When Gretchen Carlson and Denise Dufala became the country’s first women to co-anchor a primetime major-market newscast on WOIO Channel 19, the broadcasting industry was very much a man’s world. “It was an experiment,” says Carlson. “But we were incredibly optimistic about it.”
The optimism lasted about two years. Carlson got a job in Dallas, then CBS News. Ultimately she landed at Fox News, hosting Fox & Friends. What seemed to be a dream job soured. In July 2016, she filed a lawsuit against network CEO Roger Ailes that set off a firestorm in the media world. Two months later, she won a $20 million settlement, which restricts her from talking about what occurred, and a rare public apology from Fox.
“I was getting a haircut when the news came trickling out,” Carlson says. “There I was with tears streaming down my face. … It was a vindication for me and all the other women who have never been heard.”
The Stanford alum and 1989 Miss America talks with us about her new book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, and how it fits with her new role as a women’s rights advocate.
Q: What are the most common myths about sexual harassment?A: We’re doing it for the money. Our own president suggested that, unfortunately. Look what Taylor Swift did for $1, [winning a civil suit against a former Colorado DJ for grabbing her backside during a pre-concert photo shoot]. She did it for human dignity. We’re not believed because we’re making it up. We bring it on by the way we dress. I jumped off the cliff in 2016, but there has been a tsunami of women coming forward the last few months. We’re at a tipping point, a culture shift, where women are now being believed.
Q: You endured personal attacks when you sued Roger Ailes. Why do you think that happened?
A: Let’s face it, automatically a woman is a liar. But people who know me know I never do things unless I am 125 percent prepared. I faced the same kind of unfair scrutiny at 22 years of age in Miss America. I’ve been through a few battles.
Q: Does harassment occur more often with men in positions of power?
A: Those are the stories that are making headlines now, but there are countless women being harassed by low-level employees. The stories I’ve heard from women who have reached out to me are outrageous. The scary part is how ingrained in the culture it is. By the way, most men don’t harass. It’s the random jerks we have to get rid of.
Q: You’ve established the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative for economically disadvantaged girls and young women. What inspired it?
A: What are the options for single moms who are working two jobs and are being harassed? How do they end up having a voice? Over the next year we’ll be going to nine cities across the country and holding free workshops. If you’re a waitress, go tell your story. … If you’re a teacher, go tell your story. I want them to know that they matter.