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Gretchen Carlson On The Spread Of Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

Oct 7, 2017
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The New York Times this week accused the Hollywood legend Harvey Weinstein of a pattern of sexual harassment stretching back decades. Those accusations sounded familiar to Gretchen Carlson, the former FOX News host. Her lawsuit last summer against the late Roger Ailes threw the Fox News Channel into a crisis. She spoke this week with NPR's David Folkenflik about what she says is systemic sexual harassment.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Harvey Weinstein has produced some of American cinema's most acclaimed films. He's a major Democratic Party donor and has palled around with the Clintons. The New York Times makes the case Harvey Weinstein has also been a serial sexual harasser. Gretchen Carlson praises the women who gave heft to rumors that had long swirled in Los Angeles and New York.

GRETCHEN CARLSON: If this has been going on for three decades, you have to wonder about how the company was operating to try and keep it all secret. You have to wonder about enablers who knew about this for this long and didn't find it within themselves to have the courage or the bravery to also come forward.

FOLKENFLIK: There is, Carlson says, almost invariably the same dynamic at work.

CARLSON: The powerful man has all the power. And the women who are trying to become employed or stay employed have none.

FOLKENFLIK: Carlson's new book "Be Fierce" depicts the American workplace as rife with sexual harassment, and she offers some solutions.

CARLSON: In so many of these cases, the women have been in their careers for decades. And they face a terrible choice where they feel incredibly alone.

FOLKENFLIK: I asked her to read this passage from the book.

CARLSON: (Reading) You may start pulling away from your colleagues. You may wonder if anyone really supports you. You'll probably hear people accusing you of being aloof and unsocial when in reality you're just coming to work, putting your head down and trying to do your best job. You ask yourself every day, how can I behave normally when I don't trust anybody?

FOLKENFLIK: That section sounded very much as though it were from the heart and from hard-earned experience. But Carlson cannot talk about what happened to her at Fox News at all. Carlson received a $20 million confidential settlement to resolve her sexual harassment suit against Roger Ailes. Carlson also received a rare public apology from the network's parent company. Other women came forward, Ailes was ousted, and many executives accused of enabling his behavior ultimately left. Two stars accused of sexual harassment themselves were also forced out, Eric Bolling and Bill O'Reilly. Yet a couple of weeks ago, O'Reilly popped back up on Fox News again.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW")

SEAN HANNITY: And it's Bill O'Reilly. How are you? It's good to see you.

BILL O'REILLY: Hey, I'm here. I'm alive. And the spin stops here.

FOLKENFLIK: O'Reilly promoted his book and touted the importance of Fox with his former primetime colleague, Sean Hannity.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW")

O'REILLY: This network goes, they win.

HANNITY: All right, Bill. Well, come back. Will you come back?

O'REILLY: Maybe...

FOLKENFLIK: Gretchen Carlson.

CARLSON: Well, my immediate reaction was WTF. I thought it was shocking and would be for any company to bring back somebody who had left the company with the circumstances that he did.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox News makes most of its journalists sign contracts requiring them to resolve conflicts in arbitration, out of public view. Fox and Ailes and O'Reilly have together paid tens of millions of dollars to keep complaints secret. Yesterday the New York Times called on Harvey Weinstein to release women from non-disclosure agreements.

CARLSON: We should try to tackle this issue so women aren't forced into these situations where they can't tell their stories. But this is how we've come to decide in a culture how we're going to resolve these things. They're either going to go to secret arbitration or they're going to be settled probably.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox News announced yesterday that its chief lawyer would be taking a voluntary leave. Dianne Brandi's role in using payments to conceal Ailes' behavior is under review by federal investigators. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.