So, by now, you probably now that Roger Ailes died this morning. Ailes was the creator of Fox News, a media mastermind and a die-hard conservative. Depending on what side of the political spectrum you’re on and what media bubble you’ve ensconced yourself in, he’s either a “patriotic warrior” as Sean Hannity dubbed him in a tweet or a “demon who got his horns” as Lauren Duca wrote.
Maybe you’re confused on how to react. Let’s consider the facts.
Last July, Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes accusing him of sexual harassment and sexism. Later that month, New York Magazine reported that Megyn Kelly had told investigators that Ailes had acted inappropriately towards her a decade earlier. The summer stretched and more reports of sexual harassment surfaced. In July, Ailes left Fox News with a $40 million severance check in hand. By September, Fox paid a total of $22.6 million to women in settlement claims related to sexual harassment by Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. This morning, Ailes died.
So, which is it? Was he a genius media mogul who crafted a multi-hundred million dollar news channel or was he a sexual predator who used his power to harass the women who walked through the doors of Fox News?
He was both. And we must remember that when we discuss his life and his legacy. To erase the accusations of sexual harassment against Ailes and focus on his meteoric success in television and politics, we are doing an injustice to any woman who has been harassed by Ailes — any and woman who has been harassed by her boss. If we forget the sexual harassment lawsuits, we are sending a message: if you are a successful man, you can get away with anything – we will forgive you & remember you for your accomplishments.
And there’s a danger in that. Because women are watching our reactions to Ailes’s death. Women are deciding whether to report their bosses or open up about the harassment they have faced. And if we whitewash Ailes’s legacy, we are sending a message: your experience doesn’t matter – either we don’t believe you or we don’t care.
This isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican. This isn’t about whether you watch CNN or Fox News. This is about telling women that we hear them when they speak up about the sexual harassment that so many face. This is about acknowledging that Roger Ailes was known for creating a company culture where sexism, misogyny and harassment reigned freely. So, yeah, he created a media juggernaut in Fox News – but, more importantly, he used his power to prey on women. Let us not forget that. Let us not allow women to see us pushing their experiences by the wayside because it’s more convenient that way. We hear you. We believe you. And, even in the face of death, we won’t forget.