CREDIT: CHARLES SYKES/INVISION/AP, FILE
Last week, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sued Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, alleging unwanted sexual advances at work, and career-demolition when she refused him. Her lawsuit details disgusting, alarming behavior: Ailes allegedly told her that she should “have had a sexual relationship a long time ago” with him and, when she refuted his advances and complained about it, he “ended her career at Fox News.”
As New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman writes, Carlson wasn’t the first woman to accuse Ailes of this inappropriate, appalling misconduct; his biography of Ailes, The Loudest Voice in the Room, included interviews with several women who said “Ailes had used his position of power to make either unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate sexual comments in the office.”
Nancy Erika Smith, Carlson’s attorney, told Sherman that in the days since Carlson went public, over a dozen women have reached out to describe similar experiences with Ailes, revealing a pattern — demanding sexual favors in exchange for professional advancement, and putting a stop to the careers of women who did not oblige — dating back as far as the 1960s. Six of the women, two on the record and four anonymously, told their stories publicly to New York Magazine for the first time.
Ailes’ outside counsel issued a statement in response to the new allegations: “It has become obvious that Ms. Carlson and her lawyer are desperately attempting to litigate this in the press because they have no legal case to argue. The latest allegations, all 30 to 50 years old, are false.”
That the allegations are old, obviously, has no bearing on whether or not they are true. There are plenty of well-documented reasons why victims of sexual misconduct stay silent: trauma, shame, rightly-earned fear of retribution or worse. Evidence supports that women who go public are far more likely to be punished than to achieve anything close to justice. A number of Carlson’s former colleagues are already calling her allegations “B.S.” without “a ring of truth.”
There are some striking parallels here to the Bill Cosby case: multiple allegations that span decades; accusers who are all female and all younger than the accused; meetings that were ostensibly about professional advancement that allegedly escalated into requests or demands for sexual favors. And the language used by Ailes’ attorney to dismiss these claims — a total denial, coloring the accusers as “desperate” and media-hungry, implying that the age of the allegations means they couldn’t possible be true — is very similar to the rhetoric deployed by Cosby’s various lawyers.
Of the new accusers, the earliest account is from a woman who says she was doing modeling work as a teenager in “late ’65 or early ’66.” She was auditioning for The Mike Douglas Show, which Ailes produced at the time, and Ailes would take women who auditioned into a room one-on-one “behind closed doors.” When she went into the room, “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.”
Two other allegations from the 1960s come from former models Marsha Callahan, who describes an encounter with Ailes in “either ’68 or ’67,” and Susan (not her real name), who says she met Ailes when she was 16 years old in the winter of 1967. Callahan, now 73 years old, was also called in to audition for The Mike Douglas Show. She says he insisted she wear a garter belt and stockings to their meeting.
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.’
She declined. When she did the show, she says, she saw Ailes and he “pretended not to know who I was.”
Susan also met Ailes on The Mike Douglas Show. She claims he took her into his 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 is locked and nobody’s out there.”
When it dawned on Ailes that she wouldn’t do as he asked, she said, he revealed a reel-to-reel tape recorder rolling in his desk and told her, “Don’t tell anybody about this. I’ve got it all on tape.”
Kellie Boyle, a former Republican National Committee field adviser, says Ailes took her to a professional dinner in 1989 that ended in his car. He offered to give her a ride to her friend’s place, but once they were in the car, he said to her, “You know if you want to play with the big boys, you have to lay with the big boys.”
He told her that to get the job she wanted — she was in Washington to “sign a major contract” with the National Republican Congressional Committee — she’d have to have sex with him and “give a blowjob every once in a while” to other male media figures. She told him later, by phone, that she wasn’t going to do that; she never got the job because, as she says a friend at the RNC told her, “word went out you weren’t to be hired.”
Boyle recently gave an interview to Fortune, in which she described her experience in greater detail. She was just starting out in the political communications field and was, at the time of the encounter, a “big fan” of Ailes. “He was somebody I admired,” she said. She spent the entire 15-minute car ride listening to him talk and stalling, out of fear that he might assault her. “I was trying to not hurt his feelings but not be encouraging. I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened next.”
What happened next, she claims, is that she “couldn’t even get in the door” to sign this contract she’d already been promised. No one was made available to speak with her and no explanation was provided. “I ended up driving back to New Jersey with nothing.” This week, Boyle said, she reached out to that RNC friend who had told her she was on a “do-not-hire” list to ask if he remembered the incident. He said he did. The experience made her lose her taste for politics and “for the trajectory I thought I was on.”
“Roger Ailes was mean, ruthless and vindictive to me just because he could be,” she told Fortune. “I was happy to tell people what a reprehensible person he was. I just never had the influence or position to speak out publicly before where it would have made any difference in the world.”
The most recent allegation (aside, obviously, from Carlson’s) is from another anonymous accuser and allegedly took place around 1984. The then-30-year-old model/actress was new to New York and applying for broadcasting jobs when she landed a meeting with Ailes. She auditioned for him on camera; after the taping was done, he locked the door. “I figured out pretty quickly there was no job and this was just ruse,” she said. “He pulled out a garter belt and stockings and told me to put them on.” She was “very nervous” and complied. After that, “something sexual” that she has “blocked out” took place. “I felt I was being used for his sexual satisfaction.”