NEW YORK — For a long time Alisyn Camerota was reluctant to describe the dark side of working at Fox News.
She respects many of her former colleagues. She has close friends who work there. But she perceives that something has changed now that the channel’s CEO Roger Ailes and biggest star Bill O’Reilly have been ousted by the Murdoch family.
“It feels as though, if I take the Murdochs at their word, they really want to know what was wrong there and what the culture was like,” Camerota said.
And there was something profoundly wrong. In an interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Camerota said publicly for the first time that she was one of Ailes’ targets.
“Yes, Roger Ailes did sexually harass me,” Camerota said.
Other prominent Fox anchors and reporters have made similar charges. Ailes resigned under pressure last July after another longtime anchor, Gretchen Carlson, sued him and the Murdochs retained an outside law firm to investigate the allegations.
Another accuser, Fox contributor Julie Roginsky, filed suit against Ailes and Fox News earlier this month. Through his lawyers, Ailes has strongly denied all of the allegations.
On Sunday an attorney for Ailes, Susan Estrich, denied Camerota’s account.
“These are unsubstantiated and false allegations,” she said. “Mr Ailes never engaged in the inappropriate conversations she now claims occurred, and he vigorously denies this fictional account of her interactions with him and of Fox News editorial policy.”
Camerota worked at Fox for more than a decade as a reporter and weekend anchor, so she interacted with Ailes extensively. In 2014 she moved from Fox to CNN.
“Let me be clear,” she said in the interview. “Roger Ailes was — could be charming. He could be quite charismatic. He could be uproariously funny. He could also be a bit of a bully, and mean. And he also was often kind of grossly inappropriate with things that he would say, and I think that many of us experienced that. He would talk about body parts. He would say ‘Give me a spin.’ He would want to be greeted with a hug.”
“But the time that I remember most,” she said, “was when I was first starting out at Fox and I was single, and I remember Roger, being in Roger’s office, and I was saying that I wanted more opportunity. He said ‘Well, I would have to work with you. I would have to work with you on that case. I would have to work with you really closely, and it may require us getting to know each other better, and that might have to happen away from here, and it might have to happen at a hotel. Do you know what I’m saying?’ And I said ‘Yeah, I think I do know what you’re saying.'”
Camerota said she didn’t tell anyone at the time. “I was embarrassed, and it is sort of humiliating,” she said.
She knew she’d never go to that hotel with him, but she wondered if her career was over. She said she wondered, “Will I be fired if I don’t do this?”
After Camerota rebuffed Ailes’ advance, “he changed his MO” and bullied her about her presentation of the news.
“It was sort of emotional harassment,” she said. “Roger Ailes ruled with an iron fist, and he wanted us all to fall in line and have his world view and say the things that he wanted us to say on Fox News.”
Ailes, a longtime Republican operative, sometimes lectured and insulted Camerota “because he thought that I wasn’t reflecting the conservative agenda.”
She said she would push back, arguing that her job as a journalist was to present both conservative and liberal viewpoints. “He said ‘there is no other side.’ In Roger’s world view, there was no other side. Liberals were always wrong, conservatives were generally right, and that’s what he felt that we should be reflecting on the air.”
Toward the end of her time at Fox, Camerota recalled, “I started refusing to go to Roger’s office.”
Bill O’Reilly, who stands accused of harassment by other former Fox News staffers, never harassed Camerota, she said. When asked if the Ailes and O’Reilly resignations show that Fox was “rotten at its core,” Camerota said no, “there are tons of good people there. There are real journalists. They are trying to do their jobs.”
“I think that there was a lot of suffering in silence and people who felt humiliated and people who felt scared and people who felt intimidated,” she said, but now, she hopes, those people are feeling more free to address what was wrong about the culture.