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Fox News host Jesse Watters of “The Five” has come under fire from feminists after he suggested that some women journalists will trade sex for news stories in response to the backlash against Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter (THR), the controversy erupted on Wednesday when Watters said that women journalists sleep with sources “all the time.” His comments were in reference to the outrage directed at “Richard Jewell” for portraying Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reporter Kathy Scruggs as a callous schemer trading sex with an FBI agent for a scoop, which AJC has condemned as “false and malicious.” Both Warner Bros. and Clint Eastwood have stood by the film’s artistic license.
“It happens, a lot. Ali Watkins was a reporter for many, many years, at many distinguished publications,” said Watters. “She slept with one of her sources, allegedly, for four years and broke a lot of scoops, according to this Politico report here. So, it happens a lot, and it happens a lot in movies and TV shows.”
When co-host Juan Williams challenged that assertion, Watters quickly added that he did not mean “most women reporters.”
“I don’t say most women reporters,” he said. “Male reporters could do it, too. I’m just saying it happens. I’m saying it’s happened many times in the past.”
In response to Watters’ comments, groups representing female journalists have been denouncing his statements as sexist. Elisa Lees Munoz, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, told THR that his comments were “totally beyond the pale.”
“It’s such a trope, it’s so tired, and why is it coming out now?” said Munoz. “I don’t think it’s any different than any other way that professional women are maligned in any profession, which is that a women can’t possibly do her job well if she’s not also using her body to get ahead.”
“I think it has to do with being fed up with journalists being portrayed as anything other than as professional and it has to do with the #MeToo movement and female journalists pushing back on these portrayals,” she continued. “In general, there’s much more awareness of how detrimental these kind of comments are and really an attempt to educate individuals.”
Carolyn McGourty Supple, co-founder of Press Forward, said that Watters promoted a harmful stereotype. “I think it’s an incredibly harmful stereotype and it was irresponsible to say on air,” she said. “It sounded anecdotal and not based in reality. Saying stuff like that has very harmful effects. In reality, women journalists are more likely to be sexually harassed by their sources and face verbal abuse and threats online. This is what drives female journalists around the world to leave the field when they are already underrepresented in the press.”
Tema L. Staig, executive director of the group Women in Media, called Watters a “gaslighting gasbag” while Julie Roginsky, a Democratic strategist who sued Fox News for sexual harassment in 2017 after serving as a contributor, denounced the comments as being “absolutely disgraceful.”
“This statement is absolutely disgraceful,” said Roginsky. “Of course, in his mind, female journalists must resort to feminine wiles to get the scoop, because it can’t be possible that women can actually break stories because of their tenacity and brain power. There is a profound cultural shift that is happening in the United States today, where women won’t stand for that kind of rhetoric any longer. I’m only sorry that this movement seems to have escaped the notice of some people at 1211 Avenue of the Americas.”