CNN'S Alisyn Camerota on Being Sexually Harassed by Roger Ailes and Explaining It to Her Kids | Working Mother

CNN'S Alisyn Camerota on Being Sexually Harassed by Roger Ailes and Explaining It to Her Kids

The anchor found her voice facing down powerful bullies. Now she’s sharing her story.

While most moms talk about social media with their tweens, morning-newswoman Alisyn Camerota’s chats start in a way few parents’ do: with Donald Trump insulting her online. “New Day on CNN treats me very badly. @AlisynCamerota is a disaster. Not going to watch anymore,” he tweeted in 2016. “I was in the bathroom washing my face when my daughter came in and said, ‘Mom, bad news.” The tweet had been shared more than a thousand times.

Alisyn’s view on the situation isn’t quite as dire. “I just read the tweet and went on with my day, but in my kids’ world, how many times something has been shared is a currency that’s important to them. My daughter feared that it was going to have that ripple effect.”

That kind of consequence can freak out a child. But Alisyn, mom to twin girls Francesca and Alessandra, 12, and 10-year-old son, Nathaniel, knows how to talk them down. “It’s not reality,” she reminds them and tells them not to worry. “We still have our friends, neighbors and family, and we can’t put much stock in what’s happening in the ether.”

Twitter’s toxic environment prompted once-active Alisyn to quit in July, even though her New Day co-host, Chris Cuomo, remains engaged on the platform. “My kids asked me why I left, and I said, ‘Because I didn’t think it was helping anything.” She invited them to read the “breakup letter” she wrote, which was posted to cnn.com. “They went over to our shared iPad and sat at the kitchen table. My daughter said, ‘Mom, this is great.’ I’ve always known my kids are interested in my career choices. They offer insight on how I should approach things.”

Alisyn Camerota at home

“The message for all of us— adults and my kids—is that silence is rarely the answer, and communication can bring some light to the situation.”

Photo: Tina Rupp

The kids were just as interested when Alisyn made a statement this past April: that during her 16 years at Fox News, Roger Ailes, the network’s former president, had sexually harassed her. One incident: When she was starting out at Fox, she asked for bigger opportunities on the job, and his alleged response was that it might require them getting to know each other better away from the office, in a hotel. She says he added, “Do you know what I’m saying?” (He died less than a month after she opened up about it, but not before denying through an attorney that he had inappropriate conversations with Alisyn.) Again, once her kids were looped in, they gave their brave mom “such a nice response.”

We talked to Alisyn at her Connecticut home about these tough conversations, her unorthodox schedule and her recently released novel, Amanda Wakes Up, based on her topsy-turvy time as a female anchor at Fox News.

Meredith: How did you tell your kids what Roger Ailes had done to you?
Alisyn: They always knew I had challenges with Roger, which went way beyond the instances of sexual harassment, like how I didn’t think his editorial control was reflective of true journalism. When I decided to talk about it publicly, my daughter happened to be in the room when the interview was airing, so we watched it. My girls were so cute. They just threw their arms around me and started hugging me and saying, “Mom, we’re so proud of you.” It’s so adorable and touching to me that they have that in them already.

M: What was your son’s reaction?
A: I overheard him telling his best friend, “My mom’s boss touched her butt.” I had to say, “No, he didn’t, that’s not the story.” I don’t think he understood the nuances of sexual harassment at the time; he thought a butt must be involved. I had to clarify for him. He understands now.

M: What do you hope your children take away from you talking about your experience so publicly—and from talking to them about it?
A: I’m hoping to model that behavior of, “Let’s talk about things, even challenging, uncomfortable or unpleasant things.” It’s working at the moment. The message for all of us—adults and my kids—is that silence is rarely the answer, and communication can bring some light to the situation. I’m happy to say they’re asking me sensitive questions, and I’m trying to answer the best way I can. When something has happened in their world, my kids have shared it with me, even when they were sworn to secrecy. When someone, for instance, has called someone a name at school, they’ve come home and told me, even though there’s a code among the kids that they’re not going to talk about it.

Alisyn Camerota

“I’m always extremely touched by my children’s compassion and wisdom,” Alisyn says of her tweens.

Photo: Tina Rupp

M: How do your kids react to President Trump calling CNN fake news?
A: My kids are very involved and interested in my career and in journalism. They ask lots of questions about my job and think about their own future jobs and choices. They would never think that what I’m doing is not real or important. They’ve always known how significant it is. But they have heard that CNN has been under siege in the current climate, and they are concerned.

M: I’m sure the video of Trump punching out a CNN logo in a wrestling ring didn’t help.
A: My kids’ social-media and online access is pretty controlled by us, so they don’t get to watch a lot of viral videos. I’m old-fashioned; I like real human interaction. I still like the telephone, meeting people for lunch and talking over dinner. I worry about my kids’ cyber futures, particularly in the love-life department. It seems their generation meets online instead of the way we did. I know I’m fighting a current, but I’m trying to prolong their interactions with people for as long as possible. It’s important to be able to speak directly to people, have real conflict and resolve it.

It took three years and four rounds of IVF to conceive her twin daughters. “I had been told a million times that it would take a lot of medical intervention to have another child,” says Alisyn. When the girls were toddlers, Alisyn was out celebrating her birthday. Her friends noticed she was having trouble zipping up her pants. “I made my husband take me for an emergency doctor’s visit for strange abdominal distention. I was sure something horrible was amiss. Then, the doctor screamed: ‘Oh my God! There’s a big baby in here!’” Alisyn learned she was 16 weeks pregnant with her son, Nathaniel.

M: There’s real conflict between your book’s main character, Amanda Gallo, a TV journalist, and her Roger Ailes–type boss. How should women handle it when they disagree with the direction their company is going?
A: I’m always perplexed by people who think they should just quit. The advice to walk out with your head held high is great in the movies, but most people I know need to pay their bills. So you have to find an exit strategy and, while you’re there, try to make it work. I believe in communicating with the boss and airing your grievances.

Roger was famously opinionated, and it was his way or the highway. I found that challenging. It helped me to assign these challenges to my fictional character, Amanda, and let her figure it out. I also felt driven to write this book because I was facing ethical challenges during the 2012 election when candidates would come on and say things that weren’t fact-based. Writing it down helped me to collect my thoughts. But I was a weekend anchor then, working just three days a week. I think it would have been impossible to write a book if I’d had a demanding, five-day-a-week work schedule.

Amanda Wakes Up

Amanda Wakes Up (Viking, July 2017), $17; amazon.com

The inspiration for main character Amanda’s best friend Laurie is one of Alisyn’s real-life BFFs, fellow mom Maria Villalobos, a California-based TV producer. The two met at America’s Most Wanted in the ’90s. “She always delivers,” Alisyn says. Even on the day of this photo shoot, Maria was there (early) and gave Alisyn her shirt to wear! In the book, Laurie works on a competing network. “When I show up on a breaking news story, I see ABC, NBC, CBS—we’re all in it together. People think we’re archrivals, but we’re friends.”

Photo: Viking

M: Do you want your children to read your book?
A: It has some language and scenes that would be inappropriate for them, but I think that by the time they’re teenagers they can handle it. They’ve asked me; they can’t wait to read it.

They watched me writing and rewriting for years and told me not to quit when I got frustrated. They loved the cover instantly and told me to go with it. They have title suggestions for the sequel. One is Amanda Takes a Nap.

M: Do you think Amanda will become a mother in a sequel?
A: It’s funny you say that. I don’t remember if Amanda was a mom in my draft, but originally she was married. My husband said, “Oh, don’t make her married. That’s so boring,” which I thought was hilarious. The minute he said it, I knew he was right. When you don’t know how work is going to affect your love life, if your boyfriend doesn’t agree with your work mandate and the hours are too demanding, that drama is juicier. Part of this book is about the challenges of journalism, and part of this book is about balancing your personal and work life. Maybe someday I’ll write about how to balance being a mother with having a job in journalism.

ALISYN'S DAILY GRIND

3:00 AM: Wakes up.

3:30 AM: Leaves Connecticut.

5:00 AM: In the hair-and-makeup chair in Manhattan.

Alisyn Camerota

Alisyn getting prepped to go on air.

Courtesy of Alisyn Camerota

6:00 AM to 9:00 AM: On air.

12:00 PM: Leaves office.

1:00 PM: Arrives home. "Afternoon naps are my friend."

8:00 PM: In bed.

All three of my kids come into my room, kiss me goodnight and tuck me in. My husband puts them to bed between 9 and 9:30.


 
 

From our October/November 2017 issue.

October/November Cover

Working Mother October/November 2017

Photo: Tina Rupp

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