If embattled Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes’s on-air stars, especially women, have until now been publicly silent in his hour of need, Greta Van Susteren is a notable exception—eager to go on the record with a ringing defense of her beleaguered boss.
“I hate injustice,” the host of Fox News’s top-rated 7 p.m. program, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, told me Thursday night, as the 76-year-old Ailes was grappling with the PR fallout from fired Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson’s sensational lawsuit accusing him of sexually harassing her.
“Go through my ‘Gretawire,’” she added, referring to her blog. “I defend CNN! I defend all sorts of people when I think it’s wrong.”
Fiercely impassioned, as though delivering an argument to the jury, the non-practicing criminal defense attorney and former law professor continued: “Historically, I don’t like it when I think somebody is being falsely accused or wronged. I’m an old criminal defense attorney. This one’s wrong, based on my experience. The facts I know are that this is not the Roger Ailes I’ve ever heard about or seen.”
Van Susteren added: “People talk. You hear a lot, and I never heard this. Frankly, I’ve got to tell you. You know me. I’m pretty bold. If I heard that, I’d probably say something to Roger. I haven’t anything to lose. If I didn’t do this I’d go teach at law school. I’m not a wilting flower.” Neither, presumably, is Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro, a fellow lawyer who also started prosecuting the pro-Ailes case on Thursday.
The 62-year-old Van Susteren—who gave up her Washington law practice 22 years ago to become a fulltime television legal expert on CNN , and next January celebrates her 15th anniversary at Fox News—said she decided to speak up for her boss on her own, and was not asked to do so either by Ailes or the Fox News media relations department.
She said she hasn’t even spoken to Ailes in the past two days.
“I have a very long-term deal,” she said about her arrangement with the conservative-friendly cable news network, adding that if she ever loses her show on Fox she’ll be happy to return to teaching at Georgetown or re-enter law practice.
“I have no reason to curry favor with Roger Ailes. I can assure you that there’s nothing Roger can do for me or against me. My contract is with the corporation. I’m not trying to get a new one.”
She added: “I’m not for sale in this situation. You know that. If I didn’t think this, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
Van Susteren said she was on vacation on Wednesday and surprised, to say the least, when a New York Times reporter sent her Carlson’s just-filed complaint detailing Ailes’s alleged sexually charged behavior.
Ailes’s alleged misconduct with Carlson ranged, according to the lawsuit, from asking the 50-year-old anchor to twirl around and show him her posterior, to calling her a “man hater” when she complained of allegedly sexist conduct by male colleagues, to suggesting that having sex with him would help her career. Nine months after Carlson rebuffed Ailes’s overture, the lawsuit claims, she was fired.
Ailes has vehemently denied Carlson’s accusations, saying that Carlson, whose 11-year-long Fox career was abruptly terminated on June 23, is suing him in retaliation for the network’s decision not to renew her contract due to disappointingly low ratings for her afternoon program, The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.
“I was shocked by her lawsuit,” Van Susteren said, noting that she has known Carlson for a long time and covered a British royal wedding with her—though she never socialized with her (“I don’t socialize with anyone”)—and appeared weekly on Carlson’s 2 p.m. program. She added: “I didn’t even know her contract was up.
“I went through it [the lawsuit] and it’s completely foreign to my experience, and my knowledge of the environment,” Van Susteren said. “Don’t forget: I’m a lawyer with two law degrees [a juris doctor and master of law from Georgetown University]. I wouldn’t stick around if this were a weird place like that.”
The Washington-based Van Susteren, who regularly visits New York headquarters and keeps a Manhattan apartment with her husband, fellow attorney John Coale, was personally recruited to Fox by Ailes.
“I’ve been in his office a million times. I’ve had lunch, I’ve had Diet Cokes, I’ve been around him. He just doesn’t do this stuff,” she insisted. “You know how corporations gossip. If this were going on, I would have heard about it. I’ve got an apartment in New York and I’m back and forth. This is a rather small corporation. We’re a rather small group of people.”
Van Susteren expressed skepticism about not only Carlson’s allegations, but also those of several female former Fox News employees, who in interviews with The Daily Beast claimed Ailes engaged in similarly off-color conduct with them.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one woman said the Fox News founder and chairman once asked her if she had underwear on, and would he be able to see anything “good.”
Another likewise anonymous former Fox employee recounted a meeting with Ailes in which he allegedly stared at her legs, asked if she was single, told her she wouldn’t get pregnant anytime soon because she was young, and added: “I know I’m not supposed to ask this—HR keeps telling me I can’t ask that because you can sue me because it’s illegal, but I don’t care. I’m [over 70] years old, if you wanna sue me, sue me.”
Van Susteren demanded: “Will they go on the record with their names attached to it?”
No, not yet, she was told.
“You could say it is indeed true that some women are frightened, they think they’ll never work again, but isn’t it a little unusual that nobody will? Don’t you find it odd that nobody will go on the record?”
Citing workplace sexual harassment, she continued: “This stuff exists, and sometimes people get falsely accused of it. There are truthful complaints and there are false complaints. When you’re trying to get through what’s true and what’s false, you look at corroborating or lack of corroborating evidence…
“I’m telling you, based on my experience, I’ve never seen it or heard it or suspected it.”
At least one accuser, Carlson, is on the record, of course.
“I feel bad for her,” Van Susteren said. “I imagine she’s quite unhappy that her contract wasn’t renewed.”
Van Susteren speculated that Carlson and her attorneys, who have granted many interviews and issued several press releases since the suit was filed, are trying the case in the court of public opinion because “I know some suits are beefed up a bit. You’re trying to get the other person to settle. I have no idea what’s going on here. Lawsuits are just pieces of paper.”