In a new New York magazine story, the invaluable Gabriel Sherman gives us fresh details of the depravity of ex-Fox News head Roger Ailes. Sherman quotes a former television producer who says Ailes told her, “If you want to make it in New York City in the TV business, you’re going to have to fuck me, and you’re going to do that with anyone I tell you to.” He reports that Ailes’ longtime executive assistant, Judy Laterza, recruited comely young women for her boss, including an intern who later told the Washington Post that Ailes had propositioned her: “If you sleep with me, you could be a model or a newscaster.” Sherman quotes Karem Alsina, a former Fox makeup artist, describing female anchors coming to see her before private meetings with Ailes: “They would say, ‘I’m going to see Roger, gotta look beautiful!’” One of these anchors, said Alsina, “came back down after a meeting, and the makeup on her nose and chin was gone.”
Sherman has reported even more disturbing stories about Ailes in the past. In July, he gave us the story of Laurie Luhn, Fox’s former director of booking, who claims that Ailes sexually extorted and psychologically tortured her for more than two decades. Among other things, he insisted she perform an erotic dance while he made a video, which, Ailes said, he was going to keep in a safe-deposit box “just so we understand each other.” For his latest piece, Sherman reports that he interviewed 18 women “who shared accounts of Ailes’s offering them job opportunities if they would agree to perform sexual favors for him and for his friends.” In some cases, writes Sherman, Ailes “threatened to release tapes of the encounters to prevent the women from reporting him.” Sherman also reports that Gretchen Carlson, who is suing Ailes for sexual harassment, secretly recorded his overtures.
There is abundant evidence, then, that Ailes is a vicious misogynist and a workplace predator. So why isn’t it a bigger deal that he’s advising the Republican presidential nominee?
To some extent we all know the answer. Donald Trump is a maelstrom. There is so much chaos around him, and so many startling violations of so many political norms, and no one has the bandwidth to process it all. On Thursday, half his Hispanic advisers quit in the wake of his demagogic Phoenix immigration speech. On Twitter, he’s feuding with both Mexico’s president and Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, whom he called “crazy and very dumb.” As Paul Waldman points out in the Washington Post, there’s been a notable lack of press attention to the illegal contribution Trump’s foundation made to the PAC of Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, at a time when Bondi was receiving complaints from Floridians who said they’d been cheated by Trump University.
If the Clinton Foundation were accused of doing anything this outrageous, it would be front-page news. The difference in how the two candidates are covered stems, in part, from a long-standing mainstream media tendency to view everything about Bill and Hillary Clinton in the most invidious possible light. But it’s also a result of the fact that Trump is consistently able to bury his old misdeeds with new misdeeds, until all the outrages start to blur together. This week, Mother Jones published an exposé of Trump Model Management’s violation of immigration law and exploitative labor practices. There was enough there to eat up an ordinary news cycle. Instead, the story was just a blip.
Still, in a better world, journalists would ask Trump why Ailes, who was too toxic to remain at Fox, is involved with his campaign. According to the New York Times, Ailes is advising Trump on the fall presidential debates. On Twitter, Sherman posted a blurry CNN screengrab showing Ailes getting out of Trump’s plane in Phoenix this week. He may not be on Trump’s payroll, but he’s part of his inner circle.
So far, Trump has defended Ailes and cast aspersions on the women accusing him. “I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them, and even recently,” Trump said in July. “And when they write books that are fairly recently released, and they say wonderful things about him. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying these horrible things about him.”
It’s no surprise, of course, that Trump doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously. His own misogyny is extremely well-documented. His first wife, Ivana Trump, accused him of rape in a sworn deposition, saying that he’d assaulted her in a rage after a plastic surgeon she’d recommended botched his scalp surgery. (She’s since said she didn’t mean “rape” in a “literal or criminal sense,” but she’s never recanted her description of what happened.) Trump’s new campaign CEO, Steve Bannon, has been charged with domestic violence and accused of sexual harassment. In such company, Ailes doesn’t really stand out. That doesn’t mean we should treat his presence in a presidential campaign as normal.
Trump should be asked about Ailes every day as long as they’re working together, even informally. He should be asked not just why he’s associating with Ailes, but whether Ailes is being left alone with any of the women on his campaign. Keeping Ailes around, after all, is not just immoral; he is a one-man hostile work environment. Perhaps the involvement of a disgraced sexual sadist is low on the list of things that are wrong with the Trump campaign. That’s not a reason to ignore it.