Fox News reaches settlement with former anchor Gretchen Carlson over sexual harassment charges

Van Susteren also announces abrupt departure from network

  • Photo
By Brian Steinberg, Variety.com

LOS ANGELES — Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson has reached a detente of sorts with the network’s parent over charges she was sexually harassed by Roger Ailes, the cable-news network’s former leader and guiding light.

The media conglomerate, controlled by the Murdoch family, said it had reached a settlement with Carlson, who anchored such programs as “Fox & Friends” and “The Real Story” during her time at the outlet. A report in Vanity Fair suggested the amount could total as much as $20 million, and a person familiar with the matter said the report was accurate. A spokesman for Carlson’s attorneys declined to comment.

“21st Century Fox is pleased to announce that it has settled Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit. During her tenure at Fox News, Gretchen exhibited the highest standards of journalism and professionalism. She developed a loyal audience and was a daily source of information for many Americans. We are proud that she was part of the Fox News team,” the company said in a statement. “We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve.”

The settlement would appear to close at least one of the many storylines related to the behavior of Ailes, who was the subject of a lawsuit Carlson filed in July alleging the executive had subjected her to sexual come-ons and other inappropriate behavior. Her suit sparked an internal investigation at the news outlet, which is the most-watched cable-news network and which has a significant influence on the news cycle. Other women are said to have come forward at Fox News alleging sexual harassment by Ailes, and there is speculation the parent company will bring in a new executive to lead the network. Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, has stepped in to lead Fox News on an interim basis and Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy, two veteran Fox TV executives were recently named co-presidents and will lead Fox News and Fox Business.

Since Carlson stepped forward, a phalanx of press reports cited accounts from women — some former Fox News employees, others who had interacted with Ailes in earlier parts of his career — who alleged he had propositioned them sexually, and hurt their careers if they refused his entreaties.

“I am gratified that 21st Century Fox took decisive action after I filed my complaint,” Carlson said in a statement. “I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life.”

Ailes has in the past denied the allegations. Oddly, Fox’s statement did not mention the executive once.

New York magazine had reported that Carlson had taped her conversations with Ailes over the course of a year. Fox’s decision to settle with her raises some questions, as her attorneys had filed charges against Ailes, not the company. Is Fox taking responsibility for fees that might have been Ailes’ responsibility? Ailes is believed to have departed 21st Century Fox with an agreement that won him a payout of about $40 million, or the salary he would have earned under his most recent contract.

In taking legal action and speaking out about her treatment at the network, Carlson has put into place a massive shift at what is arguably the financial engine of 21st Century Fox. Fox News contributes approximately 20 percent of the company’s annual cash flow. Ailes had a strong hand in transforming the network from a startup in 1996 that had to push for carriage on Time Warner Cable into an influential organization that can be as controversial and polarizing as it is populist and broadly appealing.

In her lawsuit, filed in Superior Court of New Jersey, Carlson alleged she was removed from “Fox & Friends” in 2013 after she complained about behavior by co-host Steve Doocy, and then moved to an afternoon program as a way to diminish her presence at the network. Carlson alleged she was terminated on June 23 after her current contract elapsed.

VAN SUSTEREN ALSO LEAVING

In another Fox News development, Greta Van Susteren, who has anchored early evening and prime-time programs for the network since 2002, has left abruptly.

Brit Hume, a veteran journalist who spent more than a decade as a senior news executive in Fox News’ Washington bureau, will take over her 7 p.m. slot on the 21st Century Fox-owned cable-news network at least through the election. He will appear this evening, the network said Tuesday.

Van Susteren could not be reached for immediate comment. Her husband, John Coale, an attorney who has worked as her agent in the past, could also not be reached for immediate comment.” In a statement released on Twitter, Van Susteren said “Fox has not felt like home to me for a few years now, and I took advantage of a clause in my contract which allows me to leave now. The clause had a time limitation, meaning I could not wait.”

Van Susteren last revised her contract with Fox News in May of 2013. A person familiar with the situation came about as the result of a “financial disagreement.”

Her departure takes place as speculation rises that 21st Century Fox, the network’s parent, is eager to distance the outlet from the culture instilled there by Ailes. Van Susteren was one of several Fox News anchors who initially rose to Ailes’ defense, noting that she had not encountered any sort of sexual harassment while working at the outlet. “Let’s first get something straight: I did not sexually harass anyone (of course.). And second, I did not know about any sexual harassment and keep it secret (of course.),” she said on her Fox News blog, “Gretawire,” in August.

A Fox News report stated that Van Susteren had asked to renegotiate her contract with the network in the wake of Ailes’ departure. Some on-air staffers have a “key man” clause that tied their employment with the network to Ailes’ tenure there. Van Susteren’s departure creates the first bog programming challenge for Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy, the network’s new co-presidents, who were elevated to those roles after Ailes left. During Ailes’ tenure, Fox News rarely made big shifts in its prime-time lineup. One of the few involved launching Megyn Kelly at 9 p.m. in 2013.

Van Susteren rose to prominence as a criminal defense attorney and civil trial lawyer who parlayed appearances as a legal analyst on CNN during the infamous trial of former football player and actor O.J. Simpson into a hosting stint. Van Susteren co-hosted the show “Burden of Proof” with Roger Cossack between 1995 and 2001. She also anchored a prime-time program, “The Point,” on CNN starting in 2001.

She joined Fox News Channel in 2002, and began anchoring “On The Record.” In 2013, her Washington, D.C., based prime-time program was moved to 7 p.m. in the wake of a prime-time shuffle that welcomed the launch of Megyn Kelly’s program in Van Susteren’s original time slot. She held forth there ever since, until Tuesday’s announcement.

“We are grateful for Greta’s many contributions over the years and wish her continued success,” Abernethy and Shine said in a prepared statement.

Hume is expected to focus on political coverage through November and the end of the current race for U.S. President. Hume previously served as the anchor of “Special Report,” and stepped down in December 2008 after more than 10 years anchoring the program. Hume also served as the Washington managing editor and was responsible for overseeing news content for Fox News’ Washington bureau. He anchored all network coverage for every presidential election from 1996 to 2008. Before joining FOX News in 1996, Hume was with ABC News for 23 years, serving as chief White House correspondent from 1989 through 1996.

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.