In the wake of the Ailes resignation, we discuss workplace sexual harassment

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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, an update on the fallout at FOX News over allegations that its co-founder, Roger Ailes, sexually harassed women employees for years.

Ailes resigned in late July with a reported $40 million severance package, that after a lawsuit by former FOX anchor Gretchen Carlson alleged that her show was canceled because she’d rebuffed sexual advances from Ailes.

In the following weeks, a growing number of women, including prime-time anchor Megyn Kelly, reportedly came forward with similar stories of impropriety. Ailes has called Ms. Carlson’s accusations false. And an internal investigation by FOX’s parent company is still under way.

For a closer look, not only at this case, but at the wider matter of sexual harassment in the workplace, we turn to Sarah Ellison, a contributing editor at “Vanity Fair.” She recently reported on the Ailes allegations. And Shelley Ross, she’s a former network television news executive, best known for her 17-year tenure at ABC News. She recently wrote about her own professional experiences with Roger Ailes, and the news business at large, in The Daily Beast.

And we welcome both of you to the program.

And we should note at the outset, Roger Ailes back in the news today because of a New York Times report that he’s now advising Donald Trump’s campaign. And we should say the campaign denies that.

But, Sarah Ellison, I want to turn to you first.

What is the state of what is known about Roger Ailes’ alleged harassment of women at FOX News?

SARAH ELLISON, Vanity Fair: Well, we know — largely, what we know is what we have learned from our reporting, which is that the internal investigation that is ongoing that you referred to earlier has identified at least women in the double digits who have come forward and spoken to the internal investigation.

And we know that it was something that implicated Ailes certainly. There are people who have come out and told their stories, but there are people who have not yet come forward, and I think that we’re going to see more women, even more women come forward in the coming days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we should say that he’s denied any wrongdoing.

SARAH ELLISON: That’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He did reportedly receive this $40 million settlement when he left FOX. Does that mean he’s legally free and clear, whatever is discovered?

SARAH ELLISON: Well, no, I don’t know that any kind of a contractual arrangement could actually put someone legally free and clear from any kind of behavior.

I mean, one of the things that we know and that I reported last week was that there are — in the course of this — these discussions that have been going on with the internal investigation and also with the women who initially brought a lawsuit against Roger Ailes, Gretchen Carlson, is that there have been some settlement discussions that have begun.

And at issue in the settlement discussions are tapes that multiple women, including Gretchen Carlson, have made of their interactions with Roger Ailes. And the fact that those are now circulating, at least among the people who are discussing this possible settlement, just makes every bit of this a bit more explosive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Sarah Ellison, one more. Is there then the potential for more legal action against Roger Ailes?

SARAH ELLISON: Well, what we have seen in the press, we — again, he denies any kind of wrongdoing. But there are — beyond sexual harassment charges, there are sort of intimidation and bullying and leaking stories about people.

It’s not clear to me if he was using the company money to settle multiple lawsuits against multiple women and not disclosing that. I don’t know at what point that reaches the level that corporate governance experts or FEC people would be interested in, or at what point any of this becomes actually criminal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And which is a question we can’t know the answer to at this point.

Shelley Ross, let me turn to you now. You did write that you have known Roger Ailes for — since the beginning of your career, practically. You wrote of meeting him over lunch. He made — proposed what you described as a sexual alliance as you were going to work for him.

Your lawyer contacted his lawyers. He then apologized. You did work with him. You have since stayed in touch with him over the years.

But you go on to say — in this article you wrote in The Daily Beast, you said, “Sexual harassment in network television is pervasive.”

How pervasive is it?

SHELLEY ROSS, Former Network News Executive: It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere I worked. And it has many levels, many faces. Being thrown into a swimming pool on a company picnic is sexual harassment. It’s an act of hostility.

I was the one at ABC, I was the producer doing the very first stories on sexual harassment around the time of Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas. And my boss presented me with a birthday cake with a phallus on it.

It’s a hostile environment. I know executive producers who turn to their young girls on their staff, and, “I haven’t had my morning hug.”

I was once — as I was leaving ABC, I had a correspondent grab me and grab my behind and said to me, “I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss.”

And I stepped back and said, “No, you can’t.”

It’s pretty ugly. It’s — the reason I wrote this piece in The Daily Beast is that we have got to stop, we have got the end harassment now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Shelley Ross, let me just stop you there. Do you think it’s worse in the news business than it is across the board for women?

SHELLEY ROSS: No, I don’t think it’s any different.

It’s just you think, since we report on it, that our colleagues should know better, that they should be a little more elevated. And they’re not.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And do you — no, go ahead. What were you going to say?

SHELLEY ROSS: It’s men and women. I have had a lot of men and former male colleagues reach out to me since I wrote The Daily Beast article to tell me things have happened to them years ago. And they sound as scarred as women in the workplace.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you do go on, Shelley Ross, to write about what you think needs to be done, that there just needs to be more candor. Explain what you’re talking about.

SHELLEY ROSS: Well, I think, even at FOX — I think FOX has the opportunity — now that Bill Shine, who was Roger Ailes’ number two, has become president, I think — everybody thinks he’s a really good guy and he’s very popular. But he has an opportunity to become a hero.

He could say, I want FOX News to become the safest place in the world for men and women. I think there has to be public airings. What usually happens, which happened at FOX for 20 years, is a woman is sexually harassed. Where do they go? They go to human resources.

Human resources is working for the corporation. They don’t want a lawsuit. So, there is a settlement. There’s hush money paid. And there’s a nondisclosure. So, everything is swept under the carpet. And it goes on and on and on.

And I say we need something akin to the Truth and Reconciliation hearings after apartheid in 1974. Nelson…

JUDY WOODRUFF: In South Africa?

SHELLEY ROSS: Yes.

Nelson Mandela had a great idea to say, come forward, clear the air, without any retribution, and we can all move forward safely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me turn to Sarah Ellison.

Having written as much as you have about what happened at FOX, and I know you’re familiar with other news organizations, whether it’s something exactly like what Shelley Ross describes or something akin to that, what do you see as a real potential solution here, or is there one?

SARAH ELLISON: Well, I mean, I can tell you what is happening at FOX News, and — with the internal investigation that is ongoing.

And that is that someone very close to that said to me, this is not a therapy session for the women involved. This is a law firm that has been hired to give legal advice to 21st Century Fox.

So, I don’t want to — I think that what Shelley is proposing is quite interesting. And there has been some lip service paid to the notion that they want to create a very safe place to work, but it’s — you look at how pervasive this is in something like television, and where people are invited to comment in the newsroom on how someone looks on air, and people are constantly talking about appearance and weight and hair and makeup.

I mean, I think it’s a very difficult environment. I can tell you only what I’m seeing unfold so far, and it’s not that promising.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we — this is a subject that’s much, much bigger than what we have time for tonight. But we thank both of you for certainly giving us something to think about.

SARAH ELLISON: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Shelley Ross and Sarah Ellison, we thank you.

SHELLEY ROSS: Thank you.

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