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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Talk isn’t cheap

Sexual banter at the office is far from harmless

Talk isn’t cheap

Roger Ailes (Nancy Kaszerman/Zuma Press/Newscom)

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.



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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Fri, 08/05/2016 09:23 pm

    I know two wise men.

    My father:  "I always talk like I'm in the locker room."

    My grandfather:  "Foul language is the vocabulary of a weak mind."

    God bless them.

  •  SBTB's picture
    Posted: Wed, 08/10/2016 10:11 am

    Mr. Bossard,

    Please explain your father's quote, as I've always thought "locker room" banter was usually off-color.  Thanks.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 08/10/2016 01:38 pm

    SBTB:  It was his way of saying that if it is inappropriate for the public, it is inappropriate for the locker room.  He avoided a lot of trouble with that philosophy.

  •  Melissa D's picture
    Melissa D
    Posted: Wed, 08/10/2016 09:41 am

    Good article

  • JM
    Posted: Wed, 08/10/2016 10:03 am

    Excellent article! The trouble with many companies and organizations today, those in leadership positions do not hold themselves to the standard the policies state.

    T. McManus

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Wed, 08/10/2016 01:50 pm

    Sadly, I do not believe that sexual harassers even think there is a standard, regardless of its existence in writing.

  •  TInaH's picture
    Posted: Wed, 08/10/2016 09:32 pm

    "An outfit as sleazy as Fox News?" If Ailes is guilty of sexual harassment - he'll have his day (or days) in court to sort that all out - that is, of course, reprehensible. But to start an article about the presumed behavior of one man by calling an entire organization "sleazy" is really beneath your journalistic integrity, Mr. Belz. I've watched Fox News for about a dozen years and have been so thankful for an alterative to the obviously-liberal/socialist bent of every other network (broadcast and cable) - just as I have been thankful for about the same length of time to be a WORLD subscriber in order to get an alternative to liberal/socialist bias in print news. I don't like everything I see or hear on Fox - yes, too many of the women wear dresses that are two short and too tight and sometimes a male anchor is too abrasive - but if you think Fox is "sleazy," I surely hope you have much, much stronger adjectives with which to deride NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, etc. Fox News is not a Christian organization so we cannot hold it to biblical standards just because it leans conservative politically; it's short-sighted to presume otherwise. And without evidence to prove your thesis of an entire network being "sleazy," methinks a retraction is in order.

  • twinelms
    Posted: Fri, 08/12/2016 04:17 pm

    Well said!

  • twinelms
    Posted: Fri, 08/12/2016 01:36 pm

    So, if not Fox News, who are we to turn to for television news?  We all must view newscasts with a discerning eye, but I find Fox News closest to my Christian values despite its shortcomings.  

  • redtoetwins
    Posted: Sun, 08/28/2016 08:05 pm

    So, I'm confused. Both you and Marvin took some low-ball shots at Fox News in this issue. Was that by design? And just where do you recommend that the vast majority of your readers turn for news if you're calling Fox sleazy?