Lawyers for Gretchen Carlson traded barbs with Fox News Thursday after company chairman and chief executive officer Roger Ailes denied that he sexually harassed the former host.
Carlson, 50, who was ousted from Fox News last month, filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming her former boss Ailes sexually harassed her over the course of her 11-year career at the network.
The journalist, who served as the host of “The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson,” as well as a cohost on “Fox & Friends” at one point, claims in the suit that she rebuffed Ailes’ advances, which, she alleged, caused her termination from the network on June 23.
Late Wednesday, Ailes via a Fox News representative said: “Gretchen Carlson’s allegations are false. 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. 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. Ironically, Fox News provided her with more on-air opportunities over her 11-year tenure than any other employer in the industry, for which she thanked me in her recent book. This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”
On Thursday, Carlson’s lawyers Nancy Erika Smith and Martin Hyman responded to Ailes’ allegations that her dismissal was linked to their client’s performance.
“Ailes’ claim that Gretchen Carlson was terminated because of bad ratings is demonstrably false,” the attorneys said, noting that publicly available ratings cited in the complaint confirm that at the time of her termination Carlson’s total viewership was up 33 percent year to date and up 23 percent in the key demographic.
A spokeswoman from Fox News told WWD that ratings were the reason why Carlson’s contract wasn’t renewed. She cited Nielsen data from June for the important 25 to 54-year-old demographic that showed Carlson’s daytime show “Real Story with Gretchen” pulling lower ratings than CNN’s competing show “CNN Newsroom.” Total viewers for that time slot, however, also showed Carlson’s program outperforming CNN, according to Nielsen data.
Carlson’s lawyers pressed on, explaining that their client was moved from “Fox and Friends” after she complained about discrimination from cohost Steve Doocy. She was then moved to a “challenging time slot and denied support and promotion,” yet was still able to grab the top spot in cable news in her time slot in total viewers.
“Regarding Ailes’ claims that Gretchen’s allegations are false, we challenge him to deny, under oath, that he made the statements attributed to him in the complaint,” Carlson’s lawyers said. “Finally, Ailes does not allow his employees to speak to the press or publish anything without prior approval. Gretchen was chastised for answering a question from a hometown newspaper about her favorite Minnesota State Fair food. In her book Gretchen told her story while trying to keep her job — knowing that Ailes had to approve what she said.”
According to reports, lawyers for Carlson insinuated that former female Fox employees could corroborate their client’s claims of sexual harassment from Ailes in the workplace.
Ailes’ bosses Rupert Murdoch and his two sons, who run parent company 21st Century Fox, said in a statement: “The company has seen the allegations against Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy. We take these matters seriously. While we have full confidence in Mr. Ailes and Mr. Doocy, who have served the company brilliantly for over two decades, we have commenced an internal review of the matter.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in New Jersey Superior Court, was widely covered by the media — including News Corp.-owned The Wall Street Journal, but not sibling newspaper The New York Post. Murdoch is executive chairman of News Corp., which was split off from Fox in 2013.