The latest piece of the public-relations battle between Fox News and Gretchen Carlson came by way of an old clip, first surfaced by Jezebel, showing the former TV host gifting her colleagues “Turkish Viagra” on air.
Carlson offered Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, cohosts of the morning show “Fox & Friends,” the concoction as an apparent joke.
“If you take this, you can ‘blank’ many times!” Carlson said in 2007. “[It’s] in the form of honey. It’s legal. You don’t need a prescription. You don’t need to go to a doctor. All you do is take a few sips at night, and you’re a man!”
The implication was that Doocy, who was mentioned in a sexual-harassment lawsuit Carlson filed against network CEO Roger Ailes, wasn’t the only one cracking inappropriate jokes.
On Friday, Nancy Erika Smith, one of Carlson’s lawyers, took a shot at the insinuation made by those who circulated the clip. She pointed to a Marge Piercy poem called “The grey flannel sexual harassment suit.”
The poem starts: “The woman in the sexual harassment / suit should be a virgin / who attended church every Sunday.”
“Women who bring sexual harassment claims have a virginity test and they’d better not have ever made a sexual joke or worn a skirt above their knees,” Smith told Business Insider. “[T]hat’s the virginity test now. The Taliban of Fox is coming out and now they’re going to try to smear a long-term, married mother of two.”
- Fox News
The dispute between Fox News and one of its longtime hosts started when Carlson’s contract at the cable-news network was not renewed.
In a statement released at the outset of the drama, Carlson’s attorneys said the former host of “The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson” was fired by the network after she “rebuffed Mr. Ailes’ sexual advances” and challenged what she perceived as unequal treatment of women in the workplace.
“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,” Ailes told Carlson last year, according to the release.
The release also alleged that Ailes called Carlson a “man hater.”
News of the lawsuit broke the same day Carlson announced that she was no longer with Fox News, sending shock waves through the news industry.
Since then, the charges have been vehemently disputed by several Fox News personalities who have come out in defense of Ailes, including heavyweights Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.
Host Neil Cavuto wrote an op-ed for Business Insider on Tuesday about “the character of Roger Ailes.” In it, he called the allegations against his longtime boss “sick.”
In a Friday interview with Business Insider, host Kimberly Guilfoyle seemed to agree.
“In terms of speaking to a variety of people that worked there, the response has been overwhelming, overwhelming support for Mr. Ailes,” Guilfoyle said. “The professionalism shown to the females he knows at Fox … it’s been the best, most supportive environment I’ve worked in professionally.”
Guilfoyle pegged the suit as a result of Carlson’s contract not getting renewed.
“I think it’s unfortunate given the timing that when her contract wasn’t renewed, to then bring a case and make allegations from years past,” Guilfoyle said. “It would seem to me, as a former prosecutor, that there could be a variety of different motivations.”
Carlson’s lawyers disputed that the timing of the suit is suspicious.
“Most people don’t sue until they’re fired,” Smith said. “That’s the most drastic retaliation against you. In fact, she was considering [suing] beforehand and didn’t know she was going to be summarily fired.”
- REUTERS/Mike Segar
In light of the press leaks (old documents and videos clips that seem designed to discount Carlson’s allegations have surfaced in the wake of the lawsuit) and public showings of support from Fox News talent, Carlson’s lawyers have accused Fox News of trying to litigate the case in the press.
Aside from the “Turkish Viagra” clip, old letters from Carlson to Ailes surfaced. The handwritten letters, which Mediaite posted, showed Carlson asking Ailes for opportunities to fill in for Fox anchors Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly. She also thanked him for his support in her career.
“It’s very funny, the people who are leaking all this, whatever they think they can come up with to smear Gretchen and discredit her and sending their surrogates out saying, ‘I was never sexually harassed,'” Smith said.
“These are people who want to drag her and her evidence into a secret proceeding but they’re leaking out all this.”
In a move that could keep the suit out of a public court, Fox News tried to move the case into private arbitration. On Friday, Ailes’ attorneys filed a motion to move the case from New Jersey to New York, where Fox News is based, in another step toward putting the case in arbitration in New York.
Carlson’s contract, according to Fox News, stipulated that for a case in arbitration, files, evidence, testimony, and even allegations “shall be held in strict confidence.”
F. Paul Bland Jr., an arbitration expert and executive director of the advocacy group Public Justice, told The New York Times that Carlson’s contract has “has much broader secrecy language than is common in arbitration.”
Carlson’s lawyers mentioned that the former host has “irrefutable evidence” against Ailes, but declined to discuss what this evidence is.
“We, unlike Fox, are not presenting our evidence to the press,” Smith said. “[W]e’re prepared to show all of our evidence in our public civil-justice system. Judges don’t like it when you try your case in the press.”
Martin Hyman, another lawyer for Carlson, said Fox News is trying to kick the case into arbitration to keep their evidence against Ailes out of public view.
“We have irrefutable evidence against Roger and that’s why … they don’t want a jury to ever hear or see it,” Hyman told Business Insider. “That’s what this arbitration thing is all about.”
But Fox News is making similar accusations against Carlson and her team.
“Gretchen Carlson’s attorney has led a concerted smear campaign to prejudice the rights of Roger Ailes in this case,” Susan Estrich, Ailes’ attorney, said in a statement sent to Business Insider. “Her attempt to game the system so as to avoid the arbitration clause for her client’s baseless allegations is contrary to law and unsupported by the facts.”
- Rich Polk/Getty Images
Since Carlson filed her lawsuit, multiple women have come forward to accuse Ailes of harassment. In a story for New York magazine, Gabriel Sherman, who wrote a 2014 biography critical of Ailes, spoke to six women (four of whom are anonymous) who have made similar allegations.
Barry Asen, another Ailes attorney, who is a partner at Epstein, Becker, and Green, disputed Sherman’s story.
“It has become obvious that Ms. Carlson and her lawyer are desperately attempting to litigate this in the press because they have no legal case to argue,” he said in a statement to Business Insider, decrying the allegations as false.
And a Fox News spokesperson accused Sherman of being part of Carlson’s “smear campaign.”
“Gabe Sherman continues to conduct a baseless smear campaign in concert with Gretchen Carlson’s lawyer,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Carlson’s contract was not renewed because she was a failure with the audience. Once again, Sherman’s twisted allegations from anonymous sources are completely false.”
While Carlson’s lawyers have characterized her firing as retaliation for her rejecting Ailes’ alleged advances, Fox News has turned that accusation on its head. Ailes accused Carlson of using the suit as retaliation for her contract not getting renewed, pointing to her show’s ratings.
“This is a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup,” Ailes said in a statement provided to Business Insider. “When Fox News did not commence any negotiations to renew her contract, Ms. Carlson became aware that her career with the network was likely over and conveniently began to pursue a lawsuit.”
According to Nielsen ratings data, the show averaged 1.2 million total viewers and 189,000 viewers in the news audience (adults aged 25 to 54 years old) in June. That shows an improvement of 22% in total viewers and 28% in the demo audience, compared to the same hour in June 2015.
But all news channels have seen an increase in viewership because it’s an election year, and while Carlson’s show “The Real Story” was the No. 1 show in its time slot, just as her contract was up her show was beat by “CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin” by 2% in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic.
That meant the CNN show bumped Carlson out of the No. 1 spot for the advertiser-coveted audience, even while it held on to its top ranking for total viewers.
Moreover, “The Real Story” was the lowest-rated afternoon show on Fox News.
And while Carlson’s lawsuit contended that Fox News’ decision to move her from the popular morning show “Fox & Friends” to her own show, in the afternoon, was a demotion, Fox News has argued the exact opposite.
“Hosting her own signature program with her name in the title and taking over Megyn Kelly’s afternoon time slot was hardly a demotion,” a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider.
Kelly, one of the biggest names on the network, hasn’t yet spoken publicly about the case. But the PR war shows no signs of slowing.
Maxwell Tani and Jethro Nededog contributed to this report.