Roger Ailes, the only CEO Fox News has ever had, resigned in disgrace last month amid charges of sexual harassment.
But the story hasn’t ended there: after former Fox host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, at least 20 other women have contacted Carlson’s attorneys too. A handful of those women reached out as witnesses, but almost all of them said they had personally experienced harassment from Ailes — who has denied all allegations so far.
Right now it looks like "at least 20" may be a conservative estimate of the number of women who have stories to tell about Ailes, although it’s not clear just how conservative. In addition to the women who reached out to Carlson’s attorney, numerous women, including current and former Fox employees, have spoken out publicly about their stories. Some have used their real names, and others have shared their stories with reporters anonymously.
Of course, some of the women sharing their stories publicly may also be among the 20-plus women Carlson’s attorneys have heard from. On the other hand, at least a few probably aren’t: Carlson’s attorneys told the Guardian they saw stories published in the Daily Beast that didn’t resemble stories they’d already heard from the women who reached out to them.
Here’s what we know so far about the women, named and unnamed (we’ve listed nine of each here), who have accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment:
Gretchen Carlson, former Fox News anchor
Carlson was a well-known Fox News personality from 2005 until June 23 of this year, when her contract wasn't renewed. Her lawsuit against Ailes opened the floodgates for other women to come forward.
Carlson alleged that in 2009, she complained about pervasive sexist treatment from her Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy — and that in response, Ailes called her a "man hater" who needs to learn to "get along with the boys."
At various times during her employment at Fox, Carlson said Ailes repeatedly made sexist or sexual remarks, like "ogling" her and asking her to turn around so he could "view her posterior," commenting on her legs, and saying he'd like to be stranded on a desert island with her.
Then during a meeting with Ailes in September 2015, he allegedly said, "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."
Carlson says that in retaliation for her complaints about Doocy and for her objections to Ailes’s harassment, Ailes sabotaged her career in numerous ways: underpaying her, giving her fewer important assignments, firing her from Fox & Friends, and ultimately firing her from Fox entirely in 2016.
Megyn Kelly, Fox News anchor
Kelly, host of The Kelly File on Fox News and one of the network’s biggest stars, told attorneys investigating Carlson’s claims that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances toward her about 10 years ago.
Kelly has also reportedly encouraged at least one colleague to testify against Ailes.
Kelly's allegations appear to have been the last straw that forced Ailes out: Rupert Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan, the top three executives at 21st Century Fox, reportedly think Kelly is the future of the network and is too valuable to lose.
Laurie Luhn, former Fox News booker
In July, Luhn told Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine that Ailes "psychologically tortured" her for 20 years after she accepted his quid pro quo offer: career opportunities in exchange for sexual favors.
Luhn says that in 1990 Ailes, who was a media consultant at the time, hired her on retainer to do "research" — and to be available to meet Ailes when he was in Washington. Luhn said she would meet Ailes at hotels, where she had to dress up, dance, and kneel in front of him while he psychologically dominated her and had her perform oral sex on him. Luhn said Ailes also made her perform sadomasochistic sex on other women.
In 1996, Ailes recruited Luhn to work on the launch of Fox News with him. By 2006, Luhn said, she had been promoted to director of bookings at Fox — where she said she was expected to hire attractive staffers and send them to Ailes, or "find me whores," as she said Ailes put it.
Luhn said the ordeal gave her a nervous breakdown and made her attempt suicide. Even today, she said, "sometimes the Stockholm syndrome with Roger slips back, and I am still a little girl trying to impress Daddy Roger."
Even though Luhn signed a $3.15 million settlement with Fox that included very strict nondisclosure clauses, she still talked to Sherman and let him publish her story because, as she put it: "The truth will set you free. Nothing else matters."
Andrea Tantaros, former Fox News host
Tantaros is still employed by Fox but says she was taken off the air in April of this year after she complained about sexual harassment from Ailes — as well as from four other male Fox News personalities (two on-air contributors, a correspondent, and a host).
Tantaros said Ailes made her uncomfortable by commenting on her figure, asking about her dating life, and asking for a hug.
Tantaros says she told Fox executives about these issues but that they did nothing about it. "Roger is a very powerful man," Fox News executive vice president Bill Shine allegedly told Tantaros, adding that she "should not fight this."
Fox executives and sources gave conflicting accounts to BuzzFeed about whether such an investigation ever happened, and Shine claimed that Tantaros never actually made any claims about Ailes to him. Fox says Tantaros was taken off the air due to a dispute over a book she published.
Rudi Bakhtiar, former Fox News reporter
Bakhtiar says she was fired from Fox News in 2007 after complaining about a 2006 incident of sexual harassment from Brian Wilson, who at the time was about to be promoted to Fox News Washington bureau chief.
Bakhtiar said Wilson told her he was going to give her her dream job of being a full-time Washington correspondent. But then he added, "You know how I feel about you, right, Rudi?" and said he’d like to see the inside of her hotel room. Wilson has denied harassing Bakhtiar.
Bakhtiar also says that Roger Ailes harassed her, asking her to stand up so he could see her legs during her 2005 job interview, and that she was pressured by management to wear miniskirts on air.
Bakhtiar’s contract was terminated in January 2007, around the same time that Wilson was promoted. Bakhtiar reached a settlement with Fox News in mediation; her lawyer encouraged her to go to court, but Bakhtiar said she didn’t have the strength to fight Fox. "Well, that’s what they’re banking on," the lawyer replied.
Shelley Ross, producer
Ross wrote an essay for the Daily Beast about her own experiences with Ailes, and with workplace sexism in the media in general.
Ross writes that Ailes, who was a producer at NBC at the time, offered her a job in 1981 as a segment producer at NBC’s Tomorrow show. But after offering her the job, Ross, said, Ailes met with her and proposed a "sexual alliance," which he said would be to their mutual benefit.
Ross said she told Ailes that she was embarrassed, but he persisted. Then, feeling "truly vulnerable" and trapped, Ross told the entertainment lawyer negotiating her employment not to bother having any further conversations about this job.
But that lawyer told her boss — who turned out to be Johnny Carson’s lawyer, Henry Bushkin, who had a lot of influence at NBC. Ross said that after he and other attorneys held a conference call with Ailes, he apologized to her profusely and never made advances again.
Ross said she figured that was the end of it, and that she was the first and last to be harassed by Ailes. But she still witnessed countless incidents of sexual harassment in the media world, and called it out in her essay.
"You can’t just have one villain, not even Roger Ailes," Ross wrote. "For 30 years I have witnessed a pervasive culture populated by more than a few morally repugnant executives and those who kept their jobs by not making waves around them."
Kellie Boyle, former Republican National Committee field adviser
Boyle told Gabriel Sherman that when she met Ailes for dinner in 1989, he told her, "You know if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys." She says that after she balked at this, Ailes sabotaged a major contract offer she had lined up with the National Republican Congressional Committee (emphasis my own):
I was so taken aback. I said, "Gosh, I didn’t know that. How would that work?" I was trying to kill time because I didn’t know if he was going to attack me. I was just talking until I could get out of the car. He said, "That’s the way it works," and he started naming other women he’d had. He said that’s how all these men in media and politics work — everyone’s got their friend. I said, "Would I have to be friends with anybody else?" And he said, "Well, you might have to give a blow job every once in a while." I told him I was going to have to think about this. He said, "No, if you don’t do it now, you know that means you won’t."
The next morning I show up to get my assignment and was told the guy I was supposed to be meeting with was unavailable. ... A couple weeks later, I called a friend who was very high up in the RNC and I asked him what happened. He said, "Word went out you weren’t to be hired."
Marsha Callahan, former model
In either 1967 or 1968, Callahan told Sherman, she got a call to audition for The Mike Douglas Show, where Ailes was a producer at the time. She said Ailes commented on her legs, made her pose for him, and ended the interview when it was clear she wouldn’t play along with his sexual advances (again, emphasis my own):
I got a call directly from Roger asking me to come down and to make sure I wore a garter belt and stockings. This was right after pantyhose came into use, and I said, "Why would you want me to do that instead of pantyhose?" He said, "If your legs look good in a garter belt, I’ll know you have great legs." So I go into his office and right away he says, "Sit on the sofa and lift your skirt up." I had to do these different poses. And then, I recall very clearly, he said he’d put me on the show but I needed to go to bed with him. I was a really shy girl, but I was a little cheeky, so I said, "Oh yeah, you and who else?" And he said, "Only me and a few of my select friends." I said, "Well, if you think I have star quality and you can make money off my looks, I don’t think it’d matter if I went to bed with you or not." And he said, "Oh, pretty girls like you are a dime a dozen." The interview ended quickly. I was called in to do the show and I remember passing Roger in the hallway. He pretended not to know who I was.
Randi Harrison, former NBC producer
Sherman’s 2014 biography of Ailes, The Loudest Voice in the Room, featured stories of three women who said Ailes had behaved inappropriately toward them in a professional setting, including Harrison's.
When Ailes was an executive producer at NBC in the early 1980s, Harrison was interviewing with Ailes for a producing job. She said that when she told Ailes his offer of $400 a week was too low, he replied: "If you agree to have sex with me whenever I want I will add an extra hundred dollars a week."
"I guess we'll be in touch," Harrison said, getting up to leave. Ailes maneuvered around his desk and gave her a hug. "I remember seeing all the windows in his office and wondering, 'Does he do it here?'" she later said. "I was in tears by the time I hit the street."
Harrison said she ended up taking the job after being promised there would be no more sexual advances. "Every woman who worked on the show I'd wonder about," she said.
Women who came forward anonymously to members of the media
- A former model on an incident on The Mike Douglas Show in 1967, when she was 16 years old:
"Ailes took me into this big office and locked the door with a key. ... He proceeded to pull down his pants and very gingerly pull out his genitals and said, ‘Kiss them.’ And they were red, like raw hamburger. ... I was a kid — I’d never seen a man’s privates before. I jumped up, but the door was locked and nobody was out there. He chased me around the office ... He said to me, ‘Don’t tell anybody about this. I’ve got it all on tape.’ I think he knew I was 16."
- A former model on a 1984 incident:
"[Ailes] pulled out a garter belt and stockings and told me to put them on. I was very nervous; I didn’t know what to do. ... After that, something sexual took place, but I blocked it out of my mind. I don’t know if I engaged with him orally or he engaged with himself. I felt I was being used for his sexual satisfaction. I felt very threatened."
- A media consultant on an incident in either late 1965 or early 1966, during a Mike Douglas Show audition:
"When my turn came I went in, and [Ailes] didn’t waste any time. He grabbed me and had his hands on me and he forced me to kiss him. When I recoiled he said, ‘Well, you know no girls get a job here unless they’re cooperative.’ I just pushed him away and ran out of there. He was like, whatever. So, no job for me."
- A former TV producer on a 1975 incident:
"I got an interview with Roger Ailes. ... I don’t remember his exact words, but his message was: If you want to make it in New York City in the TV business, you’re going to have to fuck me, and you’re going to do that with anyone I tell you to. I was afraid he was going to pin me down. He was a big guy and I’m not big at all. He could have overpowered me."
From the Huffington Post:
- A Fox News contributor said Ailes "asked me to turn around so he can see my ass."
- A Fox News employee said Ailes told her she could only wear dresses on air. She also said: "He told me that if he was thinking of hiring a woman, he’d ask himself if he would fuck her, and if he would, then he’d hire her to be on-camera."
From the Daily Beast:
- "One time he asked me if I was wearing underwear, and was he going to see anything ‘good,’" said one former Fox employee. "It’s happened to me and lots of other women. … He’s a disgusting pig who’s been getting away with this shit for 20 years."
- A former Fox News employee who said Ailes verbally harassed her during one-on-one meetings said that "when it comes to this issue, there’s already a conspiracy of silence. The problem is you don’t want to come forward because you don’t want to be personally and professionally destroyed. You don’t want to bring down Roger Ailes’s wrath on your head."
- A former Fox News employee said Ailes "wouldn’t stop staring at my legs" when they first met, "and at one point he asked if I was single. I was taken aback and said yes. And he was like, ‘Oh, OK, so you’re not gonna get pregnant any time soon.’ And then he asked my age. ... And he said, ‘I know I’m not supposed to ask this — HR keeps telling me I can’t ask that because you can sue me because it’s illegal, but I don’t care. I’m [over 70] years old, if you wanna sue me, sue me.’"
Why it’s not surprising that so many women are coming forward all at once, even decades later
Victims of sexual harassment or assault tend to face a lot of skepticism when they come forward — especially in high-profile cases against famous or powerful men. One common sticking point is timing: People ask, why did she take so long to report, and why now? What might she be trying to gain? This is especially true for allegations that are decades old, as many of the allegations against Ailes are.
But the history of sexual harassment helps explains why, especially now, it’s common to see these kinds of allegations only surface decades later. "Sexual harassment" has only existed as a concept for about 40 years. It took even more time for society to understand the issue and broadly agree that it was a problem worth solving. And even then, this agreement often doesn’t play out well in practice.
One of the ex-employees who spoke to the Daily Beast said there is a "conspiracy of silence" on this issue because Ailes’s victims are afraid to speak out. "The problem is you don’t want to come forward because you don’t want to be personally and professionally destroyed," she said. "You don’t want to bring down Roger Ailes’s wrath on your head."
Victims are at a serious disadvantage, especially when their attackers are powerful and influential men. "Sexual harassment has financial consequences for women," said Patricia Barnes, an attorney and an expert on workplace discrimination. Victims of harassment are often driven out of their jobs, Barnes said, and our legal system makes it "almost impossible" for women to get justice for this, since court cases can take so long and cost so much.
If one person breaks her silence and comes forward, though, it can open the floodgates and embolden other victims to add their stories as testimony. That’s what appears to be happening here.
It’s no wonder the Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove speculates on whether Ailes could become the next Bill Cosby — a powerhouse media figure who has allegedly harassed or abused women for years, yet managed to escape public punishment for it until he was well into his 70s, when one public allegation led to another, and another, and another.
What's more, the allegations against both Ailes and Cosby were an open secret years before they actually caused controversy. Ailes wasn't known for being discreet about his activities, and anonymous sexual harassment allegations against him were made public as recently as 2014 in Sherman's book. Cosby was sued for sexual assault in 2005, and stories about him have been widely, if quietly, circulating for years in the entertainment world.
Yet neither story broke open until, somehow, one incident got people's attention. In Cosby’s case, it was a 2014 joke from comedian Hannibal Buress; this year it was Carlson’s lawsuit against Ailes. It may not be a coincidence that Sherman's book, released about 10 months before Buress blew up the Cosby story, didn't cause a bigger stir over Ailes's activities at the time — but that Carlson's lawsuit, which came out after nearly 60 women had already accused Cosby of sexual assault, caught fire.
Something, perhaps, is changing — but only just starting to. Even for high-profile women like Carlson, it’s a struggle to be heard and believed when society would prefer not to, and victim blaming is still very real. But at least we’re starting to see more in the way of real consequences for high-profile perpetrators.
Still, as Ross pointed out in her essay, sexual harassment is rampant everywhere — especially in media, and not just at Fox.
"Sexual harassment in network (and cable) television has prevailed for decades. It has many faces, genders, and legions of enablers," Ross wrote. "No one has yet nailed the pervasiveness, the bigotry, the diminishing and oppression of over half the population in the workplace. No one has nailed the ideas lost, the creativity missing, the damage done."