PHILADELPHIA, PA — One after the other, left-leaning media outlets featured pieces comparing former FBI director James Comey’s alleged treatment at the hands of President Trump to that of a female victim being sexually harassed by a male superior.
The media outlets were attempting to explain why Comey didn’t report to the Justice Department or say anything to Trump when, Comey claimed, the president, in a private meeting expressed his hope that, according to Comey’s quotation, “You can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
In Comey’s characterization, Trump was referring to the FBI investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey said in his official statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he replied to Trump’s alleged query about Flynn by stating only that “he is a good guy” – referring to Flynn.
That response, and the Senate’s grilling of Comey on the matter, prompted a flurry of anti-Trump media activity, with scores of outlets attempting to justify Comey’s purported reaction by comparing him to an abused woman.
Those same media outlets didn’t attempt to explain why Comey admittedly caved to a directive from then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to use the word “matter” instead of “investigation” when the FBI director publicly addressed the criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
“The attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a matter, which confused me and concerned me,” Comey said during last week’s testimony. “That was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude, ‘I have to step away from the department if we’re to close this case credibly.’”
Comey failed to explain at the hearing that he heeded Lynch’s directive and indeed referred to the FBI’s criminal investigation into Clinton as a “matter.”
‘Sounded like a woman whose powerful boss had harrassed her’
The Lynch admission didn’t make it into the pieces in question, each of which instead zeroed in on Comey’s claim that Trump had expressed hope that he would let the Flynn issue go, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-FL)’s questioning of Comey on the matter.
In a USA Today oped titled, “Now James Comey knows how women feel when the boss harasses them,” Alicia Shepard, former ombudsman for NPR, contended that at one point during Comey’s testimony last week, he “sounded like a woman whose powerful boss had harrassed her — and she said nothing.”
After noting Comey stands “an imposing 6-foot, 8-inches,” Shepard pointed to the section of the ex-FBI chief’s testimony in which she says Feinstein asked, “Why didn’t you say anything?”
In actuality, Feinstein’s question about Comey’s claim regarding Trump’s statements about Flynn went thusly: “You’re big, you’re strong,” she began. “I know the Oval Office, and I know what happens to people when they walk in. There is a certain amount of intimidation. But why didn’t you stop and say, ‘Mr. President, this is wrong – I cannot discuss that with you’?”
Shepard claimed that Feinstein “posed the question women are often asked after they finally get the nerve or are angry enough to claim sexual or verbal harassment.”
Comey responded to Feinstein’s question about why he purportedly didn’t say anything by claiming, “Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in.”
Compared to Gretchen Carlson
Attempting to justify Comey’s silence, Shepard compared the former FBI director to the experience of former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who famously accused former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes of sexually harassing her.
“Like Comey, Carlson went public after she had been fired,” writes Shepard.
Many, including myself, wondered why Carlson didn’t say anything sooner. But with all the attention lately on sexual harassment and workplace intimidation — especially at Fox — it’s easier to understand why Comey and Carlson stayed quiet. Both clearly felt pressured by superiors to do something — which they didn’t end up doing — to keep their jobs. …
When Carlson and Comey did try to stand up, they were attacked. After Carlson complained about newsroom harrassment, Ailes said she was a “man hater” and a “killer.” … When the Financial Times tweeted Thursday that Comey’s testimony put the president’s character on trial, Donald Trump Jr, tweeted back, “I’m pretty sure that Comey’s testimony put his own ‘character’ on trial. Leaks, admitted weakness, Lynch double standard. Come on now.” …
Comey wrote detailed memos after each interaction with the president because he was afraid Trump was going to “lie” about their private conversations. Carlson secretly taped her interactions with Ailes for a year using her iPhone.
‘A woman being harassed by her powerful, predatory boss’
Over at the New York Daily News, features and lifestyle reporter Ariel Scotti penned a piece titled, “Women: Comey’s testimony about his hostile boss Donald Trump is what we experience every day at work.”
“James Comey and millions of abused women have one horrific thing in common — and Bill O’Reilly still doesn’t get it,” Scotti contends. “Even female members of Congress saw Comey’s testimony through the lens of the typical American workplace.”
Scotti quotes a New York Times piece by theater critic and op-ed writer Nicole Serratore titled, “James Comey and the Predator in Chief.”
Serratore opined that Comey’s testimony reminded her “of something: the experience of a woman being harassed by her powerful, predatory boss.”
“There was precisely that sinister air of coercion, of an employee helpless to avoid unsavory contact with an employer who is trying to grab what he wants,” Serratore wrote.
Like Shepard, Serratore alludes to the exchange with Feinstein in which Comey expressed his wish that he had been “stronger” in his purported reaction to Trump’s alleged statements about Flynn.
Serratore writes, “That reaction — the choice of stillness, responses calculated to neither encourage nor offend that characterized so many of his dealings with Mr. Trump — is so relatable for any woman.”
The victim of sexual harassment is constantly haunted by the idea that she said or did something that gave her persecutor encouragement. Serial harassers, of course, have an intuitive sense of this, and are skilled at manipulating and exploiting it.
Mr. Comey, you are not alone.
Serratore contends that “with the power of the presidency at his disposal,” Trump believes “he could use the psychology of coercive seduction on the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.”
‘Millions of women know what that’s like’
W, the women’s fashion magazine, featured a piece by Nell Scovell with the headline, “What it Feels Like for a Woman and James.”
The magazine began by setting up Comey’s alleged private meeting with Trump through the eyes of a harassed woman:
A powerful man—your boss—invites you to discuss business after hours in an intimate setting. You feel uneasy. The man has crossed the line before, singling you out, blowing you kisses, whispering softly in your ear. But to turn him down would be an insult. And let’s face it, you’re a little intrigued. Someone powerful is paying attention to you.
The date is arranged at a swanky spot: the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Green Room at the White House. They both have bedrooms nearby which makes you a little nervous. Still, you assume others will be there. But when you arrive—surprise!— it’s just the two of you. The waitstaff is discreet. You note: “Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.”
Like the others, Scovell points to the exchange with Feinstein and writes:
It’s not about being big or strong. It’s about feeling safe. President Donald Trump had power and James Comey didn’t. What happened to the former FBI director wasn’t sexual harassment, but there are similarities. Like so many women, Comey wasn’t weak. He was simply trying to ignore the harassment and keep working hard at a job he loved.
Similarly, coverage by Elle magazine can be summarized by the title of its piece: “James Comey’s Boss Wanted Him Alone, Vulnerable, and Intimidated. Millions of Women Know What That’s Like.”
‘Reminiscent of Anita Hill’
The theme continued at the L.A. Times, where columnist Robin Abcarian wrote a piece titled, “The James Comey Method of dealing with a bad boss offers lessons for all harassed workers.”
Like the others, Abcarian directed readers to Feinstein’s line of questioning, framing the treatment as being “reminiscent of how the Senate Judiciary Committee treated Anita Hill so many years ago, when she alleged sexual harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.”
Abcarian, however, is doubtful Comey is “as delicate as he makes himself sound.” Instead, she believes Comey was “playing a long game, one for which he is uniquely qualified. This guy has a steel spine.”
“In fact, I think that he is as delicate as a steel magnolia, and as dangerous as a scorpion,” she contends.
MTV.com ran a screaming headline for a piece by the network’s senior political correspondent, Ana Marie Cox, claiming that Comey’s testimony is a reminder “that Trump is a predator.”
To Cox, “anyone who has been the target of sexual harassment or sexual abuse would have trouble not hearing echoes of their own story in what Comey had to say about the president.”
Vox.com, meanwhile, featured the original headline, “Why didn’t he quit — or fight back? Senators treated Comey like a sexual harassment victim.”
The opening to that piece reads: “Watching former FBI Director James Comey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee struck a nerve many of us did not quite expect: This thing was going down like a sexual harassment case.”
“Why The Rhetoric Used To Question Comey Sounded So Familiar To Women,” was the title of a Huffington Post piece making similar arguments.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With research by Joshua Klein.