Scottie Nell Hughes, an aspiring conservative political commentator, has received her “15-minutes of fame.” News reports surfaced earlier this week stating she accused Fox News Business host Charles Payne of sexual harassment before and during a three-year affair. Payne admitted to a “romantic relationship” with an unnamed political analyst on Wednesday and issued a public apology to his family and friends.
Having endured the news spotlight when my affair with a legislative staffer came to light in 2009 while I was serving in the Tennessee State Senate, I understand what both Hughes and Payne are facing. What I find intriguing is why Hughes reported the allegations and admitted to the affair as media reports suggested she was interested in seeking elected office in Tennessee in 2018.
I first met Scottie Nell Hughes around 2013 when I worked as a journalist and editor for The Christian Post. Ms. Hughes contacted me about submitting an opinion column. During our phone conversation, I learned she too lived in Tennessee and we had many common connections. Although I considered her writing to be mediocre, I published several of her columns because I believed at the time more strong, female conservative voices were needed. Other outlets such as Town Hall did the same.
Hughes, the mother of two children and the wife of a Hendersonville, TN homebuilder, burst onto the political scene at the height of the Tea Party movement in 2012. According to her website, she received a degree in broadcast communications and political science from the University of Tennessee at Martin, later working as the executive producer for Steve Gill, a once popular conservative talk-show host in Middle Tennessee.
Like many at tea-party types at the time, Hughes saw an opening to gain exposure in print and broadcast media. Her background in conservative radio, combined with her attractiveness and desire for notoriety, was a recipe others had used to earn paid gigs with major networks and online news outlets. Hughes, like dozens of conservative females with similar ambitions, was looking for an opportunity to break into a competitive and aggressive profession. While most focused on their political knowledge and ability to effectively communicate a message in 15 seconds or less, others seemed to rely on their looks and physical attributes to push their way to the front of the line. I believe Hughes fell into the latter category.
According to news reports, Hughes rented an apartment in New York City in hopes of being retained as a paid contributor to Fox News, or for that matter, anyone that would offer to pay her. She was hired by CNN during the 2016 election for her staunch defense of then-GOP nominee, Donald Trump. However, she was highly criticized and reportedly dismissed over several on-air gaffs. Although she appeared on numerous Fox News broadcast, she was never a paid contributor.
News outlets published reports citing unnamed sources that Hughes and Payne began their relationship in 2013 and made little to no effort to keep the affair unwraps, even sharing a room together during a conference in Las Vegas.
Payne’s wife reportedly became suspicious of the pair after Hughes attended a birthday party for her husband at their home. Afterwards, she contacted Bill Shine, at the time the co-president of Fox News and Fox Business. Hughes claims Payne and Shine conspired to retaliate against her in 2015 after the affair was revealed, no longer using her as a contributor. Hughes has also told sources she continued the affair in hopes Fox News would hire her.
These allegations eventually triggered the law firm retained to investigate numerous reports of sexual harassment at the network to explore Payne’s situation. Fox News suspended Payne, who says the charges are unsubstantiated and he will vigorously fight them.
Scottie Hughes saw an opening to become a conservative spokesperson on the national stage. She wanted her “15 minutes of fame” and then some. She has obtained her goal, possibly getting more than she wanted or expected. I’m not sure it was the kind of exposure she was seeking; then again it may be.
I’m not diving into the “what happened” or “how did this get started” part of this story. Those details may or may not be divulged in time. Even if the harassment allegations are proven, Hughes’ chances of winning a political race in Tennessee are shot. Personally, I don’t think they were high to begin with. She is slated to be the keynote speaker at Fourth Annual Empowering Women Event, hosted by two Tennessee state representatives on July 10 in Murfreesboro, TN. Empowerment is something she needs at the moment and I will be curious if she shows up.
Hughes has one published book, “Roar, A New Conservative Woman Speaks Out,” that hit the market in 2014. My prediction is she’ll write another when she seeks her next “15 minutes of fame.” According to her news sources, she is preparing to sue both Payne and Fox News. We haven’t seen the last of Scottie Nell Hughes.