At Fox News, Donald Trump allegations bring echoes of recent scandal

Trump cancels 'Hannity' appearance
Trump cancels 'Hannity' appearance

After a lively on-air discussion about the groping and sexual harassment allegations levied against Donald Trump, Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle tried to impart a tip to any victims of such abuse.

"We can learn from all of this," Guilfoyle said Thursday on Fox's evening roundtable, "The Five," "that as soon as something happens to you, you come out, be empowered and say something."

Guilfoyle had barely completed the sentence by the time she was admonished by two of her co-hosts on the program, Greg Gutfeld and Dana Perino.

"Well, sometimes you don't always come out immediately," Gutfeld said.

"Often," echoed Perino, a former White House press secretary.

The scandal engulfing Trump's presidential bid has highlighted an unavoidable tension that has loomed over Fox News since the summer.

It was only about three months ago that Fox News was facing a scandal of its own: a deluge of sexual harassment allegations against the channel's founder and CEO, Roger Ailes, that ultimately led to his ouster.

Ailes is now informally advising Trump's presidential campaign. And like Trump, Ailes denied all of the allegations brought against him. Ailes was also vigorously defended by several Fox News personalities.

Related: Donald Trump's poll denialism

The exchange on Thursday between Guilfoyle, Gutfeld and Perino had echoes of the way Ailes was discussed, at least publicly, by Fox personalities.

In July, after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes, Guilfoyle was one of the first personalities at the channel to publicly back her boss. While vouching for Ailes as "a champion of women," Guilfoyle also questioned why Carlson didn't come forward sooner.

"She wouldn't even be bringing this if she had been getting paid new money on the new contract, I bet you," Guilfoyle told the conservative news site Breitbart at the time. "Why wasn't this recorded or brought forward before? She's a strong, smart woman—went to Stanford and has a good head on her shoulders. So why wouldn't this have come forward before? Everybody is asking me—why now?"

Ailes' wife Beth reportedly urged Guilfoyle to defend him publicly.

Guilfoyle didn't say much else on Thursday about the latest Trump allegations, but she isn't the only commentator at Fox News to question why several women have only come forward with damning claims against Trump less than a month before the election. Howard Kurtz, a media critic at Fox News and host of a weekly program, wondered Thursday on Twitter whether it is "fair to question the timing" of the allegations. (Commentators at other outlets, such as MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, have raised similar questions.)

Kurtz, who delivered the on-air announcement on Fox in July that Ailes was leaving the channel, wrote in a column on Friday that it was "possible to find the allegations troubling while also questioning their timing and whether it's no accident that the women are breaking their silence a month before the election."

Related: Trump and the Breitbart election

Fox News, which has clearly been Trump's preferred media outlet, hasn't ignored the allegations. But some of its on-air personalities have adopted the Republican nominee's skepticism about them.

Addressing supporters in Florida this week, Trump denounced the allegations as "slander and libels" that he said were brought "by the Clinton machine and the New York Times and other media outlets, as part of a concerted, coordinated and vicious attack."

On Friday, "Fox & Friends" co-host Ainsley Earhardt co-opted that language, saying the allegations were "definitely coordinated," employing the same charge the Trump campaign has used against the New York Times, one of the outlet's to publish the accounts of the alleged victims.

"Five women coming out the same day, that has to be coordinated," Earhardt said, before turning her attention to the "Clinton machine being in bed with mainstream media."

She noted that network news broadcasts have given far more coverage to Trump than to the hacked emails of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, which have been disseminated by WikiLeaks.

Related: Lou Dobbs apologizes for tweeting Trump accuser's phone number

Trump and his supporters have insisted that the allegations were brought out now to overshadow the emails, a theory that was peddled Thursday night by Fox News host Sean Hannity.

Hannity, one of the best-known conservative pundits and an unabashed Trump supporter, feigned mock surprise that the allegations arrived "in the middle of the WikiLeaks dump." He also questioned why the media interviewed Trump's alleged victims while ignoring the sexual harassment allegations against former President Bill Clinton.

Three months earlier, Hannity dismissed the various sexual harassment allegations against Ailes as "all BS." But on his program Thursday, Hannity found himself seated across from Clinton's accusers, including Juanita Broaddrick, who alleges that then-Arkansas attorney general Bill Clinton raped her in 1978.

Hannity's full-throated defense of Ailes this summer was in contrast to Bill O'Reilly, Fox's top-rated host who didn't say much about the allegations.

But O'Reilly, known to be a fierce Ailes loyalist, still went to bat for his embattled boss. After Carlson filed the lawsuit, O'Reilly told late night host Seth Meyers that he stood "behind Roger 100 percent."

"In this country, every famous, powerful or wealthy person is a target," O'Reilly told Meyers. "You're a target, I'm a target."

On his show Thursday, O'Reilly channeled a similar line while discussing the Trump allegations, condemning the news organizations for "gross speculation about things they could not possibly know anything about." O'Reilly lamented that "piling on is now an American sport," and said he won't cover the Trump allegations unless law enforcement gets involved.

"In America today," he said, "all accusations are convictions."


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