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And one of the most prominent female anchors on Fox News over the past decade is suing the channel's chairman, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. Gretchen Carlson says Ailes demoted and then fired her because she refused his advances. Carlson co-hosted the morning show "Fox & Friends" for over seven years. Parent company 21st Century Fox says it is launching an internal inquiry into these allegations. NPR's David Folkenflik has more.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: It should be noted up front that Roger Ailes explicitly denied the claims in Carlson's lawsuit last night, calling it retaliation because Fox did not offer her a new contract. The allegations themselves could not be more blunt. In her complaint filed yesterday in a New Jersey civil court, Carlson said Ailes had told her, quote, "I think you and I should've had a sexual relationship a long time ago" and that the two of them would have been on better terms if she had done so.
Carlson alleges Ailes ignored her complaints of pervasive sexual harassment from her "Fox & Friends" co-host Steve Doocy. Instead, Carlson alleges he said she needed to get along with the boys. "Fox & Friends" often has a fraternity house vibe. Another co-host, Brian Kilmeade, has called women chicks and skirts on the show. Carlson sometimes came off as a homeroom teacher who wandered into the wrong place, as in this exchange in 2013.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")
STEVE DOOCY: Headline time.
BRIAN KILMEADE: Women are everywhere. We're letting them play golf and tennis now. It's out of control.
GRETCHEN CARLSON: You know what?
KILMEADE: You know...
FOLKENFLIK: Carlson walked off camera. Kilmeade pressed on.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")
KILMEADE: She's out.
CARLSON: (Laughter) You read the headlines, since men are so great. Go ahead. Take them away.
CARLSON: Take them away. Go ahead.
KILMEADE: OK. Leaving an all-male crew.
CARLSON: In all your glory, go for it.
KILMEADE: In all my glory. Now your headlines - she needed a shower.
FOLKENFLIK: Carlson later told viewers that was all a joke. In Carlson's suit, however, she alleges she first complained about sexist behavior on and off the set to the show's executive producer in 2009. In May, the Fox News star Megyn Kelly was asked on a show on the Bravo channel what sexist behavior she had witnessed in TV.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MEGYN KELLY: In my industry I have heard tales of executives telling the young women to spin. And executives, you need to stop doing that.
FOLKENFLIK: In the lawsuit, Gretchen Carlson claims Ailes told her to spin around just like that so he could check out her body. In 2013, Carlson had her pay cut and was shifted to a less popular early afternoon slot. She was ultimately forced to leave all, she contends, because she refused Ailes's advances.
Last night, Ailes released a statement saying Carlson's lawsuit was defamatory and false, noting Carlson had thanked him in a recent book and saying he hadn't renewed her contract because her ratings had been a drag on the rest of the afternoon's shows. Despite announcing an inquiry, 21st Century Fox also said, we have full confidence in both Ailes and Doocy - the we presumably meaning Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James, who together control the company.
Ailes can probably count on Rupert Murdoch's loyalty, yet Ailes has strained relations with the Murdoch sons. Succession is much on the minds of people at the network. Ailes is 76 and in flagging health. This is not how he would want to leave. There is already precedent for settling, whatever the cost. Fox paid millions to settle a sexual harassment case against its biggest star, Bill O'Reilly, after he was caught on tape by a Fox News producer. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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