Gretchen Carlson Brings Her #MeToo Crusade to EPIX & Lifetime
Gretchen Carlson (left) speaks with Sarah Ellison at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women event, as seen in EPIX's America Divided.
Gretchen Carlson was a stalwart Fox News anchor for 11 years — first on Donald Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends, then, after she complained about co-host Steve Doocy’s behavior, as sole anchor of The Real Story, in a less desirable time slot.
When her contract wasn’t renewed in June 2016, Carlson filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against then-Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, claiming sexual harassment. Her action, which won her a $20 million settlement, opened a floodgate of complaints against Ailes, after which he was forced to resign. And Carlson became an icon of the #MeToo movement.
The veteran journalist (and 1989 Miss America) continues to advocate for women on two new shows: EPIX’S America Divided (returning for its second season Friday, May 4) and Lifetime’s upcoming The Brave With Gretchen Carlson (working title).
Carlson recently talked about her new projects with TVInsider.com.
A few years back, as a comfortable Fox News anchor, did you imagine that you would become a symbol of female empowerment?
Gretchen Carlson: The #MeToo fierce part, no. As far as empowering women, I’ve done it my whole life. Just ask my mom, who asked me all the time when I got into the workforce 27 years ago, why I always had to talk about women’s issues. Now that my mom for the last 10 years has been CEO of a company, she knows exactly what I’m talking about.
As a self-described supporter of women, how did you last so long in what’s been called a toxic environment at Fox News?
I can’t talk specifically about that, but I can just say that many of the myths around this whole issue hold women back. Because who wants to come forward when you’re going to be called a troublemaker and you’re going to be blacklisted, demoted and fired, especially when you’ve worked so hard to get to where you are?
We’ve seen massive change in just the last 21 months since my story became public. We’re actually believing women and the perpetrators after investigations are actually being fired and issuing apologies. That just wasn’t anywhere in the landscape when my story broke. It is a huge accomplishment and a huge step forward.
Your episode of EPIX's America Divided, called "Washington's War on Women," is about the appalling lack of justice for those whose suffer sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. How did that come about?
After my story broke, women started reaching out to me, and they started sharing their own harassment stories. That’s when I realized that it was a pervasive epidemic all across the country, and it crossed every socioeconomic line and every profession. That spearheaded my work toward writing my book Be Fierce, which came out last fall, to honor those women and to move the ball forward to try and find solutions.
Then, it became obvious that we have chosen to solve harassment cases in our society in two secret ways: either in settlements where the women can never tell you what happened, or by arbitration clauses in employment contracts; again, a secret chamber where women get thrown into this vacuous unknown, and they get fired and can never tell anyone what happened because it’s secret. In the meantime, the perpetrator can stay working on the job.
So it became a mission of mine to work on the Hill to try and get legislation passed, in a bipartisan way by the way. To try to at least give victims of sexual harassment in the workplace a choice of whether or not they wanted to go to an open court system or go to secret arbitration. We introduced those bills in the House and the Senate in December.
You certainly were timely! There’s a scene with Sen. Al Franken, who talks very supportively about the bill with you just days before his own accusers came forward.
We had started planning this show a year before, and we started shooting in D.C. until November, after the Weinstein revelations and complaints were just starting to trickle out from women on Capitol Hill. We got lucky on the timing; we were capturing the whole revolution as it was happening. Nobody gave a rip about this issue before 21 months ago, and I guess in that case until it came home to roost. Then suddenly, they were thinking that training was a good idea.
I’m still speaking to members of Congress to get them to become co-sponsors now. Because the more people I can get to sign onto the bill before the actually do hearings or a vote, the more successful it will be in actually passing.
What exactly is your bill?
The End Arbitration Act. It is specifically narrowed in scope for only sexual harassment and gender discrimination that gives women a choice of going to an open-jury process or to arbitration. Basically, it doesn’t mean that you absolutely have to go to arbitration, which is a secret chamber, if it’s in your contract.
Will things really change even if the bill passes?
This bill empowers women to know that they’re not alone and that they can make their story public, and at the same time it clamps down on perpetrators actions. It’s incredibly important. This is one thing that we could rally around in the country in a hyper-partisan time to really get something done in bipartisan fashion and especially for women.
Your investigation has women talking about congressmen and top aides' inappropriate touches, forceful kissing, vulgar come-ons and worse.
It’s like, “Don’t get in the elevator because you don’t want to be harassed or assaulted.” It’s crazy that in 2018, young staffers have to still worry about getting into an elevator.
You also have a deal doing documentaries for A+E Networks.
I think that by me making a television deal and going back to the profession that I love, it shows maybe millions of other women across the world who have faced harassment and subsequently lost their careers, that you can go back to what you love.
I wanted to be a shining example of that for so many women who lost their passion and their careers. So I’m incredibly excited about this project.
The first special, for Lifetime, is tentatively titled The Brave with Gretchen Carlson. Also about women's struggle with sexual assault?
It will be about the everywoman who hasn’t been paid that much attention to yet, the harassment stories of the non-famous people, like the teacher and the member of the military and the police officer.
I will focus the stories to show how pervasive this epidemic really is and how dreams have been taken away from all different kinds of women. And then the other specials will focus on celebrating stories of empowerment and struggle and strife and success and pushing through and accomplishing things, Americans that are inspiring to all the rest of us.
Not just women?
I hope to feature men as well in not only the harassment special but the others. Because men are a huge part of solving this problem, and so definitely we will be focusing on the good work of what many men are already doing to help us.
What are your feelings about those who have attacked the #MeToo movement, some calling it, and I quote, “a popularity contest?" Unfair accusation?
We’re just getting started on the movement. I think that discussions about ‘has it gone too far’ or ‘is it a witch hunt,’ is kind of a cop out. We’ve got a lot more to do on this issue.
I have great hope in the millennials, in the generations below, especially. I have two teenage children, which is the whole reason why I did any of this. I have great, great hope that they see the world in a fairer way, and that they really want to work hard together to solve this issue.
And it will take both genders working together to solve this issue. Those other comments are just distractions as we forge ahead.
America Divided Season 2 premieres with Gretchen Carlson hosting the "Washington's War on Women" episode, Friday, May 4, 9/8c, EPIX
The Brave With Gretchen Carlson, TBD, Lifetime