A fairer, more balanced Fox News

Gretchen Carlson, center, with attorneys Martin Hyman and Nancy Erika Smith, won a reported $20 million settlement and apology from Fox News.
Gretchen Carlson, center, with attorneys Martin Hyman and Nancy Erika Smith, won a reported $20 million settlement and apology from Fox News. The New York Times

It is unfortunate that a confidentiality agreement was part of Gretchen Carlson’s reported $20 million legal settlement with Fox News, where she spent more than 10 years as an anchor. It means that the public probably will never get details of the sexual harassment that appears to have characterized the tenure of the network’s now-former chairman, Roger Ailes.

Still, money talks, even if Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, doesn’t.

Ailes was given $40 million to leave the network in the wake of Carlson’s lawsuit this summer. At least two other women have reportedly settled with the network over complaints they made during an internal corporate investigation into Ailes’ behavior; on top of Carlson’s payout, that has to have been costly.

A few tens of millions of dollars here, a few there, and pretty soon you’re talking some real legal expenses. Even for a brand built on the disparagement of “politically correct” notions such as workplace bullying and sexual harassment, it appears there’s a limit to how much sexism a company can put up with.

And that threshold is shrinking. With any luck, that will be part of the message sent by Fox News in its new, post-Ailes incarnation – a message that, in many parts of the nation, still very much needs to be heard.

Bosses pressuring underlings for sexual favors is as old as work in this country, but despite a growing body of case law and legislation against it, it continues. A survey done last year by Cosmopolitan magazine of 2,235 working women found that one in three women under 35 had been sexually harassed at work.

Of those harassed, four in five had been verbally harassed. Four in 10 had dealt with touching and sexual advances. One in four had received lewd texts or emails. In more than a third of cases, male managers had done the harassing. In nearly half, the harassment had come from male customers or clients. Three-quarters also reported harassment from male co-workers.

Harassment had occurred in fields from food service to tech to health care, and being educated was no protection. Yet only about a third of the women reported the harassment, and of those, only 15 percent felt the way their report was handled was fair.

Carlson was far from Ailes’ only victim. Multiple women have come forward, with grievances that date back to the 1960s, at the beginning of Ailes’ career.

That Fox News allowed his bullying to go on for so long is beyond disgraceful, as is the extent that the network treated the Stanford-educated Carlson and most other female employees as brainless eye candy.

But this scandal does give the network a chance to disprove ongoing reports that Ailes was abetted by male managers who remain with the corporation. They can start with a fairer, more balanced, more respectful, perhaps even – dare we say it? – “politically correct” treatment of women, both off and on the air.