Sexual harassment: Roger Ailes vs. Phyllis Schlafly

When Roger met Phyllis

With uncanny timing, the parent company of Fox News last week paid a reported $20 million and issued a public apology to settle a sensational sexual harassment suit exactly one day after the death of Phyllis Schlafly, the first lady of American conservatives.

When you're fighting to stay on top, who has time for sex? (Photo via Creative Commons/Wikimedia)

Schlafly, you may recall, once observed that “sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women.”

Fox News, you surely know, is the loudest voice of American conservatism, and its chairman, Roger Ailes, is the movement’s mastermind; its “first man,” you might say. At least he was until July, when Ailes was forced out of his powerful job after the former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued him for coming on to her with lines like: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”

Conversations recorded

The Fox payout is one of the largest known settlements for a single-plaintiff sexual harassment suit. Fox apparently caved after learning that Carlson had recorded her meetings with Ailes on her mobile phone for the past year and a half. Since July, when Carlson filed her suit, some 20 other women employees at Fox have described similarly inappropriate behavior by Ailes.

Ailes continues to insist that he never propositioned anyone. Nor did he pay a penny of the settlement to Carlson. But still.

Let us suppose, if only for our own amusement, that Ailes really did utter the come-on line cited above — not to Gretchen Carlson, but to a virtuous woman like Phyllis Schlafly. How would Phyllis have responded?

Let me consider the possibilities.

Fair and balanced

  • “What an original idea, Roger! Why didn’t I think of that? Guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks!”
  • “My husband has been telling me the very same thing. I have to remind him constantly: When you’re fighting to stay on top in the big leagues of broadcasting, who has time for sex?”
  • “Roger, you’ve transformed Fox into the leading cable news network. You’ve made it a critical force in Republican politics. How could you possibly get any better?”
  • “What’s the basis of your contention? Have you conducted any empirical studies to support your theory?”
  • “Roger, I’m shocked! I thought your top priority was being fair and balanced!”
  • “OK, if you think so. I’ve always trusted your judgment. Just let me run this by my husband. I assume it’s okay with your wife.”
  • “But Roger, we have a secular relationship already. After all, we both believe in God, don't we?" 
  • “Could you speak up? I’m wearing a wire.”
  • “Here? Now? It’s 10:30 in the morning!”

Family values

  • “Wouldn’t I love to! But since this is an employer-employee relationship, maybe we should check with the Human Relations Department before we proceed.”
  • “A long time ago? Who can remember? With me, it’s just one senior moment after another! On top of that, my sciatica is killing me! My orthopedist says I need both knees replaced! And did I mention my constipation issues? I haven’t passed a stool in five days! Old age isn’t for sissies, let me tell you, Roger! Thank goodness you’re here to lend a receptive ear!”
  • “And I should have told you a long time ago that I’ve tested positive for HIV/AIDS. Not that my sexually-transmitted disease should stop us, of course.”
  • “So your public support for family values was total baloney?”
  • “Let me get this straight, Roger. Your idea of good and better is eternal hellfire and damnation?”




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