Ethics & Public Policy Center

Thinking about Pence and O’Reilly

Published in National Review Online on April 5, 2017


Last week, we spent six or seven days gawping at Vice President Mike Pence and his wife for their supposedly bizarre or retro marriage rules. Pence, as even villagers in Bora Bora doubtless know by now, does not attend one-on-one dinners with women not his wife and does not drink alcohol in social settings when Karen is not with him.

Progressives were by turns confused and disgusted. They assumed that this conveyed a primitive view of relations between men and women. Does he imagine that all women are sirens, some wondered, prone to turn an innocent dinner into an opportunity for sexual adventure? What a caveman view! Or was he so vain as to think himself an Adonis whom women would be unable to resist? Besides, this private rule between spouses represents a setback for women in the workplace. Don’t most deals take place over dinner? Wouldn’t women be the losers if all men had such rules?

Conservatives had a bracing time with rebuttal. Mike Pence’s lieutenant governor was a woman! Avoiding “occasions of sin” isn’t primitive; it’s actually kind of elevated. Each couple may draw the line in a different place, but drawing lines around marriage is a very healthy, not a weird impulse. In typically pithy fashion, Jonah Goldberg noted that “elites say we have no right to judge adultery, but we have every right to judge couples who take steps to avoid it.”

My own take on the Pence brouhaha is that feminists who demand respect for women should never disdain the honor that good men show their wives by their constancy. Extremism in defense of fidelity is no vice.

So last week was an enjoyable culture-war moment. It felt almost like 2012 again, when progressives were sneering about Mitt Romney’s five sons as somehow “creepy,” and we on the right marveled at what a corrupt view of the world you must entertain to come to that conclusion. Surely of all the things to dislike about Romney, the very last item on the list ought to have been his wholesome family.

This week is another cultural battle, but the troops are not as motivated because the lines are not as clear. We are the ones who uphold gentlemanly standards of behavior, right? So if a TV star many conservatives enjoy watching turns out to be a serial sexual harasser, that would violate our norms, yes?

Bill O’Reilly has settled no fewer than five lawsuits alleging gross misbehavior toward women. The payouts have totaled $13 million ($10 million paid by O’Reilly, $3 million by Fox). Those kinds of settlements are not what you pay to make nuisance claims go away.

Of course it’s possible that some of the (many) women who have complained or filed suits against O’Reilly are disappointed aspirants to TV stardom themselves. But surely not all. One was his producer. And yes, many of the hosts on Fox News are impeccably upright. No suits have been filed citing Bret Baier or Brit Hume.

But there’s an awful lot of smoke here. Megyn Kelly said it happened to her. Andrea Tantaros has also sued Fox, and there are credible reports of more. Fox News under Roger Ailes produced some great journalism and some low-rent behavior — especially for a network that a) pitched itself to conservatives and b) took so many swipes at Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner.

Gretchen Carlson was one of many women who’ve alleged harassment, but apparently the only one who recorded a private encounter with Ailes on her cellphone. She walked away with $20 million. That seems a bit steep to me, but you have to admire her moxie.

Julie Roginsky has filed a separate suit against Roger Ailes and Fox News alleging that Ailes pressured her for sex and then retaliated against her by withdrawing a contract offer when she rebuffed him. A telling detail, for those on all sides of the Pence imbroglio — Ailes allegedly intimated that he was interested in a sexual encounter with Roginsky by, among other things, saying that she ought to have sex with “older, married, conservative men,” and that ”if it wouldn’t get us both into so much trouble” he would take her “out for a drink.” He suggested a private drink instead.

Wendy Walsh says she did have dinner with Bill O’Reilly to discuss becoming a paid contributor to his show. When she declined, after the meal, to go up to his room, the offer was allegedly withdrawn.

Wouldn’t everyone be better off following Mike Pence’s rules?

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Copyright © 2017 Creators.com

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