On Saturday, Lifetime will air Beyond the Headlines: The College Admissions Scandal with Gretchen Carlson, a documentary that takes a harder look at the college admissions scandal and how some parents will stop at nothing to help their children gain admission into the nation’s most elite universities. The documentary will air after the network’s movie The College Admissions Scandal starring Penelope Ann Miller.
Here, Carlson talks about what to expect from her next doc for Lifetime, after hosting Beyond the Headlines: Escaping the NXIVM Cult with Gretchen Carlson in September.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY What was your initial reaction to the college admissions scandal?
GRETCHEN CARLSON I have to say I wasn’t that shocked after being a journalist, you know, for more than 25 years and talking about a lot of things from politics to murders to scandals. I just that surprised because there seemed to be a lot of stories about people figuring out how to rig the system even before we heard about this scandal. It’s interesting because I think that’s one of the arguments that the defense is going to try and bring up for people who have not been pled guilty, that different forms of this kind of stuff has been going on for a long time now. Is that actually criminal? No, but I think that we’ve been thinking about the haves and have nots with regard to getting into college for quite some time. If you have a ton of money and you are an ultra-billionaire who donates a building. Suddenly you’re getting into these schools. I think people would argue that that, in and of itself, has been something that hasn’t been on an even-playing field. So I wasn’t shocked.
How did you figure out then where to focus your energy on for the special?
I really wanted the documentary to educate people and to bring them more information about exactly what might help them get their kids getting into college. For example, we have an exclusive interview with a woman who’s filing this $500 billion lawsuit against the defendants on behalf of all children and young adults who have not been able to get into the colleges, maybe because of the scandal. She hasn’t talked to anyone else before. She decided to talk to me, which is a really great part of this documentary. We also talked to a family and a young man who was an amazing swimmer in high school, who almost signed up with Rick Singer when he was approached at his swim club. But these parents were already working three to four jobs just to pay for their child to be a great swimmer. They didn’t have the money to sign up with Rick Singer. The result is that their child was never recruited by any college to swim. They will forever wonder if it was because they didn’t sign up with Rick Singer.
We also talked to a college counselor who used to be head of admissions at Penn and now is a counselor to parents. She really held nothing back. I think her interview was one of the most compelling because she really tells us what’s going on behind the headlines, in the system. One of the most interesting allegations she makes is that there is no way these admissions offices didn’t know about these scandals. She’s been there. So I guess the question is, is there more to come if what she says is true?
The woman who filed the billion dollar class action suit, was her child overlooked for a particular college?
She’s from the Bay Area in California. Her son applied to a variety of University of California schools. He did not get into his first choice in Southern California. She will never know if it was because of the scandal or not. I remind her in the interview that colleges don’t have to tell any of us why our kids don’t get in. They turn down tons of valedictorians every year and they don’t have to tell you why. You can’t pinpoint it, that it was exactly because of the scandal, but she thinks it could be. She did this on behalf of all of the other families who are wondering the same thing. Her child is not an athlete, but he was a very smart student. Those questions abound.
Was there a temptation on your part to try to delve into Lori Loughlin’s psyche? I know that there are still people who simply can’t understand why she continues to claim innocence.
Yes, we do talk about some of the defendants in my documentary, but it’s more to set the stage than anything else. But I do think that your question is a good one because it goes back to what I was just saying about how easy it is for people who always had privilege to think that maybe they were entitled and how their judgment gets clouded. Obviously if you break the law, there are consequences. I think people are so mad at somebody like Lori Loughlin and the other defendants because it further underscores the divide between the haves and have-nots in our society. Education is supposed to be the great equalizer and it’s supposed to be based on merit. But when it comes to college admissions, that hasn’t been historically true. I understand the immense anger that so many people are feeling and I really wanted to tap into that.
Beyond the Headlines: The College Admissions Scandal with Gretchen Carlson airs Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.