As if the breach with her former employer couldn’t be any more final, erstwhile Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson devotes several pages of her new book to the thuggish words and piggish behavior of Donald J. Trump.
“Let me be clear about President Trump—I don’t think I could have written this book without talking about that,” Carlson told The Daily Beast concerning Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, her guide for women (and a few good men) on how to cope with the sort of sexual harassment and retaliation she faced at the right-leaning cable network that the late Roger Ailes built. “This is part of our national dialogue… This is something that is personal for me.”
Unlike much of the messaging on the Trump-friendly cable outlet—where Sean Hannity and (before his sacking this past April over sexual harassment allegations) Bill O’Reilly have consistently defended and celebrated the 45th president—Carlson clearly sides with Trump’s accusers.
“On October 7, 2016,” she writes, “an outtake from a 2005 Access Hollywood appearance showed Donald Trump speaking proudly about his approach to women in the most vulgar manner. His claim that his celebrity status gave him license to ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ is burned into all of our brains.”
The book goes on: “The tape broke a spell among women who said they had been sexually harassed or assaulted by Trump, and many of them courageously came forward: the Miss USA contestant who said he had kissed her twice without permission; the woman who said he had groped her on a plane; the receptionist who said he had kissed her in a Trump Tower elevator; the People magazine writer who said he assaulted her at Mar-a-Lago when she was there to interview him and his wife; the Miss Teen USA contestants who said he walked in on and observed them while they were dressing; the Apprentice contestant who said he had kissed and touched her against her will—and on and on.”
Much to her surprise, the 51-year-old former Miss America has become perhaps the country’s most prominent champion of women in the workplace; her portrait even graced the cover of Time magazine last October. “Gretchen Carlson wants to change the way women fight sexual harassment,” read the cover line.
Her July 2016 lawsuit against Ailes (after she rebuffed the Fox News chairman’s sexual advances and he fired her) resulted in a $20 million settlement, a public apology from parent company 21st Century Fox, Ailes’ abrupt downfall, and seismic shocks to the television newsbiz.
Although her settlement agreement forbids her from disparaging her longtime employer, Carlson took a less-than-veiled shot at Fox News in her interview with The Daily Beast for warmly welcoming O’Reilly back on the network last week to schmooze with Hannity and blame his misfortunes on a vast left-wing conspiracy.
“First of all, I think it’s shocking for any company to bring someone back under those circumstances,” she said, without explicitly citing Fox News for its eager complicity in the rehabilitation of O’Reilly’s image, five months after The New York Times reported that the star anchor and the company had paid five women a total of $13 million to silence their claims that he had sexually harassed them.
“Part Two would be that this is why I’ve written the book—because we need to figure out better ways to deal with sexual harassment other than secret arbitration and settlements,” Carlson continued. “Because both handcuff the women to never talk about any of it” while O’Reilly, by contrast, has conspicuously appeared on various media outlets in recent days to attribute his ouster to a nefarious liberal plot. “In the circumstance you’re talking about, there’s only one side of the story getting out. Why? Because the women involved in any if those alleged settlements can’t speak up.”
She added: “We can’t continue as a culture to only give women two options, and in many of those cases, the harassers can still stay in the workplace.”
Since her headline-making departure from Fox News, Carlson has yet to land another television job, but she insisted that isn’t for want of offers, or because TV news executives might be leery of hiring a woman who has demonstrated a willingness to pursue litigation to address troubles at the office.
“Listen, I’ve had so many different opportunities come my way—traditional television, non-traditional television, I’ve even been asked to run for politics”—a reference to the notion of Republican Party operatives in Connecticut, where she lives in Greenwich with her husband, sports agent Casey Close, and their two pre-teen children, that she’d make a fine candidate for U.S. Senate.
But she said writing the book, along with running two charitable foundations to support women in the workplace, preparing for a Nov. 2 TED Talk, and her frequent trips to Washington to advocate legislation to end secret arbitration requirements in employment contracts, plus parenting duties, have left her little time to take on a new full-time job.
“Once the book comes out and I’m done with the tour,” she said, “I can’t wait to return to television. But right now, honestly, there’s no way.”
Carlson added: “I will tell you this: There’s an iconic Hollywood producer who’s working on a ‘docu’ series and personally came to me and I’m going to be part of that project he’s working on.”
While her participation in the television series will undoubtedly align with her public policy concerns, she declined to say more, except that it’s scheduled for the spring.
Carlson, meanwhile, offered encouragement for former Fox News colleague Megyn Kelly—another alleged victim of Ailes, who (according to Kelly’s memoir Settle for More) acted as both her mentor and sexual harasser early in her television career, to say nothing of Trump’s misogynistic attacks on her during the presidential campaign.
“I caught just a little of the first day,” Carlson said about Megyn Kelly Today, which launched last week on NBC to generally negative reviews. “It’s a new venture for her. I totally wish her well… I can’t talk about the experience of when she was at that other place”—the closest Carlson dares to speak the name of Fox News—“but from woman to woman, I congratulate her on the new show and I certainly hope that she does well.”
Like the 46-year-old Kelly—who is undergoing an occasionally mindboggling metamorphosis from edgy primetime Fox News diva (and sworn enemy of the New Black Panther Party) to approachable, apolitical, female-friendly daytime host—Carlson is in the midst of her own transformation that even she describes as “rebranding.”
“A special thank-you to the team of people who helped rebrand me after my ordeal and move me into the next phase of my life,” she writes in the book’s acknowledgements, citing celebrity publicity doyenne Cindi Berger, among others.
“I think there have been misconceptions about who I am and what I think,” said Carlson, an Oxford University alum and summa cum laude Stanford University graduate who, during her long-ago Fox & Friends incarnation, was notorious for speculating that the Obama administration was waging a war on Christians and that Ted Kennedy, the late liberal lion of the Senate, was among the “hostile enemies right here on the home front” in 2007 because he opposed a troop surge in Iraq without congressional approval.
“What I mean by that [rebranding] is that I have always been a huge supporter of women and women’s issues, and somehow over the last decade that was sometimes misconstrued,” Carlson explained. “But I can go back and bore you with stories from 30 years ago and beyond about how I have always spoken up about women’s issues and equality and fair pay, and I’ve been a huge mentor to young women.”
She added: “And maybe a little bit of the rebranding is just meant to make sure that when you’re dealing with an incredibly sensitive issue like sexual harassment—an issue that is still misunderstood and still women are labeled ‘troublemakers,’ ‘bitches,’ and ‘not to be believed’—certainly one needs to have people in place to help brand the correct message, the real story, and help get rid of those myths and stereotypes.”
Revealingly, while Carlson’s book takes a dim view of Trump, it showers Barack Obama with praise for supporting women in the workplace.
“It helps when those male voices come from the highest office in the land,” Carlson writes pointedly, quoting the 44th president as telling a Women’s Summit crowd in June 2016: “I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like.”
Yet despite her emergent new profile as a feminist crusader, Carlson retains the strict discipline of her Swedish-Minnesota upbringing that drove her to become a violin prodigy before she entered beauty pageants and launched a career in front of the camera.
For instance, Carlson, a registered Independent, steadfastly refused to acknowledge the obvious—that she didn’t vote for Trump last November.
“Listen, as a journalist, I’m never going to say who I voted for, for president—in 2016, in 2012, in 2008, or 2004 and all the way back to 1988 when I first voted.”
She was asked: “But what if I told you that if you voted for Trump, I will burn my life savings in a bonfire? I just want to know if my money’s safe. Is it?”
Carlson laughed, but stood her ground.
“Well, you have a very creative way of asking the question. I’ll give you that.”