Megyn Kelly

Roger Ailes is up in arms.

He issued a 177-word-statement (“177 words too long,” my colleague Erik Wemple suggested) denouncing Donald Trump in the strongest terms: “Donald Trump’s surprise and unprovoked attack on Megyn Kelly during her show last night is as unacceptable as it is disturbing. Megyn Kelly represents the very best of American journalism and all of us at FOX News Channel reject the crude and irresponsible attempts to suggest otherwise. I could not be more proud of Megyn for her professionalism and class in the face of all of Mr. Trump’s verbal assaults.” He accused Trump of bullying and said that “Donald Trump rarely apologizes, although in this case, he should.”

What, I wondered, had Trump done to merit this vehement denunciation?

Trump tweeted negatively about Megyn Kelly’s performance during her first show back from vacation — “I liked The Kelly File much better without . Perhaps she could take another eleven day unscheduled vacation!” — and also retweeted a few not-so-kind tweets, including one calling her a “bimbo” (have we resolved the question of whether retweets are endorsements yet, by the by? What’s the Trump stance? He doesn’t clarify in his bio).

This is fairly mild for Trump. Not only that, it’s fairly mild for Fox. I’ve written on this strange double standard before, but if you want to call out Donald Trump for being a sexist troglodyte, or even a huge sexist troglodyte, you should check your own cave for sexism first.

If Ailes thinks what Trump has been saying is beyond the pale, well — who wants to break this to him?

If he’s really serious that these are “unacceptable” and “disturbing” things to say, then what about this plethora of moments (handily assembled by Media Matters, not exactly Fox’s No. 1 fan) from earlier Fox news coverage, with male commentators and guests leering, making really terrifically original get-back-to-the-kitchen-based jokes, asking whether female breadwinners go against nature, joking about feminization and sluts, and — well, Trump could take a master class from these guys. Look at the faces of the women sitting there as this goes on. “Boobs on the ground.”

Even the shows have names like “Outnumbered.” “Surrounded by women” is only “outnumbered” in the mind of someone who views women as A) not simply people like you but something else and b) somehow hostile (Yes, I know it’s tongue-in-cheek! Don’t worry, I have a sense of humor. Ho ho ho, to repeat three times a word that has gotten tossed around on Fox a time or two.)

Are Trump’s remarks “unacceptable” and “disturbing”? Then, well, gosh, this is awkward. Maybe — turn on your TV?

At this point someone could pipe up and say, “Well, look, every time you criticize Megyn Kelly it isn’t necessarily sexist. You should be allowed to talk about her journalism.”

Ha! I say to this person. HO! HO! HO!

Of course criticism of women and their work isn’t necessarily sexist. (If you said that “your writing today is excessively reliant on ho’s, Petri” – it would, for instance, be perfectly legitimate.) But that’s not what’s happening here. The question that set this whole thing off, the “rude” question, was explicitly about Trump’s sexism. That’s what made him come leaping out of his clock yelling “CUCKOO.” That’s the journalistic act that prompted Trump to talk about blood coming out of everywhere and retweet people calling Kelly a “bimbo” and generally assail her credentials and performance. It all eventually comes back to sexism.

This is why I always wondered about this tactic. Is this genuinely how we’re going to take down Trump, Fox News? By complaining that someone else is sexist? This is a little like Darth Vader trying to kick someone out of a club on the grounds that the person is breathing too loudly. You can try, but it takes a lot of wangling. And sure, Megyn Kelly has long cultivated a reputation as one of the few people at Fox who could ask a question about sexism (a disapproving question, that is) with a straight face. But it’s a rare trait.

My hope is that Roger Ailes is genuinely stunned by these remarks and that he’s going to go back home and have a Very Serious Talk with everyone about what’s been going on all this time.

But I have always been an optimist.

If not, what then? Trump will keep harping on this because he knows he can win, until of course we get bored (I’m a little bored already, to be honest. Eighteen days is far longer than you should have to pay attention to anything in this news cycle, let alone a Donald Trump feud with Megyn Kelly. We don’t even allocate so much attention to national tragedies.) And then after we are bored he will keep harping on it. And eventually he will be gone, nothing but a vague and unpleasant memory that strikes us with an inexplicable horror when we hear the word “huge.”

In the meantime, it will be fun to watch this tactic work.

If Ailes is serious that what Trump said about Megyn Kelly is an “attack” that is not acceptable, he has some house-cleaning to do, some tone to set and a few other apologies to seek.

If you wouldn’t like it if someone said it about Megyn Kelly, try not to encourage an environment where people casually say it about everyone else.