Roger Ailes Clearly Underestimated Gretchen Carlson

She wasn't the dumb anchor she played on "Fox and Friends."
Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade at the Fox studios in 2011 in New York City.
Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson and Brian Kilmeade at the Fox studios in 2011 in New York City.
Slaven Vlasic via Getty Images

On “Fox and Friends,” Gretchen Carlson was the archetypal dim blonde on the couch, sitting between two men and struggling to understand the crazy ways of the modern world.

“I just wanted to see how much of an insult it is to be called an ‘ignoramus.’ Since I didn’t know what it meant, I just googled it,” she said in one segment on what The Washington Post has called “TV’s dumbest news show.” At another point, she struggled to do grade-school math.

The dimness of the caricature she played on TV was still bright enough to catch the eye of the “The Daily Show,” which produced this must-watch segment:

Carslon’s act fits squarely within the ethos of a news network that thinks first and foremost about the attractiveness and sex appeal of its on-air female talent. The roving camera high up above Megyn Kelly’s (not coincidentally glass) desk, for instance, is known as a “leg cam.” Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes once reportedly called a host on air and demanded, “Move that damn laptop, I can’t see her legs!” Carlson has said she wasn’t allowed to wear pants on “Fox and Friends.”

A Fox News employee told The Huffington Post’s Michelle Fields that Ailes often talks about the way he hires on-air talent:

“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,” the employee 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.”

For Ailes, on-air women were nothing but bodies for viewers.

Carlson wasn’t terribly convincing at playing an idiot: She comes off too much like somebody smart trying to figure out how to look dumb. Ask any moron you know, and they’ll be able to tell you what an ignoramus is.

As Jon Stewart discovered, Carlson was valedictorian of her high school class. She graduated with honors from Stanford University and studied at Oxford University. She was a classically trained violinist.

She’s no ignoramus, but she played one on TV.

But she was also crowned Miss America. Did Ailes, the veteran pitchman, start to believe his own pitch ― that Carlson was in real life the dimwit she pretended to be on air?

If so, it may account for Ailes’ epic miscalculation and underestimation of Carlson.

On Wednesday, Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, accusing him of long-running pattern of abusive behavior. She alleged Ailes he ogled her in his office; asked her to turn around to view her backside; commented frequently on her physical appearance; and demanded sex, then fired her when she turned him down.

She also accused Steve Doocy, her “Fox and Friends” co-host, of engaging in a “pattern and practice of severe and pervasive sexual harassment” that included “mocking her during commercial breaks, shunning her off air, refusing to engage with her on air, belittling her contributions to the show.”

Last year, Carlson opened up a bit about some of the harassment she’s faced over the years (although she didn’t then disclose the treatment by Ailes):

The first incident came when I was nearing the end of my term as Miss America. I was thrilled to schedule a meeting with a top TV executive in New York who promised to help me gain entrée to the business. He called a bunch of shows and sang my praises, and then he took me out to dinner. Afterward we got into his car and he gave the driver the address of the friend I was staying with. As we sat in the backseat, he suddenly threw himself on top of me and stuck his tongue down my throat. I pulled away from him, horrified. As we reached my friend’s apartment building, I jumped out of the car and fled. When I got upstairs I started crying. I thought I had done something wrong.

Carlson advocated that people stop seeing sexual harassment as a “women’s issue” and stop blaming the victim.

“Even when I was harassed, I always knew that my brains and talent were responsible for my success, not my looks,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, I still have to put up with the constant drumbeat of ‘lookism.’ People think it’s okay to refer to a professional woman as a ‘blonde bimbo.’ We should refuse to tolerate this attitude when it occurs.”

Ailes denied Carlson’s allegations Wednesday, dismissing her (in the statement below) as a disgruntled employee who wanted to get back at the network for not renewing her contract. The response is similar to what other women often face when they accuse a man of sexual harassment: questions about their motivation, their timing and their sincerity. It was a surprisingly unoriginal rejoin from a legendary public-relations knife-fighter.

It turns out there was at least one fool at Fox News ― it just wasn’t Carlson.

Want more updates from Amanda? Sign up for her newsletter, Piping Hot Truth.

Women Who Reported Sexual Harassment

Popular in the Community