And her ongoing fight against NDAs
After the publication of Ronan Farrow’s explosive Catch and Kill, NBC announced it would release former employees from non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) if they want to speak out about sexual misconduct. Almost immediately after, Gretchen Carlson led the charge in urging Fox to do the same. The longtime former host of Fox & Friends, Gretchen was the first woman at Fox News to publicly file a lawsuit accusing the late Roger Ailes of sexual harassment — and has been barred from talking about what happened to her due to a settlement agreement.
We spoke with Gretchen about her fight to eradicate NDAs, and what it’s been like to be portrayed on screen by Nicole Kidman in the upcoming movie Bombshell and Naomi Watts in the Showtime series The Loudest Voice.
Katie Couric: Gretchen, we’re so glad to speak with you today, especially in light of what’s been in the news lately with NDAs. As you know, NBC recently announced it would allow former staffers to be released from their NDAs — and you’ve spoken out in favor of Fox doing the same. So what exactly would you like to see happen?
Gretchen Carlson: Release all of the women who have been forced into these secret settlements and secret NDAs. Give them back the voice that they deserve. Over the last three years since my case broke, so much has transformed and happened. Requesting to not sign an NDA back then was really not an option — because that was how these deals were done. If you entered into a settlement agreement, then you couldn’t talk about it, unfortunately. That’s the way our culture and society has been solving this issue for quite some time, along with arbitration clauses, which is the other secret chamber. I’m spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill trying to change laws on that.
With this cultural revolution that’s happened as a result of all of these women coming forward and the #MeToo movement, people are taking a much closer look at NDAs and why we force women into silence. New Jersey has passed a law that you can’t force women facing sexual harassment in the workplace to sign NDAs in their state anymore. They were the trailblazer with regard to that. I’m fighting for federal legislation with regard to arbitration clauses on the Hill, and feel very optimistic about that.
But when those of us at Fox saw what happened with NBC and on The Rachel Maddow Show that Friday night, we were immediately speaking about it on Saturday morning. Look, this is part of the movement. This is part of what’s happening right now. It’s a cultural revolution and reckoning, and women’s voices need to be heard.
And how do NDAs affect women’s abilities to achieve equality in the workplace? How do these hold women back from fully reaching their potential?
Because people can continue to go out and say things about you and you can’t respond. They can deny claims, they can make up things about you. It’s like you’re handcuffed and muzzled. But sexual harassment in the workplace has a lot of parallels to inequality for women in general in the workplace. Until we pay women fairly and put them more in C-suite positions and in the boardroom, we’re going to continue to have the harassment problem. It’s a vicious cycle. They’re both related to each other.
We understand that because of your NDA, you cannot comment on the upcoming film Bombshell. But obviously, we’ve all seen clips of it, and you are being portrayed by none other than Nicole Kidman — and that’s after you were recently portrayed by Naomi Watts as well. So, plot aside, are you able to say what it’s been like to see yourself portrayed by these women?
It’s amazing and surreal, and I never thought it would happen. When I filed my lawsuit three years ago, this was the furthest thing from my mind. They’re both amazing actresses. I have great respect for both of them. I know that they have both put in a tremendous amount of research to play my character — because I can’t tell them anything about it. I know they’ve read my books and they’ve probably studied videotapes. But, you know, they’re also handcuffed [by the NDA]. It does a disservice to them, because they don’t have the ability to truly get to know me and what happened.
I will forever be grateful to Naomi Watts, who I just happened to see again the other night at The Morning Show premiere. We’ve become friends since she played me in The Loudest Voice. I couldn’t contribute to any of that. But I met her at the show’s premiere in June and we become friends — because she did so much research on me that she knows me. It was almost an immediate connection. She put out this Instagram post over this summer that really, really, really touched me. She called out my bravery and it meant a lot to me.
So I think they would be able to play the roles probably even better if I didn’t have an NDA. While that’s frustrating, the bigger picture here is that these projects continue the dialog about this issue, and that is incredibly important. Even bigger picture is if these projects encourage other women and men to come forward, then that’s fantastic, because that’s what this is all about right now.
Speaking of ‘The Morning Show,’ what are your thoughts on the series and how did it feel watching a fictional morning show playing out on the big screen?
First of all, I didn’t realize that it was so centered on sexual harassment. The trailers didn’t really give that part of it away. And so, it was a surreal experience. It’s sometimes painful for me to watch even a fictional version that has nothing to do with me, because I can empathize with all those women. I know what that feels like. You have like this instant connection with other women who have gone through this — and unfortunately, it’s almost every woman. That’s why we need to fix this. And I thought it was incredibly compelling. We saw the first two episodes. Obviously, the acting is amazing between Steve Carrell, Jennifer Aniston, and Reese Witherspoon.
On another note, you have had two Lifetime documentaries come out in recent weeks and one is a look at the cult NXIVM. What compelled you to explore that topic?
There were a lot of parallels with that and my fight to make the world better for women. Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter was ensconced in this cult, and it was really her personal victory in battle to take down the cult and set her daughter free. There were a lot of parallels between what I did in my life three years ago — feeling like I was going up against a giant all alone — and what Catherine did. In both cases, women were suffering and she was able — along with the help of others — to bring down this cult.
And then you also covered the college admissions scandal. So what did what did you take away from looking at that scandal?
America has been fascinated with this story of privilege and trying to figure out why these parents would do this. How I sum it up is that as parents, we often say that we would do anything for our children — and we would. But there’s that fine line when you cross over and actually do something criminal. And there are consequences for that. Education is supposed to be the great equalizer for all of us. Yet there seems to be so many loopholes, and it’s just unfair for most Americans. So I wanted to get to the bottom of it.
Gretchen, you are so busy working on so many different things. What’s next for you in terms of your advocacy work, and also in terms of the long form journalism you’ve been doing?
I’m fighting to pass my legislation on the Hill. It’s the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act. It’s a bipartisan bill. I’m very optimistic that we may be moving forward to have it pass in the next couple of months. That would be, in my mind, the final part of the tipping point in this cultural revolution — because it would take away the secrecy for women in the workplace regarding harassment. As far as television, I’m in the process of pitching a ton of different show ideas. I am really looking forward to being back on TV in a big way. I’ve gained so much over the last three years, and I’ve had a great time doing more long-form documentaries rather than live TV on a daily basis.
Lastly, how has everything you’ve gone through the past few years changed your perspective on your career?
When I filed my lawsuit, to be honest with you, I didn’t know what the next day was going to bring. I have emerged three years later, stronger and victorious to a certain extent, on behalf of all women. I’m proud that so many other women have found the courage to come forward. I’ve gained more empathy for the human spirit from hearing all of these stories of the women that reached out to me.
Quite honestly, I didn’t realize this problem was so difficult to solve. I also didn’t realize it was a pervasive epidemic. But, you know, immediately when all these women started reaching out to me, I was like, “Oh my gosh. First of all, I’m not alone. And, secondarily, this is so sad because there are so many people who have experienced this.” I wanted to make the world better for all of them. But mostly, I’ve done this for my children. I have a 16-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. Really, we need to be focusing a lot on our sons. That’s a huge part of this equation.
So I’m doing all of this to make it better for our next generation. There’s much work to be done. But we’ve made incredible strides over the last three years, and I’m just proud to have been a part of it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This originally appeared on Medium.com