The death of former Fox News chief Roger Ailes last week has inspired a mini-industry of sorry-not-sorry obituaries, detailing (as though we could ever forget) with solemnity what a miserable human being serial sexual-harasser Ailes was—a cruel, paranoid, terrifyingly shrewd operator who did more to poison our politics and civic life than maybe any other American in history (his boss Rupert Murdoch, as you may recall is Australian).
This week, The New York Times joined the party, in a sense. (Semi-side-note: The newspaper of note seems to have gained back journalistic life lately, spurred on by its stiff competition from the Washington Post: Is it too much to hope that a few years from now we might see a Dean Baquet vs. Marty Baron edition of Ryan Murphy’s Feud?). On Monday, the Gray Lady published the mother of all Roger Ailes think pieces, written by the woman on whose back—or more correctly, knees—he built his empire and his fortune: Monica Lewinsky.
In an op-ed titled “Roger Ailes’s Dream Was My Nightmare,” Lewinsky lets loose. And she should. She was the first and arguably, the most powerless victim of the merciless Fox News industrial complex. Young, vulnerable, and just beginning to take her first uncertain steps into the world when the vultures descended on her, she didn’t have the thick skin built up over years of exposure to the public life, or a reputation or record of accomplishment against which her putative “misdeeds” could be measured. She became, for the entire country, precisely what Fox News and its breathless army of commentators made her: a “young tramp looking for thrills.”
Writes Lewinsky, who has since become an anti-bulling advocate and journalist:
My character, my looks and my life were picked apart mercilessly. Truth and fiction mixed at random in the service of higher ratings. My family and I huddled at home, worried about my going to jail—I was the original target of Kenneth Starr’s investigation, threatened with 27 years for having been accused of signing a false affidavit and other alleged crimes—or worse, me taking my own life. Meantime, Mr. Ailes huddled with his employees at Fox News, dictating a lineup of talking heads to best exploit this personal and national tragedy.
Lewinsky muses as well on the circular satisfaction that, after exploiting the hypocritical moral outrage of a presidential sex scandal for the benefit of his fledgling network, it was ultimately a sex scandal—the years of sexual harassment and violation to which Ailes subjected his female stars and colleagues—that brought the Lizard King down. And even though I hadn’t thought of this before, I can’t help but wonder if some of Roger’s unnatural hatred of all things Clinton had to do as much with envy as politics. After all, Bill Clinton is a man of tremendous personal charm, who enjoyed a brief affair with a young, adoring woman who seemed to require no threats, incentives, or coercion to participate; could Roger Ailes, in his cut-short but still all-too-long life, ever say the same, despite all his influence and power? The answer, over pages and pages of testimony from his victims (the scope of which is just beginning to be known), seems to be a resounding “no.”
As for Monica, I’m glad she’s gotten to have the last word. Someday, I hope the last laugh.
And if Zachary Ailes—Roger’s teenage son, whose vengeful eulogy promising to rain terror upon the heads of the women who brought his father down, proving that Roger Ailes was every bit as exemplary a father as he was a human being—does succeed in distracting the forces of hell away from tormenting his father’s undead spirit to screw with Gretchen Carlson, then let him. Monica and I and a host of other nasty and undefeated women will be ready for them.