Republican Rep. Jason Lewis once mocked women who were traumatized by unwanted sexual advances, including those inappropriately kissed or who had their thighs touched, a CNN KFile review of his former radio show reveals.
The Minnesota congressman made his comment during a November 2011 broadcast of “The Jason Lewis Show,” a syndicated radio program that aired from 2009 until 2014 before he was elected to the House in 2016. Lewis was discussing sexual harassment allegations leveled against then-Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain from his time as president of the National Restaurant Association.
Cain had been accused of sexually harassing employees and having a 13-year affair. Two women who were at the National Restaurant Association while Cain was president received settlements after accusing him of sexual harassment. He denied the allegations at the time and was never criminally charged.
“I don’t want to be callous here, but how traumatizing was it?” Lewis said. “How many women at some point in their life have a man come on to them, place their hand on their shoulder or maybe even their thigh, kiss them, and they would rather not have it happen, but is that really something that’s going to be seared in your memory that you’ll need therapy for?”
“You’ll never get over? It was the most traumatizing experience? Come on! She wasn’t raped,” Lewis added, using a voice mocking an emotionally distraught woman.
Lewis and his campaign did not return a request for comment.
After CNN’s KFile contacted Lewis’ campaign for comment, a law firm representing Genesis Communications Network, the radio network that produced Lewis’ show, sent a letter demanding that CNN “cease and desist” from using the copyrighted radio show owned by the company. CNN is using the audio under the “fair use” doctrine in order to inform the public about the congressman’s former statements.
Lewis is seeking re-election in Minnesota’s second congressional district, which he narrowly won just two years ago. CNN rates his race a toss up, the most competitive designation.
The comment is just one of many that Lewis made discussing his views on sexual harassment in 2011 in response to the allegations against Cain. He said he viewed sexual harassment law as an assault on First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, calling it “unconstitutional.” Lewis said he did not think off-color comments, jokes and offensive remarks about or to women rose to the level of needing government enforcement.
While the First Amendment protects speech from government encroachment, the right is not without limits and sexual harassment is specifically prohibited by Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says sexual harassment in the workplace includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature” as well as “offensive comments about women in general.” The commission says that although the law “doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision.”
CNN’s KFile obtained five months of audio of Lewis’ show from Michael Brodkorb, the former deputy chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota. Brodkorb, who is currently a columnist for the online news organization MinnPost and works in public affairs, initially reported on several comments by Lewis in 2016. KFile contacted Brodkorb to request the raw audio files of Lewis’ show, which he provided.
CNN’s KFile reported in July that Lewis repeatedly made demeaning comments about women during a period of 15 months on his show, including lamenting that women could no longer be called “sluts.” Lewis later defended those comments, saying being provocative was part of being on talk radio.
On a November 2011 show, Lewis called current sexual harassment law “ridiculous,” saying that he can call a woman “honey, sweetheart, dear” on the radio but not in the office. Lewis added he believed sexual harassment law was “unconstitutional.”
Here’s what Lewis said on sexual harassment:
“Ever noticed how I can call Michelle honey on the radio program and not be sued for sexual harassment, but if I did it at the office, look out the lawyers come calling. You know why, in all seriousness,” he said. “I can call her honey, sweetheart, dear. Anything I want, even if she’s an anarchist. Because it’s called free speech. But under the current statutory scheme, the ridiculous nature of sexual harassment law, you have no free speech in the workplace. Did you know that? The First Amendment does not apply based on geography.”
“And all of this is fundamentally unconstitutional,” he added, “as it is now interpreted.”
Lewis was responding to an anarchist whom he called “my dear honey” before going to commercial.
Lewis also questioned government enforcement of sexual harassment, asking when it was illegal to be offensive in America.
“What really concerns me about this is, indeed, if my employer has a particular rule – ‘you will not have pornography on your computer. You will not call the secretary sweetheart,’ – all of which are a good idea,” he said. “That’s one thing, because I have no right of free speech when I’m at their place of employment. If, however, somebody uses the force of law and the employer is responding to a court order or a force of law, and the employer said, ‘well, I really don’t care what you call my secretary,’ but the secretary uses Title Seven and they bring a sexual harassment claim. I’m intrigued to know where my First Amendment rights were taken away here? Because I think they have been. Indeed, we’re not talking about laying hands on people. We’re not talking about harassment to instill fear, to intimidate, which is clearly a conspiracy. I’m talking about being offensive. Now, since when is that illegal in America?”
On that same show, Lewis framed workplace issues as being one of women being merely upset that they were now treated like men.
“So they wanted to be treated like men,” Lewis said. “Well, you know what, if you get into this environment and you’re being treated like men, now you’re complaining you’re being treated like men.”
In a November 29, 2011, show, Lewis said he detested sexual harassment law because it “distorts free speech.”
“As you know, I was a vociferous defender of Mr. Cain during the sexual harassment allegations because I detest sexual harassment law. Sexual harassment law bestows in the eye of the beholder anything he or she wants it to be it,” said Lewis. “It distorts our free speech rights. The law is wide enough to drive a semi through. It is, it is indeed just an albatross around the neck of every person in America who’s got someone who doesn’t like them.”
On a November 3, 2011, show, Lewis said he believed sexual harassment law was “insane” to cover offensive comments at work. Lewis said those offended were just looking for money.
“Sexual harassment law is insane. It has been insane for 20 years,” he said. “It is a state action and therefore it is a restriction imposed by the government. Therefore, the First Amendment applies and I’m just telling you that above and beyond, the scandalous nature of – you know this is almost right out of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ where every black man is stereotyped as being some sexual troll and therefore if you really want to bring them down and reinvigorate the stereotype, you accused him of sexual transgression,” said Lewis. “Same thing happened to Clarence Thomas by his left-wing lynch mob and now it may very well be occurring to Herman Cain. But above and beyond that, it’s high time we had a national discussion on sexual harassment law because it’s out of control.”
“It is absolutely out of control,” he continued. “We’re not talking about a quid pro quo, ‘you have sex with me or you lose your job. We’re not talking about somebody placing their hands upon somebody else. Clearly a violation of a number of things. We’re talking about offensive speech being deemed offensive by someone who thinks they can shake down somebody for a lot of money and a settlement.”
Lewis said he thought laws would need to be entirely rewritten.
“The courts need to intervene,” he said. “Ideally the statutes would intervene. Ideally, the EEOC would rewrite the silliness of a hostile work environment. Nobody has any clue what that is, but the bottom line is this. It’s long overdue that we have a little chit chat and that we rethink sexual harassment law in America because it’s out of control.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Lewis’ comments happened in 2011, not 2012.