Scottie Nell Hughes at a panel discussion in July in Pasadena, Calif. (Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon)
Media columnist

Scottie Nell Hughes defended Donald Trump passionately during the campaign. After the election, seeming to echo Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway's notion of "alternative facts," Hughes infamously opined that "there is no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts," just opinions about what should be believed.

New York magazine called her one of Trump's "most faithful and pervasive campaign surrogates." She even was able to look beyond his bragging about groping women; it was wrong, she agreed, but not disqualifying.

Early this year, after a stint as a paid contributor on CNN, she thought she was headed for a position in the Trump administration.

Then things went south, and her career went into a tailspin.

"I'm dead in the water now," she told me. "I can't be touched by any media or any network."

Before going to CNN in 2016, Hughes had been a frequent guest on Charles Payne's Fox Business show, "Making Money." Last month, she claimed in a lawsuit that Payne raped her in 2013. A sexual relationship, that she describes as the result of coercion and fear, and he describes as a regrettable consensual affair, followed for two years.

Payne has vehemently denied her charges and his lawyer called them baseless and a "publicity stunt." Fox suspended him for a time while it investigated; he's now back on the air. And Fox says it will vigorously defend itself in court.

Hughes, on the other hand, claims that she has been blackballed — not only from Fox but other media outlets. That happened, she alleges, after she ended the relationship and word of her complaint came to Fox's attention; tabloid stories and leaked emails hurt her reputation and vastly limited her opportunities even before she filed suit.

Now a once-promising career, she says, is in ruins.

Hughes told me that she's found out the hard way that conservative women have a particularly hard time making sexual harassment and assault claims. Those claims often are scoffed at on the right, she said, and retaliation can be swift and brutal.

"Name me another conservative woman who has charged a male on the same side of the aisle with sexual misconduct outside of those involved with Fox," she said.

The absence speaks volumes, she said: "Victims have been shamed into silence and it's almost like open hunting season for sexual predators on the right."

Almost every day, she said, she hears from women in conservative political and media circles. She gave examples of what they've told her: "My career would be over." "I'm thinking I should speak up against certain people but it would ruin me." "I internalized it for years. And hid behind work."

Hughes told me that she is appalled at the way Fox News has given plenty of airtime to the sexual-harassment and sexual-assault charges against liberal Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, but virtually ignored its internal scandal that resulted in the falls from grace of network co-founder Roger Ailes and host Bill O'Reilly. (Fox gave only 11 minutes of airtime to Ailes in a five-week period last summer when it was huge news elsewhere, The Washington Post's Paul Farhi reported.)

"The silence is deafening," she said. "Over the last few weeks, I have watched in utter disbelief at the weak coverage and failure to address the elephant in the room."

And although she once was ensconced in the conservative-media world, she's more than disenchanted.

"They are so quick to throw hate," she said. "And they've turned their backs on this whole issue."

Hughes says her core conservative beliefs are mostly intact. But on some issues — particularly those related to women — her recent experiences "have made me step back."

"I'm a lot more sensitive now," she said. Living with her husband and two young children outside Nashville, she rarely goes out by herself because of the cruel remarks that people make.

And she not only isn't working, but has few prospects.

"It's very frustrating — especially since I think I have a lot to say on the questions of the day."

She is waiting for her suit to come to trial, hoping to clear her name and start over.

People told me, "If you go public, you're going to be buried." They were right, she said.

Hughes's case is something now for a court, not a columnist, to rule on. But what is clear is that her coming forward has taken a huge toll on her life and career.

It's also clear that Fox News — which has given such lavish coverage to the charges against Weinstein — can seem like a champion of women's issues. But only when it fits the network's own worldview.

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