Gretchen Carlson says opinion TV has "gone way too far to the left and the right" since her Fox News days, and the divide in America is something she wants to help change.
While promoting Unread Messages, a chat documentary about how people can use conversation to reunite the country, Carlson tells Yahoo Entertainment she believes "we have become so polarized" with cable news playing a pivotal role in shaping people's minds.
"I was working at Fox News where opinion TV first started," Carlson explains. "It was kind of a brilliant idea because it fit into the way in which society was moving forward with technology. In the digital space, people were already getting the news at work. So when they got home, they want to see what people thought about it. Opinion TV, in the beginning, was this brilliant idea. But now, in my opinion, it's gone way too far to the left and the right and people don't ever venture over to watch the other side. People just watch what they want to hear. It's why this project was so important to me to want to get involved in."
Each episode of Unread Messages showcases a different conversation between people about hot-button topics — religion, sexuality, vaccinations, race, politics — and difficult conversations is something Carlson knows all too well.
In 2016, the surprising announcement was made that Carlson, one of Fox News's biggest stars, would not have her contract renewed. She sued former CEO, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment and won a reported $20 million settlement. The landmark case helped inspire last year's film Bombshell and the Showtime series The Loudest Voice. In the five years since, Carlson says some people close to her still haven't acknowledged what happened.
"Some people that I was really close to have never had a conversation with me about what happened to me at Fox," Carlson says. "And yet others who I hadn't heard from in 30 years somehow found me and reached out [to] say, 'I care. And I'm thinking about you.' So this project is really deep for me. I myself have lived through an example of a tough conversation."
While she won't name names, Carlson wishes some people "had the courage to reach out to me when my story happened."
"A lot of people came up to me when they found me in person even years later and they said, 'You know, I was gonna send you something and I was going to text you and I just thought she's too busy.' I say to them, send that text to me now because it's so meaningful to know that you cared at that moment in time and I'll take that two, three, four years later. There's so many analogies between my own personal life and people messaging me — or lack thereof — and how Unread Messages is trying to work as well."
Carlson "never expected" her experience at Fox News would precede the monumental #MeToo movement, which is still in full swing.
Bill Gates is the latest powerful man whose "reputation for questionable behavior" in the workplace has made headlines amid his divorce from Melinda French Gates. Carlson says she "wasn't that surprised" to learn about some of the accusations against Gates, including that he left the Microsoft board amid an investigation into an affair with a staffer. (Although a Gates spokeswoman admitted the entrepreneur had an affair decades ago, no reports claim his actions were predatory his "decision to transition off the board was in no way related to this matter.")
"I think that whenever you see somebody high profile have parts of their personal life play out [in the press], there is a certain element of surprise, but then that was very fleeting for me because this is pervasive," Carlson says. "We saw this play out with really famous people initially in [the #MeToo movement] when you have a Matt Lauer that people would be like, 'Oh, he's been in my living room every day, he's such a nice guy!' It's such a social, cultural reaction to how we don't let ourselves think about what somebody might actually be doing behind closed doors. Right? And so I sort of had the same feeling for a fleeting moment when I saw the Gates stories, but then I was like, 'Yeah, this is what I'm fighting.'"
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