CREEPSTERS

Fox News Is Like Porn for Aggrieved Men

As more accusations emerge of sexual misconduct by male hosts, it’s starting to seem like Fox News is a sexism organization that dabbles in news rather than the other way around.

Is Fox News a “news” organization? The answer, as they say, may be more complicated than you think.

“Fox News” has “news” right there in the name. Its programming features people sitting behind desks or on chairs in artificial interior space-command landscapes lit in America-themed computer graphics. Chyrons conveying information of some kind appear below the faces of its personalities. Many people who work at Fox care deeply about reporting and contextualizing news. It certainly looks like news.

But, in the last year and change, Fox’s work has been overshadowed by the alleged offscreen conduct of its male hosts. Fox News’s mothership has produced a baseball team’s worth of sexual harassment complaints and won zero Peabody awards.

At this point, Fox News seems to be functioning less like a news organization with a sexism problem and more like a sexism organization with a news hobby.  

The newest revelations against Eric Bolling don’t do much to shake the once-unsinkable network’s burgeoning stigma as a house of creeps. Bolling stands accused of sending (to use the chaste term) unsolicited dong shots to female colleagues. Sending unsolicited photos of human genitalia is generally a frowned-upon practice, doubly so if the recipients are co-workers. But Eric Bolling isn’t bound by the uptight PC culture that aims to keep him from being great. Fox has suspended Bolling pending the outcome of an investigation. Bolling denied the charges Monday.

If the allegations against Bolling are true, he would be closer to the rule than the exception at Fox News. Last July, a year or a lifetime ago, Roger Ailes swiftly tumbled from atop the network after former ‘Fox & Friends’ host Gretchen Carlson filed suit against her former employer for alleged sexual harassment. A bombshell New York Magazine piece by Gabriel Sherman added more depth to Carlson’s accusations, telling a story of endemic licentiousness by Ailes that reportedly went back decades. It seemed the network, for better or worse, took after its dad.

The drip-drip-drip continued. The New York Times reported that a series of allegations against Bill O’Reilly had cost the network millions in harassment settlements. Fox personalities Laurie Dhue, Andrea Tantaros, Julie Roginsky, and Wendy Walsh came forward with allegations that Bill O’Reilly had attempted the same stunt as Ailes had on other women. Tamara Holder alleged that a Fox Latino host sexually harassed her. O’Reilly stepped down.

A reasonable person would conclude that Fox News has a culture problem that still hasn’t been eradicated. But it’s hard to be reasonable when that much money and pride is at stake.

Pat Robertson has a bad opinion about Bolling’s trevails. On today’s episode of ‘The 700 Club,’ a talk show that Robertson has been hosting for a thousand years, he surmised that a liberal conspiracy is to blame for the behavior of some of the men of Fox News. America’s preeminent flesh-colored Smurf said, “I’m not a conspiracy theorist but it’s so easy to see what’s being done. I think it’s a terrible shame. Fox had better synch up, gird up their loins, people are going after them. Anybody can send a salacious piece of literature. It came from Sean Hannity, it came from anyone. Totally bogus.”

Other Fox brass have dismissed the claims of the women similarly, implying some sort of covenesque coalescence between women who weren’t working there at the same time, on the same show, or with the same professional goals in mind. Women, by this argument, are somehow both inept little girls and treacherous villains capable of executing largeish conspiracies. If Fox News’ women are so good at teaming up to take down powerful men that they’re able to involve a dozen people without leaving a trail or having any of them turn on the group and confess it was a conspiracy, maybe women should be in more positions of power at Fox News. And elsewhere!

No woman deserves to be sexually harassed at work. But the sort of harassment that women allege takes place at Fox News doesn’t seem entirely unexpected, given what has gone public. Nor is it unexpected given the sort of world Fox creates for its viewers. Sexism at Fox News seems more like a feature than a bug.

For a certain slice of its viewers, Fox is fantasy. I should be able to spend all day hanging around skinny blonde Miss America types. I should be able to talk over these women, tell them they’re dumb but fuckable, and suffer no social consequences. I should demand physical perfection. I should have my needs catered to and feelings tiptoed around, while ironically decrying others who demand basic human politeness and consideration.

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This sort of viewer demands being the central focus, taken seriously at all times except for when they are deliberately joking, and then celebrated as a comedic visionary. They can demand sweetness and beauty and give none of it.

To this viewer, men like Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling, slightly sharper-than-average but physically ordinary men, serve as their avatars. They can spend all day watching the man who they wish they were, who look like somebody they might know, be alternately rude and condescending to women who would never date them. Fox News serves a similar purpose as internet pornography.

Pat Robertson is right that loins at Fox News should, indeed, be girded. Just not the ones he means.