You may have read about the notorious firing of Roger Ailes last week. Most in media know Roger, but if you don’t, he was the founder of Fox News, and he ran it from a throne of unfettered power for the past twenty years. He wasn’t challenged by his boss Rupert Murdoch because he made gobs of money for Rupert–like billions. In early July, one of the female anchors for Fox News, Gretchen Carlson, came out publicly with a lawsuit against Roger for sexual harassment. His castle began crumbling the day after the suit was filed, as Rupert’s sons, who are now co-leaders of Fox, hired a law firm to investigate the claims. They turned up enough evidence that Roger quickly resigned.
I worked for Roger when he ran CNBC, before his Fox News stint. My boss had been terminated, so I reported directly to Roger. He was at the corporate office in Ft. Lee, NJ, and I ran a territory out of the Midwest office, so I didn’t interface with him too much. But when I came to Ft. Lee I’d drop by his office, and we’d talk. I told him I’d like to be considered for the national job my boss had just vacated. It turns out I lost to a good guy, David Zaslav, who now runs all of Discovery Networks. David and I have remained friends over the years.
In my book I told the story about losing this promotion to David, and how it’s always important to be a good sport in those situations. If you can keep your head up and are on right side of providence, something redeemable will come from such a loss. For me, it meant taking HGTV founder Ken Lowe’s call three months later, to become employee #2 for HGTV. That was pretty darn redeemable.
But maybe there’s another lesson here, one that keeps rolling through my head. What if I’d offered that job, and moved the Packard unit to Ft. Lee? Roger never made advances, but what if he had? The fall-out from his firing has pulled back the curtain to show many other women who were victims too. And the most recent reports revealed a woman who’d had a consensual relationship with him (PS did I say Roger has been married this whole time?) over the years, while she worked for him. When asked about it she said she feared him, and felt dependent upon him for her career. Then there’s a woman who was a Fox News lawyer, and who paid to hush money to victims.
How did we get to this place as women, feeling that to keep our jobs we had to relinquish our self-worth in the bargain? If I’d made that move to Ft. Lee and was subjected to his advances, I hope I would have been a fighter, like Gretchen. But at what cost? Ugly headlines, lawyers, and the whole mockery of Roger’s severance payout –$40+million. Ailes seems to be the only winner here.
I write this with a sad heart for all the other Gretchens out there. I may have dodged a bullet, yet every day women in every job, in every industry, are still battling.