Empathy For the Women of Fox News

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Sexual harassment inflicts a serious emotional injury on its victims, not least of which is the loss of agency over the fate of one's career trajectory. As is true of racial discrimination, when an employee believes that her superior has assessed her job performance based on immutable characteristics rather than merit, a sense of powerlessness is induced because we cannot control who we are, only what we do. It is for this reason that I, a black man, should feel empathy for the women of Fox News who, if their recent allegations are to be believed, have been subjected to a vile environment of sexual prurience. I should be empathetic, but I cannot be.

The latest complainant against Fox News is Andrea Tantaros, the former host of the Fox News program The Five. Unlike the complaint filed against Fox News by former anchor Gretchen Carlson, who focused her ire on the conduct of Roger Ailes, Tantoros's complaint takes aim at a number of alleged bad actors, including Fox host Bill O'Reilly. Tantaros's attacks on Ailes, O'Reilly and other white men at Fox News are particularly ironic given views she had recently expressed on the air about discrimination against white men. Commenting on a Boston University African American Studies professor's critique of white masculinity on college campuses, Tantaros said this:

The last acceptable form of discrimination in this country now is two groups -- one, Christians and, two, white men. And that's why she [the professor] can get away with this. Why? Where are the organization in defense of white men? Where are the marches? Where are the editorials penned . . . . She [the professor] was sort of hinting around too that the problem on campuses is white male masculinity. Isn't that sort of the dog whistle around the rape culture where men are blamed . . . . It is the last acceptable form of discrimination in this country is against white men and that's why they're feminizing them even more to get rid of that masculinity.

This is not exactly what one would expect to hear from a sex harassment complainant, but it is the kind of neo-white nationalist rhetoric that has made Fox News the champion of older white Americans who tend to be the most racially regressive, while the network is ignored by nearly all African Americans. And it's not just Tantaros who has been a willing female mouthpiece for Fox News's hidebound racial ideology while selectively championing the cause of sex harassment.

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly has corroborated claims of sex harassment by Roger Ailes and has otherwise shown empathy towards Fox's accusers. Yet on matters of race, Kelly has insisted that Santa Claus cannot be black and that Jesus is white; and has falsely accused the Black Lives Matter movement of promoting the execution of police officers. Even more hypocritically, Kelly has argued that charges of racism before racism has been proven "shuts down all reasonable dialogue." But if this is true of racial discrimination, why wouldn't it also be true of charges of sexual harassment? Kelly, like Tantaros, applies a double-standard to race.

Here's a bit of history that might engender empathy on the part of the women of Fox News for African Americans and Latinos and their experiences with discrimination: Federal courts first recognized sex harassment as an actionable claim in cases brought by African-American women. And the theory on which the women of Fox News are relying for legal and informal relief--a discriminatory, hostile workplace--was first developed in Rogers v. EEOC, a case brought on behalf of a Latina plaintiff who complained of a hostile work environment due to her national origin.

The paradox would be comical were it not so disturbing: women who have aided and abetted the news network that has done the most to promote the racist, anti-immigrant views of Donald Trump and his followers are now relying on a legal theory that owes its existence to black and Latina women.

The late Michael Zimmer, a legal scholar of uncommon talent and compassion, argued that anti-discrimination law is too focused on the perspective of the perpetrator rather than the victim. According to Zimmer, what is needed in order to make the law fairer for all prospective plaintiffs is a more victim-focused orientation and, most of all, greater empathy. When the women of Fox News heed Zimmer's call, then, and only then, should they receive empathy.