Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson made an appearance at the School of Journalism’s series “My Life As” on Tuesday, April 17th at Stony Brook University to talk about her lawsuit against Roger Ailes, an influential television executive by whom she was sexually harassed.
“She not only commented and covered the news, she became the news,” Howard Schneider, Dean of Stony Brook’s School of Journalism, said of Carlson as he introduced her to the audience.
Carlson sat down in front of the audience with her colleague, former Associate Dean at the School of Journalism, Marcy McGinnis.
During her talk, Carlson elaborated on her current efforts to stop sexual harassment in the workplace by both working with Congress to repeal arbitration clauses in work contracts and empowering underserved women across the country. She is also advocating for a simple fix to workplace harassment: to make it a men’s issue.
“The men’s side is what I thought was important,” Barry Mirsky, a community member, said. “She was pointing out that it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue too. And the men have to be brought out, and the men have to be shown that they are not the hotshots they think they are, and I think that it’s very important to get up and speak the peace.”
In the late 1980’s, Carlson won the Miss America pageant and was able to meet well-known people including the current President of the United States, Donald Trump.
“After my year as Miss America, I continued to meet a lot of well-known people including Donald Trump,” Carlson said in a Ted Talk of a dated photograph of her and Trump. “When this picture was taken in 1988, nobody could have predicted where we’d be today. Me, fighting to end sexual harassment in the workplace; he, President of the United States in spite of it.”
As Carlson began her career, she began experiencing sexual harassment. She was assaulted twice after two powerful men made unwanted sexual advances toward her. Carlson said that she has only recently begun to accept that she was assaulted, not just sexually harassed.
After working at CBS for a few years covering events such as the September 11 attacks, Fox News offered a deal that Carlson could not resist, and she became a co-host for the popular television news program, Fox and Friends. After having problems with her male co-hosts, Carlson went to Roger Ailes, the executive of Fox News to make a complaint. Instead of taking her complaints seriously, he called her a “man hater” and began sexually harassing her.
As the harassment ensued, Carlson gathered evidence that she would eventually use in her lawsuit. But soon she was demoted to a less popular time slot within the program and eventually fired for refusing his sexual advances.
Carlson began to discuss how important the lawsuit was to her and even people around the country. Many attribute the spark that set off 2017’s #MeToo movement to her, as she opened the floodgates for powerful men to be held accountable for their reprehensible actions.
“I think with my story, women and men saw there were consequences,” Carlson said. During as well as following her lawsuit, Carlson received letters from numerous women who experienced similar workplace harassment.
“Of all the women that reached out to me, almost none are still today working in their chosen profession, and that is outrageous,” Carlson exclaimed in her Ted Talk.
The biggest concerns during the lawsuit, however, were her children. Carlson said her children were very moved by her actions.
“The first day of school last year happened to be the day my resolution was announced, and I was so anxious about what they would face,” Carlson explained in her Ted Talk. “My daughter [14-year-old Kaia] came home from school and she said, ‘Mommy, so many people asked me what happened to you over the summer.’ Then she looked at me in the eyes and she said, ‘And mommy, I was so proud to say that you were my mom.’”
Carlson won the lawsuit against Ailes and was provided with $20 million and a public apology. The apology was the most important aspect of the case, Carlson said. Tears streamed down her cheeks when she saw the public apology on her phone in a New York nail salon.
After the lawsuit, Carlson sought to continue her fight against workplace sexual harassment through workshops, talks, and advocating for a law that would make it easier to report sexual harassment and other abuses at work, as well as a bill that would eliminate arbitration clauses in employment contracts.
Such clauses demand that disputes such as claims of sexual harassment be resolved outside of the court system through an independent person/body. Carlson argues that this is done to keep sexual harassment cases quiet and that the victim is frequently the one who is punished. Arbitration clauses, she claims, rob millions of workers of the seventh amendment, a right to trial by jury.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get this done on the hill for women?” Carlson asked the audience.
The Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative was also discussed. This program aims to give women in underserved areas three days of workshops where they can learn about issues such as domestic violence and receive legal advice.
Finally, Carlson brought the discussion back to her belief that workplace harassment is largely a men’s issue. If men stand up to harassers, she described, that would stop most men in their tracks.
“I think men are crucial to fully seeing the end of this revolution,” Carlson said.
During the talk, Carlson promoted Be Fierce, her 2017 book on the topic of the harassment faced by women in all walks of life. She ended her talk by answering questions from students and members of the community about topics such as male victims, India’s sexual assault epidemic, and college campuses.
“I’m a journalism student and I really appreciate Gretchen coming out tonight and speaking about harassment in the workplace,” Luis Sanchez, an undergraduate journalism student, noted. “It’s time to speak up, and I support women 100 percent.”