Update: Fox announced Thursday that Roger Ailes had resigned as chairman and CEO "effective immediately," with Rupert Murdoch assuming the role of chairman and acting CEO.
Here's a bunch of stuff that will make your head hurt: Megyn Kelly has told investigators hired by 21st Century Fox that Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes made unwanted sexual advances a decade ago, according to New York magazine, bolstering allegations made in a sexual-harassment lawsuit brought by former anchor Gretchen Carlson. But if that's true, why did she tell Variety in April that "I really like working for Roger Ailes"? And why would the woman who earned widespread praise for her resolve in the face of Donald Trump's insults during the Republican presidential primary put up with that kind of crap?
It. Just. Doesn't. Make. Sense. Or does it?
I wrote after Carlson filed her suit this month that conflicting characterizations of Ailes complicate the case. Carlson, like Kelly, has praised the Fox News boss in the past; she wrote in a memoir published last year that "we seemed to have a real connection."
For that story, I spoke with Jennifer A. Drobac, a professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, who has authored a textbook about sexual-harassment law. She made an interesting point that wasn't included in my original report but is worth highlighting now:
You can go back to the Anita Hill case. It wasn't civil litigation; it was the Senate hearings, regarding confirmation of [Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas. But at the time, people criticized Anita Hill for speaking to the FBI because they said, "Look, you've been complimentary of this man. How can you now say he did the monstrous things you claim he did?" So let's look at why any complainant in a situation like this would find him — or herself in this situation. There are several reasons. First of all, it may be that the complainant truly found wonderful qualities in her boss. And those qualities may exist. Human beings are complex animals. ... Some claimants truly do like their bosses — except for the sexual harassment. And they try to make the best of a difficult situation. Case in point: Anita Hill followed Clarence Thomas from the Department of Education to the EEOC.
In other words, it is entirely possible that Ailes is both the supportive boss who defended Kelly against Trump's attacks — even refusing to replace her as a debate moderator to secure the candidate's participation — and also the guy who made an inappropriate pass at her. And it is possible that Kelly managed to forgive the latter because of the former.
Kelly has been publicly silent about the Carlson allegations, and Fox News did not respond to a Fix inquiry about her reported revelations to private investigators. New York magazine previously reported that a law firm hired by 21st Century Fox has turned up enough evidence of harassment by Ailes to remove him from his post, though the company had not made an announcement.
All of this played out against the backdrop of a presidential election featuring the first female presumptive nominee of a major party — Hillary Clinton, who has famously overlooked the sexual indiscretions of her husband because of his other qualities. Trump has made the presumptive Democratic nominee's decision to stand by Bill Clinton a campaign issue, casting her as an "enabler."
In media and politics, we're in a moment when viewers/voters must try to reconcile the idea that strong female characters would tolerate men who treat them with something less than total respect. As Drobac said, "human beings are complex animals."