We’re serving up an extra dishy ‘Lunch’ this week with a supersized portion of news. Monday was the new Wednesday — at least for this week — when Hearst’s high priestess of content Joanna Coles (that’s not her official title, but you get the picture) hosted the ‘Hearst 100,’ her fourth annual such gathering of influential and inspirational women in media, business, politics and the arts. Formerly known as the ‘Cosmo 100’ when Joanna was editrix at the title, the luncheon held at Michael’s is a celebration of sisterhood of both the personal and professional variety. This year was also something of a political call to arms — and no one can rally the troops like Joanna can.
“I’ve been told that Mike Pence starts every meeting with a prayer,” said Joanna when she addressed the crowd in the jam-packed Garden Room before we tucked into our salads. “So Dear God, protect us from Mike Pence!” Standing among a sea of tables filled with boldface names that included Gayle King, Diane Sawyer, Norah O’Donnell, Cynthia McFadden, Arianna Huffington, Tina Brown, Glenda Bailey, Robbie Myers, Christine Quinn (who was at my table), Diane Von Furstenberg, Cindi Berger, Leslie Sloane, Peggy Siegal and Aerin Lauder, she began by saying, “This was not quite the year we were anticipating, but there is going to be a woman in the White House — I just hope Ivanka knows what she’s doing.”
As is the case every year, Joanna invites someone everyone wants to hear from and gives them the floor for a few minutes. This year, that person was Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, who laid out in stark terms just how imperiled access to women’s health care could become under the incoming administration.
“Come January, women will be targets first up,” said Cecile. On the future of Roe v. Wade she warned, “[Abortion] has been a right for more than 40 years and is now in danger of being overturned. We had a 900 percent increase in requests for IUDs the day after the election.” But, she explained, the threat of defunding the organization has far greater implications than the politicians want to acknowledge. “Defunding Planned Parenthood is about cutting off access for millions of women on Medicaid to routine healthcare and preventative, life saving screenings. It has nothing to do with abortion.”
She wrapped up her remarks by saluting the editors in the room for doing “an heroic job” advocating for women’s rights and issuing her own call to action. “People come up to me all the time and ask, ‘What can I do?’ I tell them don’t wait to be asked before you do something.”
Women’s rights of another sort were very much on the mind of Gretchen Carlson, a first timer at the luncheon. When I asked my Greenwich neighbor to sum up the year she’s had she said, “It’s been a surreal experience.” But, she added, “Now I’ve got all these new buckets to fill in my life.” The former Fox News anchor reached a $20 million settlement with 21st Century Fox in September after suing former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation.
She told me she’s currently at work on multiple projects, which include a new book about “female empowerment” which she describes as “a playbook on dealing with sexual harassment.” She is also planning on doing speaking engagements and launching a foundation dedicated to the same mission. Said Gretchen: “It’s about standing up and speaking up.” She said news about the book’s title and publisher are imminent.
Gretchen told me she’s been contacted by “over 10,000 women” since she went public about her experiences. “I responded to every single one of them.”
One of the best things to come out of her ordeal, said Gretchen, is the positive message it sent to her children. The mother of two school-aged children told me, “My daughter said, ‘I’m speaking up for myself more now’ so it’s kind of come full circle for me. I hope I can help other women and girls feel the same way.”
In addition to her newfound advocacy work, Gretchen said she hopes she will land another on-air job. “One of my buckets is getting me back on television. When this first happened, I thought I’d be sitting home.” When I told her that seemed unlikely she said, “I had no idea what to expect. You just never know what your life’s mission is going to be.”
As everyone was saying their good-byes, I grabbed a few minutes with Malin Akerman who stars opposite Damian Lewis in one of my favorite new shows, Showtime’s Billions, returning for its second season on Feb. 19. The stunning actress, who came to the luncheon straight from the set, good naturedly posed for selfies with other guests while we chatted. I told her that of all the performances in the show, her knowing portrayal of Lara Axelrod, the street smart wife of Lewis’ Connecticut hedge funder Bobby Axelrod, was my favorite.
“Thank you so much! She’s got a little Lady Macbeth in her. She’s a very layered character. That’s what appealed to me and I think that’s what women relate to,” she said.
I told her what I can’t watch — let alone relate to — on the show were Paul Giamatti’s squirm-inducing scenes as U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades with a dominatrix (who happens to be his wife). “You know, they tried something and they’re going to do a little less of that this season,” she told me. That’s a relief. So what’s in store for her character next year? “What I can tell you is she’s more feisty than ever. She’s like the women here. She takes no shit.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Lucianne Goldberg and Bonnie Dudley and a table full of pals
3. Jay McInerney
4. Early show: Jon Corzine; Second seating: People’s Liz McNeil and author Pamela Keogh
5. Herb Siegel
6. Ambassador William Vanden Heuvel
7. Kathleen O’Grady
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia with Alex Hitz and Brooke Hayward
9. Simone Levinson
11. Jay Kanter
14. Bill McCuddy
15. Tom Rogers
16. Jean Shafiroff
17. Jeffrey Parent
18. Mitch Rosenthal
20. Joan Gelman and Lynn Goldberg
21. Euan Rellie
25. Tom Goodman
29. David Sanford and Lewis Stein
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.