When news of Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox News CEO Roger Ailes broke in July, many at Fox reacted skeptically. But Ailes has now been ousted amid numerous other allegations, and Carlson has won a $20 million settlement.
And some of Carlson’s former colleagues are saying they regret not believing her from the start.
Geraldo Rivera, who initially stood with Ailes and claimed on Twitter that Ailes was “as flirty as the grizzly in #TheRevenant,” posted a lengthy apology on Facebook on Thursday.
“Like virtually all my colleagues at Fox News, I was totally blindsided by his sexual harassment scandal, which is why I responded to Gretchen Carlson’s initial filing of her lawsuit with extreme skepticism,” Rivera said. “The man she described in her pleadings was unknown even to those of us who thought we knew him well.”
Now, however, Rivera says he is “filled with regret” for “stubbornly discounting” the allegations from not just Carlson but also many others who said Ailes harassed them. “The Murdochs would not have turned the world upside down but for good cause,” Rivera wrote. “Moreover, I apologize for my skepticism. Like victims of sexual assault, those alleging harassment deserve the presumption of credibility. ... If you see harassment, say harassment, even if the alleged offender is an old friend.”
Greta Van Susteren, who resigned from Fox News the same day Carlson’s settlement was announced (she said the timing was due to contractual issues), also expressed “regret” in a Facebook post.
“We all regret it,” Van Susteren wrote.
“But I have regrets beyond Geraldo's and beyond not believing a civil complaint written by lawyers,” she added. “I regret that Roger Ailes was not supervised by those in a public corporation who had the duty to supervise him. ... Checks written that were suspicious should have been spotted.”
Van Susteren’s comment about checks likely refers to Fox’s quiet multimillion-dollar settlement with Laurie Luhn, who said Ailes “psychologically tortured” her for 20 years. Or it could be Ailes’s use of the Fox budget to conduct secret spy operations and PR campaigns against his enemies.
Van Susteren also isn’t the only one placing blame on the shoulders of Fox executives; reporting in New York magazine from Gabriel Sherman, who broke most of the major news about the Ailes scandal, suggests Ailes’s behavior was likely enabled, or at least tolerated, by more than one high-level Fox executive.
These apologies are both good and bad news for women in the workplace
Sexual harassment and assault are dismayingly common — about one in three working women experience sexual harassment, and about one in five women experience sexual assault. It’s also common for the women who report these abuses to be dismissed or disbelieved out of hand.
Skepticism of women who report sexual misconduct is deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s a reflexive, often subconscious bias that can be hard to shake. Some people will take longer to shake it than others — even in the relatively hip-to-feminism era of 2016 America.
So it’s always encouraging to see people realize and publicly admit the error of their knee-jerk ways when it comes to believing victims. It sets an important example for others who are skeptical of women’s stories of harassment, and it gives other victims of harassment hope that more people might believe them if they come forward.
At the same time, Carlson still has many former colleagues, like Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and others, who haven’t apologized yet for doubting Carlson or supporting Ailes. And even in Rivera and Van Susteren’s apologies, there’s still a whiff of reluctance, a dash of lingering skepticism.
Van Susteren says she regrets “not believing a civil complaint written by lawyers,” and Rivera (who also mentions how his defense of Ailes led HarperCollins to cancel publication of his upcoming book) wrote that the Murdochs “would not have turned the world upside down but for good cause” once it became apparent that Carlson “was not alone.”
It seems Carlson’s word isn’t enough for them; she needs to be backed up by more (and more) other victims, and her claims need to be dignified by powerful executives.
This is even the case for Carlson, a famous journalist with name recognition who also reportedly spent a year secretly recording Ailes to get proof of his actions.
Most women who take sexual harassment cases to trial are nameless, faceless “accusers” with whom the public doesn’t identify or empathize. Most women who win settlements in sexual harassment cases don’t even break the six-figure barrier, much less the eight. Carlson’s $20 million settlement isn’t as massive as it seems, as Bryce Covert pointed out at ThinkProgress, when you consider how badly Carlson’s career in broadcasting has been disrupted and that this only represents five to 10 years of earnings for her.
The decisiveness of Carlson’s victory is a big deal for women everywhere who might otherwise be too scared to come forward about sexual harassment. But it also shows how far we have to go before most women can expect the benefits of coming forward to outweigh the costs — not just time and money but also reputation and support from peers.