Last week, former “Fox and Friends” host Gretchen Carlson sued Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes for a gross string of sexual harassment that allegedly culminated in Carlson being fired from Fox for refusing Ailes’ sexual advances. The lawsuit also indicates that her co-host Steve Doocy was a smarmy creep behind the cameras (which is believable, considering the fact that he’s a smarmy creep in front of them, too.)
Ailes responded the same day, claiming that the lawsuit is “a retaliatory suit for the network’s decision not to renew her contract,” and that it “is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.”
In the days following the July 6 lawsuit, six other women have alleged that Ailes’ sexually harassed them.
The wake of the lawsuit has, perhaps unsurprisingly, incited heaps of disbelief and insults aimed at Carlson. For starters, plenty of people offered their heartfelt mansplanations about the situation on Twitter (with some casual victim-blaming sprinkled throughout):
And aside from the requisite Twitter army, conservative blogs have taken the opportunity to focus heavily on Carlson’s faults without focusing a whole lot on Ailes’ character.
A recent Breitbart article spent plenty of time vilifying Carlson’s character, as if a bad personality lessens the chance that someone will be harassed.
The same piece, which featured an exclusive interview with Fox news anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle, had little to say about Ailes himself outside of the general He-never-did-it-to-me-so-there’s-no-way-he-could-possibly-do-it-to-someone-else reasoning.
And as for the network itself, major Fox News players have largely been in Ailes’ corner, taking a break from their regularly-scheduled Hillary Clinton-bashing to speak out on Twitter.
Fox’s highest profile anchors, Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelley, have remained notably silent on the issue.
Part of what makes this particular case so remarkable is that much of the degrading sexism has been featured on air in front of our eyes ― and that still somehow isn’t enough to convince people that perhaps there is some validity to Carlson’s allegations, or that at the very least they aren’t coming completely out of left field.
Watch a two-minute mashup of Carlson being objectified on Fox News below:
There are striking similarities between the Ailes’ storyline (so far) and what we’ve watched unfold in years since dozens of women have accused Bill Cosby: once one person makes an accusation, the floodgates open, and those women are inevitably labeled fame-seeking attention whores.
But there’s a major difference, too: Ailes is not an idolized American hero.
In the midst of the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp divorce last spring, HuffPost’s Zeba Blay pointed out that we need to stop protecting famous men, and that our attachment to celebrity can ultimately perpetuate the idea that women are lying when they speak up about abuse. She wrote:
But unlike Depp, Allen and Cosby, Ailes is not a treasured entertainer with a nostalgic hold over the American people. His role as CEO of arguably the most divisive news network on television has certainly not resulted in the widespread adoration of his character.
And yet many still do not believe his alleged victims. Not only is our instinct to protect the famous men we idolize after they’ve been accused of physical, sexual or psychological abuse, but it’s also our unsettling default to discredit the women who make the accusations ― no matter who the man in question is.
Even with explicit on-air misogyny and a long history of accusations against a marginally-liked perpetrator, people still have a damn difficult time believing that a woman has endured sexual harassment in the workplace.
Will Carlson be put through the wringer of character assassination and victim-blaming that other women have gone through after accusing powerful men of abuse? Will it take a man commenting on it decades later for the accusations to become relevant?
Will we believe her only then, or can we believe her now?