I try not to allow myself to get worked up about the vile things Fox News hosts and their guests say on air most nights. But I’ve had trouble getting this clip from Thursday night’s Hannity out of my head. In it, a powerful female attorney with a management role at a major American law firm says that women frequently make up sexual harassment claims for money and that actual victims of sexual predators are “few and far between.”
Fox News legal analyst Mercedes Colwin was appearing on Sean Hannity’s show to discuss the bombshell allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who according the Washington Post took home and undressed a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old prosecutor. The segment went about how you would expect. Hannity argued that people shouldn’t rush to judgment and that Moore deserved our presumption of innocence. Colwin, an employment lawyer who has appeared on the network since 2005, invoked her experience representing “hundreds of corporate executives that have been accused of sexual misconduct,” and confirmed for Hannity that women often lie about harassment for political purposes or money.
Here’s the key exchange.
Hannity: Do people do it for money? Do they do it for political reasons? Is that more common than people think?
Colwin: Oh definitely.
Hannity: They will lie to make money?
Colwin: Undoubtedly. I mean, there are individuals who will come forward with these outrageous allegations, and they fall…
Hannity: And that hurts women who are victims.
Colwin: Yes. I used to work in sex crimes in the DA’s office. It was very pitiful to see that. Because some jurors don’t believe it because they have, in their own lives, there are people who have made these accusations for money. You see this time and time and time again. And sexual harassment, that term is coined everywhere, frankly, the laws are very clear about what it takes to have some sort of violation of the law. You have to have some sort of damage. And these individuals, a lot of these women, it’s all about money, and they bank on the fact that these corporations have the reputation that they want to save.
Hannity: And the hard—this is where you thread the needle, because there are women who are victims of predators.
Colwin: Yes, there are. There are. But very few and far between.
This whole exchange is a bit of a non sequitur when it comes to Moore, given that his victims have not tried to sue him for money, and did not actually go public with their claims until they were asked about them by the Washington Post. It’s also, of course, gross.
But here’s the main reason it stuck with me. Colwin is not some small-time lawyer with her own shingle. She’s a boss at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, one of the country’s largest law firms, where she serves as the New York office’s managing partner. According to the National Law Journal, Gordon & Rees has 667 U.S. lawyers across dozens of offices, making it the 59th biggest firm in the U.S. by domestic headcount. And yet, Colwin still felt it was appropriate to go on TV and suggest that greedy women regularly fabricate stories about harassment, while actual victims are practically unicorns. Maybe she really believes this; maybe she’s just repeating a line her clients like to hear, and that she prefers jurors to believe. But either way, she was sending a chilling message on national TV, a message that keeps women who are abused and harassed from coming forward in the professional world—and especially in notoriously abusive industries like corporate law.
This is not the first time Colwin has voiced skepticism about sexual harassment claims outside of her client work. When former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson filed the lawsuit that eventually brought down Roger Ailes, Colwin told the Hollywood Reporter that she was “furious,” and that, “By her demeanor and the way she comported herself, you would never ever conceive that [Carlson] had these allegations and would bring them to light, ever.”
On Friday afternoon, I emailed Colwin with three questions: First, did she stand by her statements on Hannity? Second, could she tell me more about her responsibilities at Gordon & Rees? (The role of an office’s managing partner can vary by law firm, though it’s typically a senior attorney with some decision-making power.) And finally, did she think her comments might make it harder for women in her office to come forward with harassment claims?
Colwin ignored questions two and three but did send a long clarification about her Hannity comments, which I’m publishing in full at the end of this post. She didn’t walk back the “few and far between” quip. Instead, Colwin wrote that she was “profoundly sympathetic” to harassment victims “as one who has personally experienced such treatment and also had a deceased sister who was a victim of domestic violence.” But she also said that “in some cases, incidents of alleged sexual harassment can be misrepresented or even fabricated” and the accused deserved the “presumption of innocence.”
“I did not in any way mean to trivialize or minimize the impact of sexual harassment on any victims of such practices or to condone such behaviors in any setting, whether business or personal,” she added. Which, fair enough. She merely suggested most victims aren’t real.
I reached out to Colwin’s firm to hear what they think of their New York managing partner’s comments on sexual harassment allegations, but no one responded. I will update this post if they do.
Here’s Colwin’s full email:
I would like to take this opportunity to clarify certain of my remarks from the November 9 broadcast of the Sean Hannity Show. First and foremost, I am profoundly sympathetic of anyone who has been the victim of sexual harassment and believe they deserve full and complete protection under the law. As one who has personally experienced such treatment and also had a deceased sister who was a victim of domestic violence, it is entirely apparent to me that sexual predators do indeed exist in our society who deserve to be called out, civilly pursued and criminally prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
On the other hand, my comments made during the broadcast were intended to address a different set of circumstances which I have observed both as an administrative law judge and an attorney over a number of decades—namely that in some cases, incidents of alleged sexual harassment can be misrepresented or even fabricated as a means of leveraging an advantage in court or otherwise. And given the incredibly serious nature of such accusations, it is important to bear in mind that the accused also have rights and are deserving of the presumption of innocence embedded in our legal system.
In any event, I did not in any way mean to trivialize or minimize the impact of sexual harassment on any victims of such practices or to condone such behaviors in any setting, whether business or personal.