Yesterday, the CJR published a profile I wrote about Gretchen Carlson. She’s the former Fox News host who has found a new role as a #MeToo hero in the wake of her lawsuit against Roger Ailes.
The story was one that was assigned by the Huffington Post. I was excited. I was one degree from Gretchen in so many ways. A local TV anchor is her friend. Another woman I know, has hung out at her house! I began working on the story and while in the middle of writing a draft, my editor was laid off. I was assured the outlet still wanted the story. So I sent in the draft to a new editor, who had me go through some revisions. Then, he called me one day, during what ended up being a kind of shitty trip to DC (well not entirely shitty, but okay, kind of shitty) and told me the story was dead. They didn’t want it. There were a lot of reasons. None of which I’m going to list here, because honestly, I didn’t really understand them. But the editor is a good editor and does amazing work. And I didn’t understand the reasons because I wasn’t really listening. I had already spent the day crying in a strange city from one sort of rejection. So, I just said, “okay thank you.” And we hung up. And then I cried again because of another rejection.
But writing rejections aren’t personal. They are business. And I may not be able to personal rejection real well, but business? Bitch, I got that. Maybe it was good, I got the writing rejection. Because it gave me something else to focus on. I hope my therapist doesn’t read this, because she’d just roll her eyes and be like stop using work to hide your emotions. And I’d be like, EXCUSE ME, IT’S THE ONLY UPSIDE OF CAPITALISM. So, I texted my friend Kerry and we got to work, trying to find a new place for the story. Of course, the CJR was into it. But I kept fussing over the draft. Trying to get it right. Trying to fill the analytical holes. And talk to everyone who would talk to me. It still doesn’t feel right. And I think it’s because the story is still unfolding. The Miss America Organization is crumbling from the inside out. Miss USA is wiping the floor with them in ratings. I heard from multiple sources that volunteers are deflecting to the Miss USA pageant. States are outraged. Beauty queens up in arms. Miss America means something to them and it’s getting destroyed by the person who they think should be their ally.
It was a hard one to write, because Gretchen Carlson is so much like so many of the women I know in the Midwest. I wanted to be fair. But I also wanted to be honest. About her past advocating against LGBTQ rights and promoting Birtherism in America. Too often the most toxic ideas get spread with a head toss and a smile. And I don’t think change, real change can happen, until you face the truth. I don’t think we face truth real well.
(Gretchen Carlson on homecoming court. From her yearbook. 1984.)
While writing this story, I read James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name and copied out this passage: “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long possessed that he is set free - he has set himself free - for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”
(Miss Teen Minnesota, 1984)
Once when fussing over the draft, a friend asked me, “What is it that bothers you? What aren’t you saying?” And I realized it was that, what Baldwin said. That we want change, but we aren’t willing to actually change. We aren’t willing to burn down the institutions that shore up power and privilege. We want to be heralded as change makers, but comfortably, without giving up anything.
That said, Carlson gave up a lot when she brought the lawsuit against Ailes. She didn’t know she would win. She had no idea that the powers at Fox were looking for a reason to push him out and she gave them a reason in a 72 page lawsuit.
One time, I publicly outed an abuser. ONE TIME. And it was horrible. People are still horrible about it. I was at a literary festival back in April, and someone made it a point to let me know they were friends with the man who was a shit bag to me and then when I said, “You have bad taste in friends.” The person said, “You should stay away from him.” To which I replied, “He should stay the fuck away from me and everyone I know.” And I smiled. Then, she smiled. And I smiled some more until she walked away. This is dust compared to what Carlson dealt with.
The idea that women, any woman, takes a stand against her abuser for fun and profit is an idiot.
(Michele Bachmann, Carlson’s babysitter! In her sophomore year in high school. About 1972.)
So how do you hold two things in your hand? How do you reconcile a career of undermining the rights of others and career of advocating for the rights of others, in the same person?
Isn’t that the American question?
(Michele Bachmann, front and center. I think this is 1974. Don’t hold me too it.)
I am not sure how you do it exactly. But it doesn’t involve forgetting the bad stuff. There has to be reconciliation.
Carlson refused to work with me on the story because I was writing about Miss America. At one point, her PR person told my editor that I was very good at digging up sources, but that I needed to leave Carlson alone. I counted that as a back handed compliment.