Gretchen Carlson plans on returning to television, but there are a few things she wants to accomplish first.
“I’m going to be embarking on a big media tour for my new book that will begin three weeks from today,” Carlson told Adweek Tuesday before taking part in an Advertising Week panel called “Fierce, Fearless and Female.”
“I’ve been an incredibly hard worker my entire life, so yes, once I get through this, I’m planning on going back to TV,” she said.
Carlson’s backstory is well known. She left Fox News when her contract was not renewed in June 2016. Less than two weeks later, she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the late co-founder and chairman of Fox News, Roger Ailes. Carlson would go on receive a settlement of $20 million and an apology from 21st Century Fox.
At Advertising Week, Carlson was joined by New York Times reporter Emily Steel, who has been closely covering Fox News and who broke the story last April that led to the departure of cable news king Bill O’Reilly from the network.
We caught up with Carlson and Steel backstage before their discussion:
Adweek: What is the goal of this panel?
Gretchen Carlson: Emily and I will talk a little bit about my book coming out. Laura [Brounstein] from Cosmopolitan and Seventeen is the moderator, and she’s really interested in one of the chapters about where I lay out a playbook for women to know what to do if they happen to find themselves in a harassment situation in the workplace. Oftentimes, what happens is women sort of take it for a while, and when they finally decide to do something about it, they don’t really have a plan. They might go to HR to say something about it but end up saying, “Oh gosh, I wish I could put the genie back in the bottle.” Then the whole investigation starts. They haven’t gathered evidence. They haven’t told anyone. They haven’t done the sort of 12-point process I list in the book. One should always have a plan. There’s so much more to discuss, but I think that’s one of the things she wanted to touch on.
Since your exit, there’s been a tidal wave of changes. Roger Ailes, then later Bill O’Reilly, then there was Eric Bolling. Charles Payne was suspended but then returned. In your opinion, has Fox News done enough to change its company culture, and what could it do better?
Carlson: I can’t answer any of those questions, but Emily can.
Emily Steel: I think that’s a huge question that a lot of people had when Gretchen filed the suit against Fox News in July 2016. In the month after that, the company reached settlements with two women who had made allegations against Bill O’Reilly. And, I learned about a third that he had struck personally himself a number of years before. His previous contract was for about $17 million a year, and they renewed it for $25 million per year in February. They stood by him when our story published, which said there had been five settlements of sexual harassment allegations in another claim of inappropriate conduct. That was on Saturday April 1. He was fired 18 days after our story published. There was this huge public backlash, which led to advertisers dropping out. There ended up being a snowball effect.
I think there are a lot of people who are wondering, inside and outside the company, who I’ve talked to, just how seriously 21st Century Fox and Fox News has taken this issue and have they really done enough to clean up the culture.
Carlson: What I can say in general, not talking specifically about my former employer, is that you touched on the fact that once my story came out, there was a domino effect and the floodgates opened. I’m grateful that other women have found the fierceness within themselves and the courage to come forward. And if I had anything to do with that, then my mission has been worth it. I do think there has been a groundswell of change and dialogue and huge national and international conversation that happened since July 2016. This is a good thing. Culturally, I think a lot of people felt we had solved this issue. The reality is that we’re not even close. A lot of it has to do with our employment contracts and forcing us into secrecy making us sign on the dotted line to say that we’ll take all disputes to forced arbitration and give up a Seventh Amendment right to go to an open jury process. What ends up happening over the past 10 to 15 years is that we’re not hearing about these cases because most of them are going to forced arbitration. And so what happens in those cases is that the woman is fired, many times doesn’t even work again in TV news, and the perpetrators stay in the workforce. Based on the thousands of women I’ve heard from since my story came out is that no, we haven’t “come so far.”
I’m sure you’ve heard that there’s an opening at The View. Is that something that’s crossed your mind?
Carlson: I’m not entertaining any particular positions right now until I get through this, although there’s been a lot of interest from a lot of different venues. My focus has been just living every surreal day one at a time. After I get through all of this, then I’ll be making those decisions.
What do you think TV news is doing well, and what can it do better?
Carlson: It’s been fascinating for me over the last year to look across all different venues. I think when you work at one entity, you’re there all day long and you tend to only focus on that. My greatest advice is to not only watch what you want to hear, but to watch something different at least once a day, and to look at a world in a little bit of different perspective. You don’t have to agree, but I think that would be helpful in trying to bring us together. That’s one thing that I’ve picked up on. Also, how fast-paced everything is. I think some Americans would be interested in having longer-form conversations about certain issues. That’s one of my observations over the past year, that there may be a place for longer-form conversations to come back. I’ve also really enjoyed watching all of my former competition! It’s been really great to learn more about all of those broadcasters, and I’ve developed appreciation for all of them. It’s been interesting to sample it. I think also that cable news has tough decisions to make because you have the conservative, then the liberal, then the middle road. I’m wondering for the middle road people, what do they turn to?