Gretchen Carlson’s new two-hour Lifetime documentary, “Gretchen Carlson: Breaking the Silence,” focuses not on her $20 million settlement in 2016 against the late Roger Ailes and Fox News, but on the everyday occurrences of sexual harassment that American women experience in the workplace.
The A+E Originals-produced special, which airs Monday at 8 p.m., examines several allegations of misconduct and retaliation, including those from a fire battalion chief and a former nurse’s aide. Under particular scrutiny is the fast-food industry, specifically McDonald’s.
“We wanted to showcase that part of the population, whether it be waitresses or people who work minimum wage jobs anywhere else,” Carlson told Variety, “because they tend to be on the lower end of the spectrum where they really, truly can’t afford to come forward.”
She sees commonalities between their cases and hers. The former Fox News host, a high-profile voice in the #MeToo movement, said that experiencing sexual harassment provides an “immediate connection with people who have gone through something similar, and it doesn’t matter where you come from, doesn’t matter what job you have, doesn’t matter what your income is.”
Calling the issue a “pervasive epidemic,” Carlson is looking for policy changes on both the corporate and legislative levels. Starting with corporations will have “the greatest impact,” she said, and is currently backing a bipartisan bill to end forced arbitration in the workplace, which she says silences victims of sexual harassment.
“This issue is apolitical,” said Carlson. “People don’t ask you before they harass you what party you’re in. And we’ve seen titans from both sides fall. You can’t pick who you want to believe and who you don’t based on your politics.”
Men are a necessary part of the solution, in her view, to witness and report cases of harassment as well as to boost women in the workplace.
“That’s why we need men in this equation: to promote more women, pay them fairly, put them in the boardroom, etc., which is a huge part of this issue,” said Carlson. “When you have more women in high positions, this kind of thing doesn’t happen.”
As for the upcoming Lionsgate and Showtime projects on Ailes’ downfall in the works, Carlson said that her settlement prevents her from participating in any of those projects, but has expressed frustration about her portrayal. Nicole Kidman has been tapped to play Carlson in the Lionsgate film; Naomi Watts will play her in the Showtime limited series based on the Gabriel Sherman book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room.”
In a now-deleted tweet from Dec. 10, Carlson remarked that the Lionsgate “script I’ve seen makes other people out to be heroes unjustifiably. Hard to see your own story faked.”
“It’s just frustrating when you can’t say, ‘Well no, that’s not exactly how that happened,'” she told Variety, adding that she is a fan of both actors. “And because it’s such a sensitive issue, and because there was so much pain and emotion and courage involved in it, you just want to make sure that it’s right. So I’m very hopeful that both projects will be accurate.”
So will she watch either the film or the TV series, once they’re released?
“Sure,” she said. “When I’m not driving my kids around.”