Add Bret Baier to the growing number of Fox News personalities who are coming to the defense of Roger Ailes in the latter’s legal battle against fired Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson.
“It’s not the Roger I know,” Baier told The Daily Beast on Tuesday in his first public comments on Carlson’s lawsuit, in which she claims the Fox News chairman and chief executive sexually harassed her—allegedly telling her in a meeting last September that having sex with him would help her career—and fostered a frat-house workplace environment in which she was regularly demeaned and denied career opportunities.
“The Roger I know is somebody who has always been amazing to me and my family…so it’s not familiar to me,” Baier said about Carlson’s allegations and those of other women—both former Fox News employees and others who claim ugly encounters with Ailes dating back to the 1960s when he was executive producer of The Mike Douglas Show. “I can’t say enough good things about Roger and I’ve told him as much.”
Asked if the lawsuit has been a distraction, Baier said: “I try not to think that it’s going to affect us, because it seems very strange for me.”
In the aftermath of Carlson’s shocking charges, Baier emailed Ailes a supportive note.
“I sent him a note saying I’m thinking about him,” the Washington-based Baier said, adding that while he hasn’t spoken to Ailes about the lawsuit since Carlson filed it July 6, he knows of several colleagues who have also written to the 76-year-old founder of the 20-year-old channel. “It’s been organic. There has not been any kind of mandate to say everybody needs to say something. We’ve all been trying to do our jobs.”
As of Tuesday, around a dozen female Fox personalities—including Greta Van Susteren, Outnumbered’s Sandra Smith and Harris Faulkner, Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo, but conspicuously not Fox News’s prime-time star Megyn Kelly—have publicly backed Ailes in press interviews.
“These people have been telling their own stories of their interaction with Roger…There’s a ton of people who have been here since the start. People wouldn’t be here that long if it wasn’t the family atmosphere,” said Baier, who joins Sean Hannity, Brit Hume, and Neil Cavuto—but not, so far, Bill O’Reilly—among the male Fox News personalities who are publicly expressing solidarity with the boss.
“I can’t say enough good about Roger, and any other thoughts are foreign to me.”
Baier, who’ll be sharing anchoring duties at the Republican convention in Cleveland with the host of The Kelly File—and, like Ailes, has stoutly defended Megyn Kelly in the past against nasty broadsides from Trump—didn’t speculate about the reasons for his colleague’s public silence.
“I haven’t talked to her, so I don’t know,” he said. “What I do know is we’re all busy, and up to this point I haven’t said anything either. I have expressed myself privately, and a ton of people have emailed notes to Roger, and I will see her Thursday [when both anchors will be broadcasting their programs from the site of the convention]…I know we’ve talked about Roger before, and how fortunate we are to have somebody who’s given the opportunities that he has given us.”
The 45-year-old Baier was hired by Ailes 19 years ago from the local CBS affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina, as Fox’s Atlanta bureau chief.
Today he is the top-rated cable network’s lead political anchor as host of Special Report with Bret Baier, and will preside over Fox’s wall-to-wall coverage of both Republican and Democratic conventions.
He made his comments about Ailes—several of which he repeated hours later as a guest on CBS’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert—during a wide-ranging interview with The Daily Beast in an espresso bar across the street from Fox News’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters.
Baier also discussed Fox News’s coverage goals for next week’s Republican convention in Cleveland and the following week’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia; his assessment of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-establishment campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton; CNN’s decision to hire fired Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski; the probably imminent dismissal of Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz; and his own brief flirtation with a career as a political operative, as a volunteer in Democratic Senate candidate Jan Backus’s losing 1994 campaign against Republican incumbent Jim Jeffords.
New Jersey native Baier, who caught the political bug early—glued to the television screen watching the 1980 Republican convention as a 10-year-old in Dunwoody, Georgia—said he took a friend’s advice and decided to volunteer in the Vermont race after graduating from Indiana’s DePauw University, where he majored in political science and was inspired by a class taught by former NBC News political correspondent Ken Bode.
“It really wasn’t because I was passionate about Vermont politics or the candidate,” Baier recalled. “I just kind of wanted to check out what politics was all about, so I was in this little office in Rutland, Vermont, making signs and organizing events.”
Baier recalls that he was part of the “honk-and wave” team, standing on the roadside, holding up Backus placards and waving to passing cars.
“I realized that that was not what I wanted to do—because you could never control what your candidate was going to do or say. I thought about giving it a shot as a press secretary or something, but then I determined that, no, I want to cover it—and so I went to small-market TV and kind of started bouncing around.”
More than two decades later, Baier has a front-row seat to the most unlikely presidential campaign in memory, pitting against each other two deeply divisive, in many cases distrusted, major-party nominees—one who has managed to offend not only women but a host of minority groups, and the other who narrowly escaped being indicted for negligent mishandling of classified emails.
Either Trump or Clinton is all but certain to become the leader of the Free World. “Books about elections are going to be rewritten this year,” Baier predicted.
He said that it looks like Trump—who has triumphed so far by violating nearly every rule of conventional politics, but has also paid a heavy price in recent polls—might finally have arrived at the point of becoming a serious general election candidate.
“I think this is the week when you’re really seeing the true pivot that everybody was saying was going to happen for months,” Baier said, citing as evidence Trump’s “teleprompter speech, his staying off the air, and not as much Twitter presence”—although Trump continues to tweet and he was schedule to appear on Tuesday night’s O’Reilly Factor and Wednesday’s Special Report.
“Well, for at least a few days,” Baier acknowledged with a laugh, “and I do think he’ll be a little bit different at the convention, and they’re going to try to package him. The Paul Manafort contingent, I think, has won the internal battle,” he continued, mentioning the longtime GOP operative and lobbyist who dispatched Lewandowski, “and I think the [Trump] family plays a huge role in how he is, in the internal back and forth.”
Baier, who has talked extensively with Trump’s adult children and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the real estate mogul and New York Observer owner who is married to eldest daughter Ivanka, said: “I think they all have some influence, but I do think Ivanka and Jared have perhaps more of his ear. I think all the children have a significant role and they’re going to be rolled out and have a prominent position [at the convention.] They’re his calling card. They’re pretty successful people, very accomplished, and I think she’s fantastic. They’re ambassadors for him, and [the Trump campaign] is probably right that they can gain points when those kids are out there.”
Baier said that while he, alongside Kelly, hopes Fox News’s convention coverage provides context to the various dramas and mini-dramas playing out in Cleveland, and gives viewers a sense of how things look on the ground as previously doctrinaire conservative Republicans embrace, or at least accept, a sort of deal-making populism, he doubts that there will be much commotion over Trump’s becoming the GOP standard bearer.
“Something tells me that the party and the Trump people have this wired,” he said. “If you listen to [Republican National Committee] Chairman [Reince} Priebus, he thinks this is pretty buttoned up.”
Baier, who freely admits that he never would have predicted Trump’s political success, added that the former Celebrity Apprentice star “has captured this feeling in the country about Washington is not working, about both parties not getting it done, about anti-establishment, kick-over-the-table, try-something new.
“And his opponent Hillary Clinton is establishment, so there’s a push and pull, and she is well positioned. Bernie Sanders endorsing her helps her a great deal. It’s a big deal for her, getting Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The progressive part of the party is not exactly warm to Hillary.”
Whatever private deal Clinton made with Sanders in exchange for his endorsement, Baier speculated, does not bode well for the longevity of Wasserman Schultz at the top of the Democratic Party bureaucracy. The Vermont senator suspected Schultz of using her position to hamper his candidacy, and Sanders actively supported the Florida congresswoman’s Democratic primary opponent.
“Not good odds,” Baier said about Wasserman Schultz’s continued employment prospects. “I think Bernie Sanders still has some juice, and that’s not a good sign for DWS!”
Meanwhile, asked his opinion of CNN securing the services of Lewandowski as a political pundit, Baier laughed and said: “That was an interesting hire.”
Laughing some more, he declined to elaborate.
“I really don’t have anything else,” he said. “I have friends over there [at CNN] but I don’t spend a lot of time watching them.”