In a life characterized by ideological, financial, and even marital inconsistency, there’s one thing President Donald Trump has remained fairly consistent on: defending men accused of sexual assault or harassment.
Today, the president leapt to the defense of Bill O’Reilly, for some reason, after a New York Times report revealed that the Fox News host had settled $13 million worth of sexual harassment claims during his storied career at the network. It was, perhaps, the most predictable stance Trump has taken in his young presidency.
In an interview with The New York Times (which the president habitually refers to as “failing”) Trump said of O’Reilly, “I think he’s a person I know well—he is a good person. I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” (Apropos of nothing, last year, Donald Trump settled a lawsuit over Trump University for $25 million.)
Donald Trump could have responded to the Times’ question on O’Reilly by pivoting to another topic. He could have said that his personal opinion on this case was not of consequence. Better yet, he could have said nothing. People say nothing all the time. It’s easy!
But, alas, the president did not.
The list of charges against O’Reilly is long and gross. One woman claimed O’Reilly would call her on the phone and sound as though he was masturbating when she answered. Others claimed O’Reilly professionally retaliated against women who rejected his sexual advances. He allegedly told one woman that her purse was ugly when she wouldn’t accompany him to his hotel room.
This isn’t the first time O’Reilly has come face to face with allegations that he’s a nightmare to women. In transcripts from O’Reilly’s custody hearing with ex-wife Maureen McPhilmy obtained by Gawker in 2015, a psychologist charged with evaluating the O’Reilly family says O’Reilly’s teenage daughter once saw her father choking her mother and dragging her down the stairs. O’Reilly has denied those charges.
Since the latest O’Reilly story surfaced, nearly two dozen advertisers have fled O’Reilly’s prime time show. It seems like this sort of fracas is exactly the sort of thing a president should avoid getting involved in, especially during Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. It seems like a no-brainer.
Well, Donald Trump is a very special president.
Sexual harassment is a serious issue for American working women. A 2015 survey found that one in three say they have been sexually harassed at work. Of those women, 71% did not report their harassment. That’s in part because often, sexual harassment is dished out by powerful men like O’Reilly, men who have the ability to hamper their victims’ job prospects.
At this point, Trump’s response to sexual misconduct allegations against his friends reads so predictably it almost feels like a script.
When tape surfaced of the former Apprentice star bragging about sexually assaulting women back in October, Trump offered a similar line of defense to the one he offered O’Reilly. He insisted he didn’t do anything wrong (he had), he didn’t even apologize to his wife (yikes), and he was going to sue the women who made the claims against him (he hasn’t).
As noted by my colleagues Betsy Woodruff and Alexa Corse, Trump has also defended Mike Tyson against 1992 rape charges, claiming that because the woman accusing him of rape had been dancing and happy earlier in the night of the alleged incident that she was “railroading” the heavyweight boxing champion. Tyson was convicted and served three years of his six year sentence for that crime.
Trump’s also defended Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire who once operated a private jet that was nicknamed “The Lolita Express,” Joe Paterno, who turned a blind eye to assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s years of sexual abuse of young boys, and Bill Clinton, whose affair with Monica Lewinsky exploited a massive a power asymmetry between the two parties.
O’Reilly’s got his own history of covering for creeps. Last year, Fox News ousted O’Reilly’s former boss Roger Ailes after a smattering of sexual harassment claims. O’Reilly defended his boss then. So did Donald Trump.
Germans probably have a word for the combination of disappointment, anger, and boredom Trump’s continued sexual misconduct apologia induces. English-speakers don’t, which is a shame, since this uniquely Trump-branded feeling is something that crops up fairly often these days.
And we’re only five days into Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month! Is it possible for American women to become even more aware of sexual assault? I didn’t think it was possible, but President Trump has managed to do it.
And people say we never win.