Roger Ailes accused of harassment by at least 20 women, attorneys say
More than 20 women have accused Fox News chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment in confidential conversations with the attorneys representing former Fox host Gretchen Carlson, her legal team said on Wednesday.
The accusations have poured in at a steady clip by phone and email since Carlson filed an explosive sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes two weeks ago. In her lawsuit, Carlson claims that Ailes propositioned her for sex and then fired her when she refused.
According to her legal team, the new accusations range in time from Ailes’s current tenure at Fox News all the way back to his role in the 60s as executive producer on The Mike Douglas Show. Almost all of the 20-plus women claim they experienced Ailes’s harassment firsthand. Only a handful reached out as witnesses. In a few cases, said spokesman John Garger, the accusations are as “severe” as those in Carlson’s lawsuit. He declined to share more details.
“The messages are still coming in,” he said.
Carlson’s 6 July lawsuit shocked the media world with claims that Ailes – one of the most powerful executives in media – sabotaged her career after she rebelled against his “constant and severe sexual harassment”. The 11-year anchor and former Miss America was removed from the highly rated Fox & Friends show in 2013 and fired from the network in June – two events Carlson claims were part of a series of retaliatory humiliations.
“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,” Ailes said, according to the lawsuit. Among the other offences set out by the suit Ailes was accused of “ogling Carlson in his office and asking her to turn around so he could view her posterior”.
Ailes has categorically denied Carlson’s accusations. But the past weeks saw several signs that the network he turned into a ratings behemoth was cooling in its support. Members of the Murdoch family, which owns Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, through a trust, reportedly gave Ailes a deadline of 1 August to resign or be fired. The Drudge Report published what appeared to be an outline of Ailes’s potential exit package, which included a $40m payoff.
And on Tuesday, Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine revealed that Megyn Kelly, the undisputed star of the Fox News lineup, had accused Ailes of sexual harassment to investigators 21st Century Fox hired to conduct an outside inquiry.
Kelly’s was not the first allegation of harassment to surface in the wake of Carlson’s lawsuit. Other accusations surfaced almost immediately. A former Fox News contributor told the Huffington Post that in a meeting, Ailes “asked me to turn around so he can see my ass”. A former Fox News employee told the Daily Beast: “One time he asked me if I was wearing underwear, and was he going to see anything ‘good’.”
Sherman published the accounts of six women who claimed harassment by Ailes. One was Kellie Boyle, a Republican consultant who met Ailes in his role as a major Republican power broker. Boyle claimed Ailes pressured her for sex in exchange for a job opportunity, saying: “You know if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys.”
Several women accused Ailes of harassment while he was producing The Mike Douglas Show. A former model, who gave Sherman her account anonymously, claimed Ailes exposed his genitals and told her, “kiss them”, and chased her around his office when she refused.
Ailes has flatly denied these and other allegations, including an accusation of harassment that appeared in Sherman’s 2014 biography. In a statement, Ailes called Carlson’s suit “retaliatory for the network’s decision not to renew her contract, which was due to the fact that her disappointingly low ratings were dragging down the afternoon lineup … This defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”
Ailes’s personal counsel and spokespeople for 21st Century Fox have not replied to requests for comment on the claim that his accusers now number more than 20.
Carlson’s legal team appears confident that more accusers will emerge.
“Gretchen’s legal team started hearing (mainly through calls and emails) from people with their own stories of harassment almost immediately the day that the lawsuit was filed and first reported on,” Garger said.
The lawyers believes Ailes has several other accusers with whom they haven’t spoken, he added. Some allegations published by the Daily Beast, for example, bear no resemblance to the 20-plus accusations they have already fielded.
That would bring the number of women who are publicly or anonymously claiming to be victims of Ailes’s sexual harassment to nearly two dozen.