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.