Long before women on Fox News came forward to reveal the systemic sexism and sexual harassment encouraged, and inflicted, by Chairman Roger Ailes, there was Monica Lewinsky. If you remember her as the coed temptress who inspired the hanky-panky of a horndog president, there’s a reason for that. It was a narrative Ailes created to drive ratings.
Ailes recognized Bill Clinton’s lies about his involvement with Lewinsky as a ripe opportunity to exploit the situation to bring new viewers to Fox News. He cared little about the truth and even less about the individuals involved. What he did care about was a ratings bonanza and he relentlessly pushed the story creating the beginning of the disinformation age—what Stephen Colbert would later call, “truthiness.” Ailes bullied Lewinsky in prime time and got rich off her misery.
It’s no surprise then that Lewinsky just wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled, “Roger Ailes Dream was My Nightmare.” She reiterated what I’ve been discussing for weeks—that Ailes created a culture at Fox News that was so toxic that women had nowhere to go to report abuse. No surprise when you realize that his network’s success was created by disparaging a woman. I say “Brava!” to Lewinsky for having the courage to give the most appropriate eulogy to a bully.
Hopefully, there are some lessons on bullying for the rest of us from this debacle. We must learn not to vilify women for their proximity to powerful men assuming that they, and not the man, must be to blame. That goes equally for interns and former first ladies. Imagine if we had held Ailes accountable for what he did to Lewinsky? We might have prevented the very atmosphere that castigated Hillary Clinton and promoted the rise of Donald Trump. We can only hope history will forgive us.
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