Fox News ends Ailes era with apology and $20 million for Gretchen Carlson

Fox News will pay a $20 million settlement to former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson over her allegations of sexual harassment by former CEO Roger Ailes. Fox also issued a rare apology to Carlson. Judy Woodruff learns more from Stephen Battaglio of the Los Angeles Times.

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    But, first: fallout from the sexual harassment cases involving FOX News and its former chief, Roger Ailes.

    Parent company 21st Century Fox announced a settlement today with former FOX News anchor Gretchen Carlson. Carlson had charged Ailes and others at FOX with harassing her starting back in 2009. Multiple sources say that Carlson will receive $20 million, and that FOX has settled other lawsuits. FOX also issued an apology to Carlson as part of the deal.

    It read — quote — "We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen wasn't treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve."

    For more, I'm joined by Stephen Battaglio of The Los Angeles Times. He's in Chicago.

    Steve Battaglio, thank you for being with us.

    Remind us first, in brief, what was it that Gretchen Carlson alleged?

  • STEPHEN BATTAGLIO, Los Angeles Times:

    Gretchen Carlson was on FOX News for 11 years, first on the FOX morning show, and then she had an afternoon show of her own.

    Her contract wasn't renewed in June of this year. And shortly after that, she filed a lawsuit in which she said that Roger Ailes sabotaged her career and retaliated against her because she rebuffed him when he made comments of a sexual nature in meetings that they had had.

    She also said that he was punishing her because she complained about a hostile work environment. She wasn't happy with her — with how her co-anchors treated her when she was on "FOX & Friends."

    And she had very detailed statements talking about things that Roger had said to her of a sexual nature, inappropriate, and that's what takes us to where we are today.


    And he, of course, initially denied all of this, but now with this settlement, essentially, the company is saying, as we just read, we're sorry, and acknowledging that at least a lot of this is true?


    Well, not only is the settlement large, but the apology is extraordinary. It is very rare when companies settle with employees that they actually admit wrongdoing and apologize like this.

    It almost never happens in sexual harassment cases. It's probably guaranteed that Gretchen Carlson required this as part of the terms for the settlement, that she be — that it would be acknowledged that this was how she was treated.


    Now, $20 million, as you said, it's a huge amount of money for this kind of lawsuit. There was some reporting today that Roger Ailes himself would be liable for some of that. Is there any confirmation of that?


    I don't think there's any truth to it. Roger Ailes was indemnified by FOX. He left FOX News with a $40 million severance package.

    I don't think, when they negotiated that package, they said, here, Roger, here's $40 million, but you may have to give some of that back if we settle the lawsuit. I don't think that's the case. I think that 21st Century Fox paid all of this.


    Stephen Battaglio, what does it say that FOX decided to settle this and at this amount?


    It says that they wanted to avoid a trial, which would have made this an ongoing story for months, perhaps years.

    This is all that people in the New York media circles in New York and Washington have been talking about. It's an ongoing story. The details get more sordid. More women come forward. More charges are made. Some may not be true, but it just gets thrown into the pot, and it's just — and I think that the Murdochs, the owners of 21st Century Fox, want to get past this. They want to take FOX News into the post-Roger Ailes era.


    And we know that there are other allegations that have been out there regarding Ailes and potentially others at FOX. What's the status of those other potential cases?


    I'm told that the — that the complaints that came forward during the investigation of Carlson's complaints have been settled, and there is a three-year statute of limitations on sexual harassment complaints in New York state.

    So, other people may issue complaints, but if they're not within that window, they can't go forward to litigation. So they think they're covered there. There is one other case involving another FOX News host, Andrea Tantaros. FOX says that she wasn't sexually harassed and that she was suspended because of a breach in contract, or that she's in breach of her contract.

    And they feel that that's a separate issue, and they will go to court with that one, if they need to.


    What do you think the effect of this is on FOX News, on its fortunes as a news organization?


    The bad news has certainly not affected its ratings. It's been the number one network in all of cable, not just FOX News, pretty much the entire summer, week after week.

    They own a certain part of the audience, a part of the news audience who doesn't feel that conservative views are fairly represented in the rest of the press. That's a niche that they own. And it's very dependable for them. And a lot of those people probably don't care about this.


    And, finally, what do you think — what effect do you think this has on the culture of television news, television entertainment, a culture that would have permitted something like this at FOX to happen?


    Well, you're actually talking about the culture of Roger Ailes.

    You have to remember, Roger comes from another era of show business, when the casting couch was very common, where it wasn't unusual for an executive or a producer to say, young lady, if you spend some special time with me, it will be very good for your career. I think that was pretty common in the 1960s and 1970s.

    And I think that stayed with Roger until today, where it is not appropriate, acceptable, or legal.


    We certainly hope it's not acceptable anywhere.

    Stephen Battaglio, we thank you very much with The Los Angeles Times.


    Thanks for having me.

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