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Larry Beinhart's Body Politic: Matters of Public Record 

Does anyone remember the Republican Party presidential debates?

Though the magical powers of irrelevance make them seem to have vanished into some misty past, they actually took place quite recently. At the time, there were two things very striking about them. Especially in the early debates. The questions that were asked—and the answers that were demanded—had nothing to do with running a country. They were fitting, however, as auditions to become Fox News commentators. That being where zombie right-wing politicians—Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ollie North—go for paychecks after their actual political careers have died.

The second was the eyelashes on the female hosts supplied by Fox News and Fox Business. Call me naïve, sheltered, oblivious—it's probably true—but I had never seen the like. They had the industrial giantism of the teeth on the buckets of hydraulic excavators. How did those women keep their eyes open? How did the lashes stay on? Or peel off? I assume they did, maybe they didn't. Who were the engineers that created those cantilevered devices?

Actually, they are part and parcel of what it means to be a woman on Fox.

That brings us to Gretchen Carlson.

She didn't work the debates, but she was one Fox's leading ladies and, as much as anyone else, she embodied the collective ideal of femininity inside the group mind of Fox World. A retro vision that harkens back to Marilyn Monroe. Blonde. A former Miss America. Pretending she wasn't nearly as smart as the two genuinely dumb guys sitting either side of her on that couch on "Fox & Friends," and any time a complicated, three-syllable word came up, oh gosh, little her had to look it up on Google! Tight tops on those zaftig breasts. And, most of all, always in a skirt so short that she had to keep her legs crossed, and if they weren't, her knees pressed forcefully and resolutely against each other, lest the camera look right up between them! It was, day in and day out, like the famous scene of Marilyn over the subway grating when the wind from below blew her skirts up, and oh my! Oh gee! Oh gosh! We might see what's up there. If there is any doubt that this was about the Living Id from the '50s, Google Gretchen, select videos, and see how many YouTube clips come up that revel in glimpses of her upper thighs.

This was deliberate and designed. Female anchors were required to wear skirts. All the sets had women on couches or on stools. If a woman was behind a desk, it was made of glass, so viewers could see what was down there! The camera dedicated to peeking was fondly called "the leg cam" by the crew.

That brings us to Roger Ailes. The man who created Fox News. Which is far more than "news." It's a transformative phenomenon. It ripped the media and politics away from its cautious, centrist, fact-checking conventional wisdom and took us to the true is false, false is true, Tea Party, fact free, Palin-Santorum-Trump, all-spin zone that we're living in today.

click to enlarge Roger Ailes, Fox News Creator.
  • Roger Ailes, Fox News Creator.

Gretchen has now sued Roger.

Although she was willing to play a bimbo on TV for a reputed $800,000 a year, she bristled at being treated like a dumb blonde in her real life. She claimed that Ailes forced her off "Fox & Friends" "after she refused his sexual advances and complained to him about persistent harassment in the newsroom." (New York Times, 07/07/2016). Shortly after she filed, New York magazine came out with an article: "6 More Women Allege That Roger Ailes Sexually Harassed Them." Collectively, their stories make it very clear that Ailes routinely demanded sex for jobs and promotions and threatened retribution if they turned him down. Since Roger looks like the love-child of Alfred Hitchcock (the body and the jowls) and Dick Cheney (the pallor and the scowl), it's hard to imagine any person—man or woman—having sex with him except out of fear or for favors.

Fox's contract with Gretchen calls for any disputes to be settled by arbitration and in complete secrecy.

Kudos to Ms. Carlson. She was smart enough to sue Ailes personally.

And that's the only reason we all know about it.

It also makes this story doubly important, beyond a tale of a boss firing workers who don't "lay down with the big boys," to quote one of Roger's more colorful propositions. Ailes, along with Fox, is fighting desperately to push this tale back into its corporate hidey-hole, so it can be locked away in silence. Oh, the irony. Imagine what endless, unremitting, salacious, and profit-making fun Fox would have with this story if it were about the head of CNN, the New York Times, or Hillary Clinton's husband. The courts may ultimately accept Roger's argument that Gretchen's complaint belongs in corporate arbitration. Then the cone of silence will descend on the whole affair.

Here's the question for us. Is there a public interest here? Should we have a right to know?

There is a presumption—even a constitutional imperative—that trials in America, both criminal and civil—are public events, their proceedings are open to the public, and their results are a matter of public record. In civil cases, this is less and less true. Most corporate and business offenses—even if they result in multiple deaths—result in civil cases. They and their lawyers have found more and more ways to shroud themselves in secrecy. It is routine for a company to demand confidentiality when they pay for the harm they've done. So people bought Firestone tires for their Ford Explorers and then rolled over and died, even though there had already been lawsuits that proved it might happen, because those settlements included confidentiality agreements. Once the story came out, smart people bought Cooper tires. Since there had already been successful lawsuits against Cooper, it might have been a matter of public record that their product unraveled when the rubber met the road. But it wasn't. Nobody had yet found a way around their confidentiality agreements. So more people died. Publically, Allstate Insurance still advertised that you're in "Good Hands." But privately—and secretly—back in the 1990s, they put their hands into the "Boxing Gloves" strategy. Deny and delay legitimate claims to force policy holders to accept payouts of 40 cents on the dollar. "Make litigating claims...so expensive and time-consuming that any victory by the policy holder would be purely Pyrrhic" (see "An Insurer in the Grip of Greed" by David J. Berardinelli, TRIAL magazine, July 2007). How extensive is this practice? Is it still going on? We don't know. It's secret. Do you have an Allstate policy? Call them up. Ask them about it.

Always, when we speak of bad corporate and legal practices, we come to Donald Trump. There are multiple lawsuits against Trump University, including a RICO case. Trump flew into his famous "the judge is a Mexican" tirade when he ordered the release of material that documented—according to the plaintiffs—how Trump University went about defrauding its customers. The defense claimed that these should be protected as "trade secrets."

What do you think? Should the techniques of selling expensive, fake, and useless education be protected? As trade secrets? Or is there a public interest in knowing how frauds are committed?

Speaking of...

  • Larry Beinhart on Roger Ailes and Donald Trump.

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