On Wednesday, the media world learned of a lawsuit former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson has brought against Fox CEO Roger Ailes, alleging that he sexually propositioned her, harassed her, and penalized her for turning him down and complaining about harassment she says she experienced from other employees, eventually firing her from the network in retaliation.
But according to a number of other accounts, Carlson is far from the only woman to have experienced harassment from Ailes.
In his 2014 biography of Ailes, The Loudest Voice in the Room, Gabriel Sherman recounts incidents that mirror Carlson’s claims. Carlson alleges in her lawsuit that Ailes told her at their final meeting that her problems would have been resolved if they “had a sexual relationship a long time ago.”
As Sherman recalls, something similar happened to producer Randi Harrison in the 1980s. In her 20s and out of a job, she was interviewed by Ailes in his office at NBC, when he “steered the conversation into uncomfortable terrain. According to Harrison, Ailes looked over at his NBC office couch and said, ‘I have helped a lot of women get ahead and advance their careers in the broadcast television industry,’” Sherman writes.
When she called Ailes’ salary offer of $400 a week a lowball, she said he made a startling counteroffer: “If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want I will add an extra hundred dollars a week.” She demurred and later recalled of that day, “I was in tears by the time I hit the street.” She ended up taking a job with NBC, but she said later, “Every woman who worked on the show I’d wonder about.”
If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want I will add an extra hundred dollars a week.
The book also recounts an interview Ailes conducted with reporter and television producer Shelley Ross in which he “posed romantically suggestive questions and made flirtatious comments about her appearance.” She told him, “This is making me uncomfortable,” and in a follow up phone interview told him she would never date a boss. “Ailes’s reaction was, according to Ross, ‘Don’t you know I’m single?’” Sherman reports. She eventually took the job and said she had a positive experience.
But when Ailes was later asked about the incident by a reporter, he called Ross “crazy” and a “militant feminist.” Carlson also alleges she got similar treatment from him when she brought discrimination to his attention, calling her a “man hater” and “killer.”
Earlier in his career, as a Broadway producer in the 1970s, Ailes summoned young actress Stephanie Gordon to his office alone on a Sunday afternoon, telling her he wanted to photograph her in character wearing nothing but a towel — taken from a scene in the play where she eventually removed the towel and stood on stage naked. “Gordon…was unsettled by the invitation,” Sherman reports. “Making her way up to Ailes’s office, Gordon started to panic. ‘It was dark. It wasn’t my usual milieu. I remember thinking, ‘What am I doing?… Why am I by myself in a deserted office building with this guy?’’” She never ended up taking her clothes off in front of him, posing for the photo in a towel.
And while at NBC Ailes went on Don Imus’s radio show and joked that two female hosts of a CNBC show, Mary Matalin and Jane Wallace, were like “girls who if you went into a bar around seven, you wouldn’t pay a lot of attention, but [they] get to be tens around closing time.” While spokespeople for the network defended the comments as “said in the context of a comedy radio show,” that’s not how Wallace took them. “He had no right to say something like that,” she said later to Sherman. “He was our boss. It was completely sexist. It was disgusting. It was outrageous.”
Carlson also alleges that Ailes refused to take action when she complained that Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy was discriminating against her and harassing her. Ailes has a record of defending male hosts who are accused of harassment. In 2004, Bill O’Reilly was sued by an associate producer at Fox News named Andrea Mackris who not only accused the host of “constant and relentless” sexual harassment, but had recordings of him calling her to have phone sex.
Ailes and other Fox News executives decided to dig up material on Mackris to “construct an image of her as an opportunist shaking down a celebrity,” as Sherman writes, and the PR department fed tabloids gossip about her. “After it was all over, Ailes recalled that he had been confident that O’Reilly would weather the worst of it,” Sherman reports.
Get out of this place, they don’t treat anyone well here.
The book also notes that there was a pervasive culture of sexism at the network during Ailes’s tenure. Fox’s legal chief Dianne Brandi, who had handled employment matters for Ailes, “would often say, ‘Get out of this place, they don’t treat anyone well here,’” a colleague recalled. “Sex was a fact of life at Fox,” Sherman reports. “’The whole Fox culture, like the New York Post newsroom, had a whole sexualized nature to it,’ a former female Fox producer said.”
In fact, since Carlson’s lawsuit, more women have indicated they may come forward. Nancy Erika Smith, Carlson’s lawyer, told CNN that at least ten women have called her to say they have been victim to Ailes’s harassment.
Others have been speaking up anonymously. Carlson claims that Ailes made her twirl around in his office so he could ogle her behind. A female Fox News contributor told the Huffington Post she had a similar experience, saying, “He asked me to turn around so he can see my ass.”
Another female Fox News employee described Ailes’s self-professed hiring process to the Huffington Post. “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,” she said. “He then said if it was a man he’d think about whether he could sit down for a baseball game with him and not get annoyed of him. If he could, then he’d hire him.”
The Daily Beast spoke to a former Fox News employee who recounted, “One time he asked me if I was wearing underwear, and was he going to see anything ‘good,’” adding it’s also happened to “lots of other women.” Another former employee said Ailes harassed her with inappropriate comments during one-on-one meetings.
For his part, Ailes has called Carlson’s accusations “false,” “defamatory,” “offensive,” and “wholly without merit.” Fox News’s parent company 21st Century Fox has said it has “full confidence” in Ailes and Doocy but that it has begun an internal review of the allegations.