I started hearing about political commentator Paris Dennard at the time Donald Trump became a candidate for the presidency. Dennard was a vociferous supporter of Trump and appeared frequently on NPR as his spokesperson. He was quite obnoxious, one of those people who aggressively counter-attacks when anything negative is said about his hero rather than use thoughtful arguments. Hence he is ideal for the conflict-based talk shows that cable news thrives on, though I was annoyed with NPR for giving him so much airtime.
Trump being elected president has proved to be a bonanza for those who signed on to his wagon early and Dennard is no exception, parlaying his loyalty into such things as being a paid contributor on CNN. But now WBUR (the station that co-produces with NPR the show Here and Now that had him on as a commentator) has suspended him and so has CNN after a news report revealed that he had been fired from his non-academic position at Arizona State University because of his abusive behavior towards women.
A conservative commentator who was lauded by President Trump this week as “wonderful” and who has argued that past sexual indiscretions should have no bearing on Trump’s presidency was fired from Arizona State University four years ago for making sexually explicit comments and gestures toward women, according to documents and a university official.
An internal investigation by the university concluded that Paris Dennard, a surrogate during the campaign and now a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, told a recent college graduate who worked for him that he wanted to have sex with her. He “pretended to unzip his pants in her presence, tried to get her to sit on his lap, and made masturbatory gestures,” according to a university report obtained by The Washington Post.
According to the 2014 report, Dennard did not dispute those claims but said he committed the acts jokingly. The investigation began after the woman and a second female employee told superiors Dennard’s actions went too far and had made them uncomfortable.
Dennard, a CNN political commentator, opinion contributor to the Hill, and regular guest on NPR’s “Here & Now,” was working at the time as events director for ASU’s McCain Institute for International Leadership.
Dennard’s firing from ASU has not been previously reported. An ASU official on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of the report, which includes a summary of an interview that investigators conducted with Dennard.
ASU’s 13-page investigative report describes a series of inappropriate incidents often initiated by Dennard with the two women in 2013 and 2014. The second woman said Dennard would sometimes throw things at her and that she caught Dennard looking at her breasts. When she tried to adjust her blouse, he said “Don’t worry, I’ve already seen it.” Dennard acknowledged making the comment, or something similar to it, according to the report.
Dennard also admitted to touching the first woman’s “neck with his tongue,” according to the report. In that instance, Dennard “came up behind EMPLOYEE 1 during another [McCain Institute] event and whispered in her ear that he wanted to ‘f—’ her.”
The women are quoted in the report saying they did not want him to lose his job but feared him returning. “We all know what it’s like to be on [Dennard’s] bad side — he will make your life miserable,” one said. “What if he comes back to the office? What if he comes to an event? Does he know where I live?”
Based on his public persona, that Dennard behaved like this was not a shock to me, though I had never heard any such allegations about him. What does surprise me is that this news was not made public earlier. It does not look like there was any court order sealing the records. One would think that given his high visibility, someone inside the university who knew about Dennard’s firing and the reasons for it would have leaked it to the media long before now.