Opinion

Harassment, Rape and Donald Trump's Defense of Roger Ailes

Bold talk for a candidate with a historically low standing among women

Donald Trump's sympathetic remarks on former Fox News head Roger Ailes, who faces sexual harassment accusations, is "hardly out of nowhere" given his history, writes Melinda Henneberger. (Bill Clark/Roll Call file photo)

PHILADELPHIA — All those hacked DNC emails showing the joy of backstabbing , the self-absorption of DWS  and the price of sitting next to the president have, alas, distracted us from another shocking/not that shocking revelation, this one from the GOP nominee.  

On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Donald Trump stuck up for his old friend Roger Ailes, the ousted (but still well-compensated) head of Fox News, who’s been accused by some two dozen women of trying to pressure them into sex by promising jobs and advancement if they complied and professional consequences if they did not. (Through his famous feminist lawyer, Susan Estrich , he has denied doing any such thing.)  

According to The Washington Post, these accusations go all the way back to the '60s — decades before Ailes helped build a network that perseverates on sexual misconduct.   

Yet — and I’m not sure how this jibes with Ivanka Trump’s RNC speech about what a champion of women her dad is — Trump at a minimum doesn’t mind leaving the impression that Ailes might soon be running his presidential campaign.

'A very good person'

“Is he helping you?” MTP moderator Chuck Todd asked Trump. “Is he advising you?”  

“Well, I don't want to comment,” the new nominee responded.“But he's been a friend of mine for a long time. And I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he's helped them. And even recently. 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 very sad. Because he's a very good person. I've always found him to be just a very, very good person. And by the way, a very, very talented person. Look what he's done. So I feel very badly. But a lot of people are thinking he's going to run my campaign.”  

For a candidate who only has to do something to mitigate his historically low standing among women if he wants to win the election, this is bold talk, even from him.  

But it is hardly out of nowhere for a man who, as Fox News’ Megyn Kelly noted at an early GOP debate, has called women he doesn’t like "fat pigs … dogs, slobs and disgusting animals” — a man who is obsessed with looks and youth, has made a creepy comment about his own daughter’s attractiveness, and with cameras rolling, mocked his then-rival Carly Fiorina’s appearance: “Look at that face!”  

Another of Trump’s friends, and one he has in common with Bill Clinton, is Jeffrey Epstein , a convicted pedophile. Years before Epstein’s conviction, in 2002, Trump spoke glowingly — and in retrospect, tellingly — about him to New York magazine for a profile that cast Epstein as  “Gatsbyesque” and a “collector of beautiful minds.”  

“I've known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump told the magazine writer. “He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

He can relate

One reason Trump may feel so bad for his buddy Roger Ailes is that he can relate. Because another thing Donald Trump has in common with Bill Clinton is that they’ve both been accused of, and strenuously denied, committing rape.  

One more thing they have in common: Neither accusation got as much mainstream attention as you’d think such a serious allegation would attract.  

I’ve said for years that we’ve been wrong not to want to know whether the Big Dog was not just a hound dog, but a man credibly accused of violating a campaign volunteer in 1978. The woman involved, Juanita Broaddrick , has also said that Hillary Clinton soon thereafter thanked her for all she’d done for her husband in a way that made Broaddrick think the candidate’s wife was really pressuring her to stay silent.  

To me, Trump’s refrain that Hillary Clinton enabled her husband’s treatment of women is indeed relevant as she campaigns on her record as a global encourager of women and their rights. But it was so long ago, when we knew so much less, my friends tell me.

Proven wrong

Those who suspect that a prominent Republican accused of rape would be treated differently have so far been proven wrong, because the lawsuit filed last month by a woman who charges that Trump raped her at a 1994 Epstein party when she was 13 years old has been even more widely ignored.  

That’s at least in part because the anonymous woman has never given an interview, and neither has another woman who reportedly worked for Epstein procuring adolescent girls as party favors and who has filed a sworn statement saying she witnessed the attack.  

It’s also because the woman who filed the suit has gotten financial support from a conservative anti-abortion donor and a former "Jerry Springer" producer who reportedly say outright that they’re motivated by hatred of Trump. (UPDATE: Her supporters take exception to the Daily Beast report linked to here, and say that while they don't want to see someone they believe guilty of child rape elected president, they don't "hate" him.)  

In other words, not enough is on the record to assess the facts of the case, and the people who’ve taken it on haven't inspired confidence. The nominee's first wife, Ivana Trump, also said years ago that he had raped her in a fury as they were divorcing, but she later said she didn't mean the charge literally.  

A third woman, Jill Harth , filed a 1997 lawsuit alleging Trump had sexually assaulted her but made the charges amid a business dispute and soon dropped the suit. She recently renewed her allegations.  

Yet there is more than enough from the innocent-until-proven-guilty candidate’s own lips — including his victim-blaming defense of Ailes and admiring view of Epstein — to convict him of holding a view of women that is not just politically incorrect but all wrong. He used to defend Bill Clinton, too — and smeared our 42nd president's accusers, too, back in the day.  

Those, including me, who have thought some pro-choice feminists have been too willing to look the other way on piggery by politicians who happen agree with them on abortion rights should now admit that some pro-life feminists come off as similarly craven in supporting Trump because he’s pledged to appoint Scalia-like conservatives to the Supreme Court; this is their issue, but it isn't the only issue.  

And as long as our discussion of the treatment of women never gets beyond forest-for-the-trees arguments over whether the R or D team’s sins are worse, none of the above will change.  

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