Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker. She is a contributing editor for Success magazine. In 2014, she was named outstanding news talk-radio host by the Gracie Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Fox confirmed a $20 million settlement deal with Gretchen Carlson over allegations of sexual harassment by Roger Ailes
Mel Robbins: Ailes picked the wrong woman to harass. She allegedly recorded him, collected evidence of his behavior
Robbins: Fox tolerated, rewarded, defended and protected harasser year after year. It just takes one to stand up and end it
Roger Ailes picked the wrong woman to allegedly sexually harass, hit on and terminate. Gretchen Carlson’s Twitter bio reads: “Journalist, wife, mama, warrior for women, 100% believer in life motto Carpe Diem, author of Getting Real.” There’s another word she should add to that list: courageous.
Courage is doing things that are difficult or scary – and that’s exactly what she did when she sued former Chairman and CEO of Fox News Roger Ailes, claiming that she was fired in retaliation for refusing his sexual advances.
What most people are focusing on in this story is the remarkable, swift and very public turn of events over the past two months:
Carlson’s lawsuit against Ailes was filed on July 6 and in just two weeks, his 20 year career at Fox News was over and settlement talks were underway as an internal investigation was being conducted by the parent company owned by Rupert Murdoch.
On Tuesday, Vanity Fair was the first to report that the former “Fox & Friends” anchor had won a $20 million settlement. According to Vanity Fair, two more Fox employees have also settled with the network for similar allegations. What’s even more unprecedented is the fact that 21st Century Fox issued this statement apologizing for the behavior of its once untouchable Fox News chairman:
“We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.”
Between the eight-figure settlement and the public apology stating that Carlson was “not treated with the respect and dignity” she deserved, there’s one thing we know for sure: Gretchen Carlson is telling the truth.
She had the evidence to back it up. The New York Times is reporting that the vast majority of the remarks quoted directly in her lawsuit against Ailes — including lines like: “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” — were recorded on tape. She also had corroboration on Ailes’ behavior from more than a dozen Fox employees, including the network’s star, Megyn Kelly.
But in my mind, the real story — the real horror – lies in the fact that this settlement has been in the making for more than four decades. The more we learn, the more Ailes is starting to sound like a corporate version of Bill Cosby. Instead of drugging women, he just hung their jobs over their heads.
New York Magazine published the accounts of six other women, including two who spoke on the record. Marsha Callahan claims Ailes asked her “to bed with him” during an audition in the late 1960s while he was producing “The Mike Douglas Show.”
Two decades later, according to Kellie Boyle, in 1989 she was about to sign a contract with the Republican National Congressional Committee when she allegedly met the “icon” Ailes. She eagerly accepted a dinner invitation with him and was taken aback when he said, “You know if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys” and advised that “you might have to give a blow job every once in a while.” He also listed a number of women he had been with. She refused his advances and lost the RNC contract. I use the words “allegedly” only because the accusations were never litigated, but I believe them, don’t you? I also believe that this crap went on for decades, just like we saw with accusations against Cosby.
Enter Gretchen Carlson. It started in 2005, her suit alleges, with Ailes making comments about her legs and outfits. In 2009, she complained about her co-host Steve Doocy, who was condescending to her on air. She was labeled a “man hater” and told to “get along with the boys,” and her role was diminished. In 2013, she was pushed to the lower-rated 2 p.m. time slot.
Ailes had picked on the wrong woman. She knew taking him on was a risk but she was courageous and smart enough to know that you need to set a trap if you want to catch a snake. According to New York Magazine and a person familiar with the lawsuit, in 2014 Carlson “started bringing her iPhone to meetings in Ailes’ office and secretly recorded him saying the kinds of things he’d been saying to her all along.”
After amassing damning evidence, she hired an attorney, all while still anchoring a show for Fox. Then on June 23, Carlson was fired.
In less than a month, Ailes would be the next one on the chopping block.
This is a news story worth paying attention to for three reasons.
First, things are changing. Roger Ailes got away with this behavior for years. But in today’s world transparency and truth can topple the giants in a matter of days. Yes, the mighty will eventually fall.
Second, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. In cases where men use power to abuse women in any manner, it’s a pattern. We saw women come out of the woodwork to accuse Cosby and now we are seeing it with Ailes.
And that brings me to the final point. Gretchen Carlson not only had courage, she had something more important: evidence. And it was damning. What’s often missing from sexual harassment cases is evidence. Without evidence, you’ll have trouble being believed in a world where profit is valued over people. I’m sure Erin Brockovich will agree with me on this one.
Is Fox vulnerable to other lawsuits? How could it not be?
Ailes’ alleged behavior was not only tolerated, but it also was rewarded, defended and protected year after year — until he messed with the wrong woman. That’s all it takes. It just takes one. Just one person to be brave enough to say, “This isn’t right” and to find the courage to do something about it.
Gretchen tweeted Tuesday that she was ready to move on to the next chapter of her life. How amazing would it be if the next move for this Stanford and Oxford-educated, self-proclaimed “warrior for women” would be joining the Clinton campaign as an “adviser.”