Donald Trump came to the defense of his longtime friend and former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes on Sunday morning, who resigned Thursday after Gretchen Carlson slapped him with a sexual harassment lawsuit, causing a cascade of other women to come forward.
Trump was incredulous:
“I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them. And even recently. And when they write books that are fairly recently released, and they say wonderful things about him.”
This is exactly how Trump rationalizes his own deplorable comments and treatment of women: He’s hired and promoted them therefore he can’t be a sexist.
Except you can promote women and harass them; the former is not exculpatory evidence of the latter. Nor is the fact that Ailes didn’t harass everyone, which makes the slew of character witnesses who’ve come forward, claiming never to have seen or experienced any harassment totally irrelevant.
Abby Huntsman referred to Ailes as a “mentor” in an interview with Bustle, singing the praises of a network she’s worked at for eight months, compared to Carlson’s 11 years, while explaining that she felt compelled to get her “side of the story out there.” Huntsman, who shot from Twitter fame to a television career, credits Ailes for getting her the gig at Fox while denying anyone pushed her to speak out on his behalf: “It’s also not because I’m afraid to lose my job or because I’m working there, you know, I speak out because I just want to be honest about my experience.”
Whether she’s advancing her career or protecting it, Huntsman’s testimony is supposed to bolster the image of Ailes as a promoter of women, not a harasser, when in fact she’s evidence that he can be both. And her lack of experience being harassed at Fox doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to other women, whom Ailes also promoted.
Megyn Kelly, top talent at Fox, reportedly told investigators that Ailes made unwanted advances toward her a decade ago. Since then, she’s openly praised him, like Huntsman, and risen through the ranks accordingly. Carlson sent a thank you note after a meeting where Ailes’ allegedly said: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.” Ailes’ lawyers and supporters have used this note to undermine Carlson’s position, and raise suspicions about the “convenient” timing of her lawsuit. Except if anything, the note confirms Carlson’s fear of retaliation since she was indeed fired shortly after rejecting his proposition.
Just because someone has something nice to say about her harasser shouldn’t count as proof against the harassment, especially at Fox, where women like Huntsman come forward supposedly unsolicited to issue statements of support.
Grenell is a Democratic political strategist and columnist for City & State.
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