All over the country, women are speaking out about sexual harassment and finally people are listening. Predatory CEOs and media personalities have lost their jobs. Careers have ended, media empires are teetering, sexist trolls are being banished from social media and even Silicon Valley is finally attempting to make some changes.
Meanwhile, from the White House, bizarre and disturbing tweets about women, their looks, their dispositions and, weirdly, their blood, continue.
Has the president gone too far? people ask after each incident, as if there were a number or a degree separating acceptable sexist commentary from unacceptable sexist commentary.
The question was posed, in fact, on Thursday by a reporter at that morning’s White House briefing where Donald Trump’s abusive tweets about “Morning Joe” co-anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski — in which Trump referred to Brzezinski as “low I.Q., crazy Mika” and claimed, apropos of nothing, that she came to Mar-a-Lago over the New Year’s holiday “bleeding badly from a face lift”— were a main subject.
“I don’t think so,” answered Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Which is pretty much how the Trump campaign responded after his blood-soaked comments in 2015 about another female anchor, Megyn Kelly, after the former Fox News personality moderated a debate in which he felt he was treated unfairly by her: “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” he said afterward.
If only Kelly or Brzezinski could be more like the Irish reporter in his office this week for whom he interrupted a call with Ireland’s newly elected prime minister to comment on her “beautiful smile,” saying to the PM “I bet she treats you well.”
Female media figures don’t just irk Trump, they’re his presidential version of Kryptonite. For starters, they’re women — members of a gender that he’s historically said really terrible things about, whether they’re beauty queens, political opponents, entertainment talk-show hosts or Cher. What’s worse is that women like Kelly are part of a press corps that now holds Trump to the standards of a world leader rather than an election-year novelty or “Celebrity Apprentice” host.
Reality can be cruel outside the safe confines of reality TV.
The savvy Huckabee Sanders knew this was coming: “Everybody wants to make this an attack on women,” she said Thursday, when healthcare, immigration reform, the revised travel ban and Chinese banking sanctions should have been at the top of the agenda. But Trump didn’t tweet about those things. “I’m a woman and I don’t cry foul every time I’m criticized.”
Except it wasn’t the MSNBC anchor who cried foul Thursday; it was several high-ranking, mostly male, Republicans including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who spoke out against the tweets, and countless talking heads, and at least half of America, judging by the widespread condemnation erupting across social media.
Stephen Colbert echoed what many were feeling on his show that evening: “I thought by now, after five months of this, that my soul had calcified into a crouton. Not true, because today, the president of the United States tweeted.”
Brzezinski held back from commenting until Friday.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post and on “Morning Joe,” she and co-anchor/fiance Joe Scarborough addressed the tweets. They voiced concerns about the president’s mental wellness, his “unhealthy obsession” with their show and alleged that they had been threatened with negative press — through the National Enquirer, of all outlets — by the White House.
Still Brzezinski said she’s not personally ruffled by the tweets. “I’m fine,” she said.
Her composure is about the only thing here that’s not surprising. Many women like Brzezinski, who’ve made it far enough to gain access to the White House briefing room, a seat at a cable news or broadcast anchor desk or the top offices at this and other news organizations, have developed thick skin without the benefit of plastic surgery. Adversity tends to have that effect, something Trump would know little about.
They have broken through in an aggressive and public-facing industry where they’ve been criticized, diminished, debased and mansplained into near oblivion by bosses, peers, viewers and readers. If they’d lashed out anywhere along the way like Trump has throughout his career, they wouldn’t be working at Starbucks let alone MSNBC. They’d be women dependent on the social services Trump plans to cut.
Criticism, fair or not, is part of being a public figure. Just scroll down comments posted on the social media accounts of the media elite, you know, the people Trump and his defenders keep pointing to as vicious detractors. And if they’re women, expect it to be all the more vitriolic. Men rarely get threatened with rape, sexual assault or being groped by the genitals (Trump used different wording on that “Access Hollywood” tape).
Any female journalist who gains footing in the field has been called a bitch, a whore and much worse by particularly irate readers and viewers who disagree. But what was once occasional has become the new normal. That’s increased along with the same types of ethnic slurs — “Go back to where you came from!,” which in my case means the San Fernando Valley — and partisan rants their male colleagues also receive.
Huckabee Sanders has likely had to walk through similar rings of fire in the political arena, even before she found herself defending Trump’s sophomoric attacks. On Thursday she characterized his Twitter tirade as the warranted actions of “a man who fights fire with fire.”
Imagine if President Obama had railed about Fox’s Jeanine Pirro being just as ugly on the inside as the outside (as Trump said about Arianna Huffington) when she questioned the validity of his birth certificate, or President George W. Bush had characterized Ashleigh Banfield as a woman with “the face of a dog” (as Trump did a New York Times journalist) when Banfield criticized his military actions overseas.
What’s most strange, disturbing and perhaps even ironic about this White House’s proclivity for cyber-bullying women in particular is that it comes at a time when the Internet and big business are finally taking women’s claims of sexual harassment seriously. Roger Ailes, the ousted head of Uber, Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly are all proof. Twitter and Facebook have suspended accounts that breach their tightened harassment standards.
But now we have a president behaving in such a way that, if he’s not careful, he will get kicked off social media. And then what’s left? Just running the country.
When: 3 a.m. PT Mondays - Fridays (No show July 4)