz covered the story for Fox’s website, which included some subtle questioning of the case. Calling the lawsuit “salacious,” Kurtz wrote that “the lawsuit is based in part on alleged comments by Ailes in private conversations with Carlson” but “provides no e-mail, texts or voice mail as evidence.” Carlson’s lawyer has said they do have evidence they will release in court, although many sexual harassment cases rest solely on the testimony of the victim. Kurtz also pointed out past praise Carlson has given Ailes, including saying she was “thrilled” he gave her the opportunity to host her own show and calling him “the most accessible boss I’ve ever worked for.”