Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson advocates women’s empowerment at Danbury event
Updated 11:13 am, Friday, April 21, 2017
DANBURY — Gretchen Carlson, the woman who kicked off the sexual harassment investigations at Fox News that brought down former Chairman Roger Ailes and set the stage for Bill O’Reilly’s ouster, spoke about women’s empowerment Thursday to an enthusiastic crowd.
Carlson became a national face of sexual harassment in the workplace last year after her Fox News contract expired in June and she followed up with a July lawsuit that accused Ailes of repeatedly propositioning her for sex when he was her boss.
“I didn’t expect not to be working television anymore, but here I am,” Carlson said after telling the crowd what she could about her network departure and lawsuit. “I didn’t expect to be the face of sexual harassment, but the one constant is what I wear on my wrist every day, which is my life motto and that is carpe diem and that means seize the day.”
It was the seventh annual event, and women far outnumbered men in the audience, but annual attendees noted more men attended this year than in the past.
21st Century Fox payouts:
$40 million Roger Ailes severance
$25 million Bill O’Reilly expected severance
$20 million Gretchen Carlson legal settlement
$13 million Fox and O’Reilly settlements with five women
Fox News Timeline:
June 23: Fox News Channel anchor Carlson leaves Fox after 11 years
July 6: Carlson files a lawsuit against Roger Ailes
July 21: Ailes is ousted, given $40 million severance
Sept. 6: Carlson and Fox reportedly reach $20 million settlement. Greta Van Susteren announces she is leaving Fox
Jan. 3: Megyn Kelly leaves Fox News, joins NBC
April 1: The New York Times reports O’Reilly and Fox paid $13 million in settlements to five women who said the anchor sexually harassed them.
April 19: O’Reilly is ousted by Fox News
Bill O’Reilly’s name was rarely mentioned during the hourlong discussion, but when Palm referenced his ouster the audiance erupted in applause. Through her publicist, Carlson declined to address O’Reilly’s departure, but pointed to a statement made Wednesday evening:
“The only way to end harassment is to shine a light on it,” Carlson tweeted. “Ask Congress to pass the Fairness in Arbitration Act. No more silencing women!”
In the crowd were Danbury business leaders, youth advocates, members of the General Assembly, young women and Miss America contestants with their sashes including Miss Connecticut, Miss Wolcott and Miss Bristol.
Before the discussion, female business leaders said the timing of the talk couldn’t have been better.
“It's really a kind of bullying,” said Marie Miszewski, CEO of the Western Connecticut YMCA. ”There are lots of conversations that need to be had and sexual harassment is one of them.”
Maura Ruby, Danbury Fair mall senior property manager, agreed.
“We’re glad this discussion is happening in Danbury,” she said. State Senator Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, echoed the two before she left the event.
“This was really, really inspiring,” Boucher said referencing the three speakers’ mantra of “Speak up, speak out and be heard.”
Through the discussion, the audience shuddered as the three spoke of foreboding statistics on pay inequality, the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace — one-third of women face it, Palm said, and 70 percent of them don’t report it. When talk from the stage veered to empowerment, the audience applauded and gave two standing ovations.
“One of the things I have found out from my journey over the past nine months is that in 2017, unfortunately every woman still has a story and we need to change that,” Carlson said. “That is amazingly wrong and one of the gratifying things that happened to me after my life unfolded was that I started hearing from women all across the nation.
“Almost every career women shared with me their stories for the very first time because they knew they could feel comfortable,” she said. “Because they knew that I could understand. The sad thing to me was, in so many of these cases, they had never told anyone else because of the shame and the pain that comes with this topic.”
Politics was a point of discussion Thursday night, with the three women urging their peers to be involved in the political process, such as running for office and testifying to the General Assembly.
Carlson asked the audience to support her push to federally outlaw arbitration clauses in contracts, which often make it illegal to go public with harassment claims, she said.
Thursday, Carlson said she was an independent.
Leading a talent exodus
Carlson’s lawsuit claims she recorded Ailes saying, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”
Ailes was ousted July 21 with a $40 million parachute from the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox. Carlson reportedly got $20 million in a settlement with the network in September.
A female talent exodus followed as more harassment claims surfaced. Popular anchors Greta Van Susteren and Megyn Kelly departed. Even as Fox apologized to Carlson as part of the settlement, Van Susteren in a Facebook announcement said “Fox has not felt like home to me for a few years and I took advantage of the clause in my contract which allows me to leave now.”
Then a damning New York Times article this month reported several women had accused veteran Fox host O’Reilly, 67, of sexually harassing them and sabotaging their careers when they declined his overtures.
O’Reilly and Fox reportedly settled with five women, paying a total of $13 million to them. Advertisers quickly left his show.
By Wednesday, O’Reilly, who had been on vacation, was out at Fox News. His “The O’Reilly Factor” program was renamed simply “The Factor,” as anchors were shuffled and posters for Fox’s most profitable anchor were covered.
O’Reilly has denied the allegations. Reports Thursday said Fox will give him $25 million as part of a separation agreement. Ailes has denied accusations against him, too.