The Peach State prepares for a political frenzy as a pair of January runoffs determine the balance of the Senate—and the shape of the presidency
It’s pretty ironic, don’t you think, that an outfit as sleazy as Fox News should either seek—or get—any credit at all for firing a fellow like Roger Ailes? Ailes had become the target of some specific accusations of sexual harassment from a bevy of women on the Fox team. The powers that be apparently decided that enough is enough and that, even with a vigorous Ailes denial, the Fox image didn’t need to be dragged through the muck.
Indeed, Ailes’ dismissal as Fox’s CEO may have received less attention than it should have, overshadowed by the two big political parties’ national conventions. In most other circumstances, the event might well have stirred up a good bit more discussion.
I’ve never been a Fox News fan, but I don’t say that to devalue the efforts of the Fox team over the years. Indeed, in one sense, the overall television news scene got a welcome change a couple of decades ago when Ailes stepped up to help shape a news network ready to tell “the other side” of the story. For years, CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS had all irked conservatives with their obviously liberal bent—and then along came the all-news CNN, and it wasn’t a whit better.
Ailes had been a media aide to Richard Nixon, to Ronald Reagan, and especially to George H.W. Bush—and his conservative political leanings were hardly a secret. But ideology was not typically Ailes’ main interest. He was as much a showman as he was a purveyor of the day’s news. He was a sensationalist who claimed straightforwardly, “If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?”
There’s good reason why the Bible warns us about the dangers of off-color chatter.
But Ailes knew that filling his roster with gymnasts falling into orchestra pits would not hold an audience for long. Far better suited to that task was an unending lineup of attractive young women, typically both smart and winsome. And if “smart” actually meant a little “sassy,” and “winsome” meant moving close to “raunchy” and “off-color,” the record shows that’s not just what Ailes tolerated but what he promoted by design. The same has held true along the way with other regulars on Fox’s news programs—especially with the bleeped crudities of anchor Bill O’Reilly’s “analysts” Dennis Miller and Greg Gutfeld.
With all these apples, as they say, regularly falling such a short distance from the tree, no one should have been surprised that the top man himself operated with a similar mindset. Yes, sexual harassment that is legally actionable is worse than a joke about adultery. But it was Jesus Himself who taught that both spring from the same roots.
There’s good reason why the Bible warns us about the dangers of off-color chatter. The Proverbs in the Old Testament and the writers of the Epistles in the New all remind us of the destructive nature of such verbal frivolity. Such banter always heads downhill. One sexually daring joke or insult sets the standard, after which it becomes obligatory for others to join in with something just that much more audacious and enterprising.
And it works very much the same way in the life of an organization like Fox News—whether it’s a family, a local church, an educational institution, or even a big corporation. We don’t have to be privy to the details to know pretty much how all this happened. Some not-quite-cautious fellow tests the water with a supposedly harmless comment. Then the next person in line picks up the thread and pushes it just a bit further. And the next party, not wanting to be thought a prude, adds still more zest to the banter. And everybody assumes such behavior will be tolerated because, after all, the top man does it, doesn’t he?
The poison in that “harmless” exchange is the manner in which the boundaries have been moved. And that which last week was tolerated next week takes on a more and more toxic character. No one at Fox should be surprised to see the departure of an able and successful man like Roger Ailes. Big and competent as he was, there were some little fires he should have controlled, but never did. Top dogs everywhere should take notice.