Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit yesterday blindsided Fox News, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, who described yesterday’s filing as a “scorched earth” move. Carlson, who had been with Fox News Channel for about 11 years, was offered a severance agreement when she was informed the news operation was not renewing her contract which ended June 23. And Fox News left Carlson’s name on the Real Story program, and kept her promotional material on the Fox News Channel website, social media, etc., until the severance agreement could be finalized, having been told Carlson would get back to them on Wednesday when she returned from vacation, the source said.
But, when Carlson did return, she went “scorched earth,” the insider said in describing Wednesday’s surprise when Carlson filed her lawsuit, claiming she was let go after rebuffing Ailes’ sexual advances.
This may help explain why reporters covering yesterday’s filing of her sexual harassment suit against Fox News chief Roger Ailes marveled as they watched Carlson’s tweets about her exit show up on Fox News platforms early in the day and, later, Carlson’s online presence being scrubbed from Fox News pages.
Meanwhile, Carlson’s attorneys this morning issued a statement blasting as “demonstrably false” Roger Ailes’ claims Carlson’s contract was not renewed owing to disappointing ratings. In a statement, Nancy Erika Smith and Martin Hyman said, “The publicly available ratings confirm the allegation in the Complaint that at the time of her termination Gretchen’s total viewership was up 33% year to date and up 23% in the key demographic,” they said.
Those percentages reflect the increase in her show’s household ratings. Among 25-54 year old viewers, which is the metric cable news networks use in ad sales, Carlson’s show was up 17% for Q2 compared to same quarter last year, according to Nielsen. As pundits have been pointing out all day in their coverage of the suit, most cable news programs are experiencing growth this year compared to last, owing to a particularly zipping election cycle that has reality-TV star Donald Trump the presumed GOP nominee and Hillary Clinton the presumed Dem nom. Fox News has noted, Carlson’s show fell behind CNN in the news-demo in June, and was on track to do same for the current quarter.
“After her firing from Fox and Friends for complaining about discrimination, Gretchen was moved to a challenging time slot and denied support and promotion. Despite this, she succeeded and was the number one cable news show in her time slot in total viewers,” Carlson’s lawyers said of their client’s 2 PM ET timeslot, which is the berth from which Megyn Kelly was catapulted to primetime stardom.
In a statement yesterday, Ailes said Carlson’s contract was not renewed owing to disappointing ratings that were dragging down the network’s afternoon lineup. He described yesterday’s move as “a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract,” adding that the “defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”
Carlson’s attorneys responded directly to that in their statement today, saying, “Regarding Ailes’ claims that Gretchen’s allegations are false, we challenge him to deny, under oath, that he made the statements attributed to him in the Complaint.”
Carlson’s attorneys added: “Finally, Ailes does not allow his employees to speak to the press or publish anything without prior approval. Gretchen was chastised for answering a question from a hometown newspaper about her favorite Minnesota State Fair food. in her book Gretchen told her story while trying to keep her job — knowing that Ailes had to approve what she said.”
Carlson said in her suit she was demoted when she was taken off FNC’s morning show Fox & Friends. But the source says her solo-host program in its daytime slot, with her name in the title, her choice of EP, and a full staff is not a demotion, weekends and overnights being the pastures to which demoted show hosts are sent in the cable news biz.
Typically, show hosts are approached to begin renewal talks about 3-6 months before a contract is set to terminate, if renewal is the goal – sometimes even sooner, depending on who is the on-air talent involved. Fox News would have started the negotiations, per terms of its pact with her. Between March 23 and May 13, according to the source with knowledge of the situation, it would have had exclusive negotiating rights, during which Carlson could not have approached other networks. On May 14, she could have begun shopping herself in the marketplace and, upon receiving an offer, could have asked Fox News if it wanted to match.
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