Meeting a reporter for coffee one cold morning this week, Gregg Jarrett looked great–healthy and full of life. Wearing a crisp button-down shirt and a pale blue sweater, the longtime Fox News anchor had the familiar look of a person who’s just returned from a fantastic, relaxing vacation. “I feel wonderful,” Jarrett said. “I feel healthy for the first time in more than a decade.”
It’s an amazing sentiment from a man who just a year ago thought his life was nearing an end. “My life was falling apart,” he said. “Had it continued, I would have self-destructed completely, and I might not have survived.”
In April 2014, while anchoring a newscast, Jarrett appeared to slur his words, leading some–including his bosses at the network–to wonder if he’d been drinking. “It became obvious to the people at Fox News. They asked me about it, I told them the truth.”
Jarrett went to Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and had what he describes now as one of the most difficult experiences of his life–telling Ailes what he is saying now publicly for the first time. “I couldn’t deny it any more. It was too obvious. It was the first time I’d ever said ‘I’m an alcoholic.'”
“I’d lost all respect for myself,” Jarrett said. “When you become so abidingly ashamed of what you’ve done or become, then it’s very hard to turn the corner. I was in denial about my alcoholism for so very long–for many years, denial to my friends, my family, most of all my denial to myself. As it began to spiral out of control, I knew, but I couldn’t seek help. I was too embarrassed. I was too afraid that others would find out.”
But in Ailes–invariably described as “combative”–Gregg Jarrett found neither judge nor executioner, but rather, a man committed to getting Jarrett help. “He treats everybody as family,” Jarrett said.
Of course, “family” is a well-worn cliche in most news organizations, where news anchors are always described as part of the family until, well, they aren’t anymore. When they make a mistake in public, or worse, on the air, they just vanish.
But Fox didn’t drop Gregg Jarrett. “Some employers might treat their employees differently,” said Jarrett. “But not Fox News. You know, Roger is this brilliant and successful and tenacious media executive, but I don’t think people understand a different side of him, and I think they would be surprised by that. He is a kind, compassionate and understanding person.”
Jarrett truly believes that Roger Ailes saved not just his career–but his life. “Roger Ailes was the first person to step in and come to my rescue. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but I don’t think I’d be here today if not for Roger. You know, alcoholism is an insidious disease, and it is quite often a fatal disease. People drink themselves to death, especially when they are in such despair over it.”
Within weeks, Fox News announced Jarrett had stepped down from his weekend anchor duties “for personal reasons.” He left New York for the Hazelden treatment facility in Minnesota, where, within weeks, Jarrett’s personal struggles would again burst into public when he was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, following an incident at an airport bar. Jarrett says he had an “immediate relapse” upon his discharge from Hazelden, and it wasn’t pretty.
There was the unflattering mugshot, and later, the holding cell video. “When I saw the videotape, I was heartbroken. Because that’s not me, that’s not who I am. And yet, through alcoholism that’s what I’ve become,” Jarrett said.
And yet again, Roger Ailes was unwavering. “Roger assured me. He said, ‘we can beat this’. Not you can beat this. We can beat this.” Ailes told Jarrett his job was safe, his paychecks would keep coming, and his family would be taken care of.
Ailes got very busy, hiring lawyers to handle Jarrett’s criminal case in Minnesota, and making calls to get Jarrett admitted to the Betty Ford Center. Ailes also worked with Jarrett’s co-anchor, Julie Banderas, to find the fastest and most discreet travel arrangements for Jarrett, and Ailes dispatched a Fox News producer to fly at Jarrett’s side.
Jarrett says Roger Ailes personally–and regularly–called to check on his wife and two teenaged daughters. “This was so very hard on them. Their father’s on television. Suddenly, he’s detained by police, his mugshot is all over television. It’s hard enough being a teenager, but when you go to high school and kids in the hall say ‘hey, I saw your Dad’s mugshot on TV last night, it’s devastating.”
Thinking back to what his arrest did to his wife Cate and daughters Grace, 18, and Olivia, 16, Jarrett became visibly emotional–pain filling his eyes. “It breaks my heart.”
But they never gave up on him, either. Jarrett recalls a talk with his daughters while he was at Betty Ford. “They said ‘we love you, Dad. We’re proud of you, Dad.’ And I didn’t understand that. How could you be proud of what I am, and what I’ve done, and what I’ve become? And how supportive Cate was, for better or for worse, she stood by me during the worst and was unwavering.”
Last August, Jarrett left Betty Ford. And as promised, Roger Ailes had a job waiting. Jarrett eased back into work writing columns for FoxNews.com, then reporting for FNC. Ailes, he says, was his constant cheerleader. “He was the first to congratulate me when I came back on air, first as a reporter. He picked up the phone and said ‘you look great! You were fantastic! Good story. How do you feel?'”
Jarrett realized that actually, he felt pretty good. “I’m happy, and optimistic,” he said. “As Greta Van Susteren constantly tells me, ‘this is all in your rear view mirror, Gregg, we’re looking forward now.'”
And sure enough, in January, Ailes told Jarrett “let’s get you back in the anchor chair.” Jarrett admits he was nervous, describing his delivery as “a little rusty.” But he says he’s getting better–and stronger–with each newscast.
Today, Jarrett looks light years from the man who anchored that fateful newscast last April, or the unshaven man pictured in that mugshot. His health is good, his head is clear, and he’s even finding time for some of the pleasures he lost to alcohol, including reading–about two books a week–and playing tennis. He’s even painting landscapes again–a hobby he took up five years ago, but had to stop as his drinking got worse. “You know, it’s hard to paint when you’re drunk,” Jarrett said. “It’s a lot more fun now to be able to do things like that.”
Despite Jarrett’s willingness to speak honestly–at times, excruciatingly so–about his alcoholism and very public fall, he was not eager to go on the record. Through Fox News spokespeople, Jarrett put off multiple requests from TVNewser for an interview.
But over the last few weeks, Jarrett realized he was ready to talk. “I have a choice,” Jarrett said. “I could decline to talk about my alcoholism–ignore it or somehow pretend it never happened. But that would be running from it. Or I could speak about it honestly in the hope that it may reach others who suffer the same illness. For me, that is the better choice. I want people to know there is excellent help available. They can seek treatment, recover and put their lives back together again.”
Jarrett got some of the best help available–thanks in large part to the determination of Roger Ailes. At one point, Jarrett asked the boss flatly, “why didn’t you throw in the towel?” Ailes had told people inside Fox News that he refused to “give up on Gregg.” Now, Jarrett wanted to know why. “I’ll always remember it,” Jarrett recalled. “He said, ‘not only is it the Christian thing to do, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.'”
Jarrett is now in an eighteen month post-treatment program that involves AA meetings, therapy, and even random alcohol testing. He also continues to meet regularly with Ailes. Jarrett says he’s paying Ailes back for believing in him by proving him right–and staying sober.
On the day we met for coffee, Jarrett was carrying letters in his briefcase–some of the hundreds he’s received from viewers. He says the support has been humbling. One woman who spotted him in a supermarket near his home recently walked up, leaned in, and whispered in his ear, “I’m so glad you’re back. You look great, and we missed you.”
“I feel like a lucky guy,” Gregg Jarrett says with a smile. “Really lucky.”