Fox News’ resident macho man Jesse Watters—who built his professional reputation, such as it is, by stalking liberals on camera, many of them women, on behalf of his predatory boss Bill O’Reilly—received a rhetorical slap in the face Thursday for his recommendation that women solve the problem of workplace sexual harassment simply by slapping their male harassers.
“I would suggest that women—and I’ve gotten in trouble for saying this before—you slap the man in the face. And you do it immediately,” Watters opined on Wednesday’s episode of The Five during a discussion of the sexual harassment and unwanted touching allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “Because if you wait too long, the politician feels like he can keep doing this, and it doesn’t matter if it comes out a year or three years later. Do it immediately. When he’s fresh.”
Several former Fox News women, who received monetary settlements and left the company after being targeted by harassers at the Donald Trump-friendly channel, reacted to Watters’ prescription with withering disgust.
“The responsibility to stop harassment, primarily a man’s issue, should not fall on a woman to fix it.”
— Gretchen Carlson, former Fox News host
“Women all across America are very pleased to have Jesse Watters mansplain to them,” former Fox News political analyst Julie Roginsky told The Daily Beast, “but Jesse Watters might have observed while working for two harassers [late Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and O’Reilly] that women are already facing the risk of professional retaliation by not going along with the harasser’s wishes.”
Roginsky—who left Fox News in 2017 after settling a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against the company, Ailes, and his deputy Bill Shine—added, “If the women got violent with the harasser their career would be over. Many are bound by forced arbitrations and NDAs at the start of their jobs. They couldn’t tell their stories. The better suggestion from Jesse is to put the onus on his fellow men to not harass women.”
Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, whose July 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes resulted in his being ousted in disgrace, agreed.
“Suggesting that women should slap their perpetrator is re-victimizing the victim in the sense they should fix the problem they have nothing to do with,” Carlson told The Daily Beast. “The responsibility to stop harassment, primarily a man’s issue, should not fall on a woman to fix it. It’s similar to other excuses that women should leave their jobs or move to another department rather than looking at the real problem. It’s another cover-your-ass reaction rather than working to fix the problem.”
In a tweet, she added, “Not to mention how idiotic it is to assume slapping a predator would somehow change them. And that it should be up to the woman to slap instead of predatory to just not harass.”
In an emailed response to The Daily Beast, Watters said he had been misunderstood: “This kind of predatory behavior needs to stop immediately and it’s 100% the harasser’s responsibility to stop it. My intention was to defend victims and hold inappropriate politicians accountable—any suggestion otherwise is a misinterpretation of what I said.”
Other women who spoke to The Daily Beast about Watters’ remark—several of whom signed non-disclosure agreements as part of cash settlements of lawsuits—asked to remain anonymous in order to avoid potential retaliation by Fox News Media or its parent company Fox Corp.
“It is simple to say ‘just slap him in the face,’ and while that might garner the woman short-term cheers, it would almost inevitably condemn her professional career, especially in broadcasting,” said one former Fox on-air personality. “If every man at Fox who made inappropriate comments was slapped at that moment, you would have a lot of red-faced men walking around the network. And, sadly, the women would never be allowed past security again to see.”
This woman added, “It is odd to see Fox take such an aggressive position regarding Gov. Cuomo, rallying for him to resign. This, as Fox continues to put multiple hosts and contributors on air who have been proven to do the same if not worse than the accusations against Cuomo.”
A second woman cited the 42-year-old Watters’ reported history of divorcing his then-wife Noelle in March 2019 after engaging in an extramarital affair with his 26-year-old associate producer, now-wife Emma DiGiovine. The officiant at their December 2019 wedding was then-Fox News anchor Ed Henry, who was fired last year as a Fox Business producer filed a graphic lawsuit accusing Henry of sexual abuse.
“A man [Jesse Watters] who had an affair with a much younger woman at work really has no place to tell women how they should react professionally when abused at work,” this person said. “Violence is not an answer. It’s usually the one thing women fear the most when their abusers are much larger, heavier, and stronger than they are.”
Attorney Douglas Wigdor, who has represented several Fox News accusers, told The Daily Beast, “It’s a classic rape myth that women should somehow use their physical power to ward off men who attack them, when the reality is that most women panic and freeze when sexually assaulted.”
Wednesday evening was not the first time Watters has drawn widespread criticism for piggish comments about women. In April 2017, the Fox host delivered some not-so-subtle sexual innuendo about Ivanka Trump, remarking upon video of her speaking at a women’s rights conference, “I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone,” while gesturing towards his mouth and smirking. The next day, Watters denied the sexual undertones before announcing an abrupt “family vacation.”
Meanwhile, a former Fox News staffer said, “I’d buy tickets to watch Jesse Watters slap his former boss Bill O’Reilly. What say you, anchorman? Are you hiding under your desk? Bill used to always say ‘what say you?’ and ‘are you hiding under your desk’ when guests wouldn’t come on after his on-air challenge to duke it out with him. Jesse Watters has lacked the moral fortitude to stand with any of the courageous women of Fox News, all who lost their jobs after being sexually harassed where he is currently employed.”
This woman added: “Now, in an incredible twist, he fancies himself the arbiter of sexual harassment. Only at Fox News could it get this perverse. But what else can we expect when the founder of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch, diminished decades-long sexual harassment coverup as nothing more than a ‘little bit of flirting.’”
Diana Falzone was an on-camera and digital reporter for FoxNews.com from 2012 to 2018. In May 2017, she filed a gender discrimination and disability lawsuit against the network and settled, and left the company in March 2018. Along with Roginsky and Carlson, she co-founded Lift Our Voices, a nonprofit seeking to eradicate NDAs in the workplace used to conceal toxic workplace behavior.