Gretchen Carlson speaks at Stony Brook University

Gretchen Carlson speaks at Stony Brook University

Gretchen Carlson. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Hundreds came out to hear a former TV anchor at the forefront of the #MeToo movement at Stony Brook University April 17.

Gretchen Carlson, the television anchor who forced Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes of Fox News to resign in July 2016, helped create the backdrop for the #MeToo movement. As the most recent in the “My Life As” speaker series offered by the School of Journalism at SBU, she described in graphic detail how she came to play that role in what has been called “The Year of the Woman.”

Carlson filed her lawsuit July 6, 2016, alleging sexual harassment after being let go by Fox June 23of the same year. She described being harassed, and said Ailes “spoke openly of expecting women to perform sexual favors in exchange for job opportunities.” Subsequently, other women came forward to similarly accuse Ailes, and by Sept. 21, Century Fox, Fox News’ parent corporation, had settled the lawsuit for $20 million. More important than the money to Carlson was the public apology.

That is just the bottom line on the exceptional life of Carlson. Born and raised in Minnesota, she is the granddaughter of the pastor of what was then the second largest Lutheran congregation in the country. She too was used to being in the spotlight. A child prodigy, she was a violin soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra at age 13, was the valedictorian of her high school class and entered the Miss America pageant in 1989 at her mother’s suggestion and won. She was the first classical violinist to wear that crown. The money that came with the honor went toward her senior year’s tuition at Stanford University, from which she graduated with honors. She also managed to fit in a year of study at the University of Oxford in England, where she focused on the writings of Virginia Woolf.

She has, no doubt, healthy self-esteem. Interested in a career in broadcast journalism, she worked her way up the ladder as reporter and anchor from smaller to larger stations, reaching CBS in 2000. She became cohost of the Saturday edition of “The Early Show.” In 2005, Fox News made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, and she became cohost of the morning show “Fox and Friends.” Then, in 2013, came “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.”

Along the way, she was subjected to sexual harassment of varying degrees. She finally complained to Fox’s human resources department, and when her contract was up in 2016, she was let go. That was shortly after she repulsed the alleged sexual advances of Ailes, setting up her grounds for the lawsuit.

Since she lost her job and won the lawsuit, she has been working hard to stand up for other women who may be faced with similar circumstances. She has spoken to many groups across the country, mentioning a recent talk at an all-boys high school. Carlson ardently believes that sexual harassment is not just a women’s problem. She posits that it is a men’s problem, and that boys at a young age need to be taught by the men in their lives to respect — and how to act with — women. She is using money from her lawsuit toward foundation to give young women leadership training and call out their courage.

On Jan. 1, Carlson was elected chairwoman of the board of the Miss America Pageant. She said to expect some significant changes.

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