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Gretchen Carlson Sues Fox News' Roger Ailes For Sexual Harassment


A former anchor at Fox News is suing the network's leader for sexual harassment. Gretchen Carlson says Fox News chairman Roger Ailes repeatedly pressured her for sex. NPR's David Folkenflik joins us to explain what's going on. And David, first tell us about Carlson's allegations against Ailes.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, Carlson joined the network more than a decade ago. She said she first started to complain in 2009 about the sexist environment that existed on the show that she was co-host of, the very popular morning news show "Fox And Friends." She said that one of the co-hosts, Steve Doocy, particularly belittled her, demeaned her, ostracized her and even put his hand on her on the air to shut her up on occasion. And she said when she raised those concerns to her executive producer, they were dismissed.

And when she raised them to Ailes, he basically told her, you're a man hater; you're a killer; you should learn to get along with the boys and that over time, he himself made increasingly sexualized banter that became outright sexual advance, in fact saying, we should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and saying that the problems between the two of them would have been resolved as a result of that.

SIEGEL: She says he said this. A sexist environment - does that imply more than just Roger Ailes?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it certainly implies that her concerns about Steve Doocy, her co-host, weren't taken seriously. It suggests that her executive producer did nothing to address it after all. She first raised these concerns seven years ago, in effect. She said in this lawsuit that was filed in a civil court in New Jersey today that Ailes essentially demoted her in 2013 as a result of this with a pay cut and put her in a slot that's less watched in the early afternoon. You know, this is something she said that suffused the organization's response.

SIEGEL: David, you wrote a book about Fox and Rupert Murdoch, the man who founded it. You've covered Fox News, done many stories for us. Are these allegations consistent with your sense of what the culture is at Fox News?

FOLKENFLIK: Well certainly if you watch "Fox And Friends," there's a kind of fraternity house ethos that suffuses it. Certainly if you watch Fox News - you know, attractiveness is a quality that is prized in television and television news, but Fox News takes that to another level, and it really goes to an almost sexualized level.

There's something that I found when I was doing some of my reporting couple years ago called the leg cam in their popular 5 p.m. program called "The Five" in which a camera swoops down and lingers on the woman in the farthest left seat, as the viewer looks at it - lingers on her and then her legs and then comes back and lingers once more - and in fact that women are ranked by the attractiveness of their bodies and legs to figure out who to put in that seat each night. I mean, that's a certain kind of characterization and prioritizing of attractiveness that goes far beyond what you see on other networks.

SIEGEL: That's what Gretchen Carlson says Roger Ailes said to her. What has Roger Ailes said in response to her lawsuit?

FOLKENFLIK: He came out with a statement late this evening calling her statement defamatory, saying that it's utterly false, saying that the only reason that she has filed this lawsuit is because Fox News failed to tender her an offer to extend her time at Fox. He said, you know, that she was a drag on his afternoon ratings, taking a shot at her performance on the air as well. So Roger Ailes says that he'll defend this vigorously and that it's untrue.

SIEGEL: So Gretchen Carlson, the plaintiff here, recently left the network. Roger Ailes, who's named in the lawsuit, is still there. Where do things go from here do you think?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, 21st Century Fox, which is the Murdoch-led parent company of Fox News, says that it takes the allegations seriously. It's initiating an internal inquiry into what actually happened. It also expressed full support in Roger Ailes and in Steve Doocy, saying that the two of them have performed brilliantly over the years.

And let's remember. When Bill O'Reilly was caught on tape sexually harassing a Fox News producer, they settled the case. They paid millions of dollars to make it go away. Roger Ailes has been very loyal to Rupert Murdoch over the years and brought him a lot of profits as well, so I wouldn't be surprised to see if Ailes and Murdoch try to figure out a way to keep this out of court and keep it away from open view.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's David Folkenflik. David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.