21st Century Boycott: Fox News, O’Reilly, retaliation and institutional protection for sexual harassment

I appreciate the strong reporting in the New York Times article: “Bill O’Reilly thrives at Fox News even as harassment settlements add up.”  Authors Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt cover the systematic protection of Bill O’Reilly who comes off as a serial predator.

The article looks at five settlements that have been paid to women who have alleged and often documented harassment from the Fox News star.  Two of the settlements were known, but three were uncovered by Steel and Schmidt.

The article is phenomenal journalism and highlights the pattern of toxic behavior and the costly efforts to retaliate against those who have complained.   This is a good opportunity to examine some of the patterns of retaliation that were visible in this article.

Most of the women who complained were threatened with professional harm when they didn’t comply with threats or when they came forward.  Andrea Mackris filed a sexual harassment suit against O’Reilly in 2004.  The New York Times article describes the retaliatory threats:

“Two years later, allegations about Mr. O’Reilly entered the public arena in lurid fashion when a producer on his show, Andrea Mackris, then 33, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. In the suit, she said he had told her to buy a vibrator, called her at times when it sounded as if he was masturbating and described sexual fantasies involving her. Ms. Mackris had recorded some of the conversations, people familiar with the case said.

Ms. Mackris also said in the suit that Mr. O’Reilly, who was married at the time (he and his wife divorced in 2011), threatened her, saying he would make any woman who complained about his behavior “pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.”

Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly adopted an aggressive strategy that served as a stark warning of what could happen to women if they came forward with complaints, current and former employees told The Times. Before Ms. Mackris even filed suit, Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly surprised her with a pre-emptive suit of their own, asserting she was seeking to extort $60 million in return for not going public with “scandalous and scurrilous” claims about Mr. O’Reilly.

“This is the single most evil thing I have ever experienced, and I have seen a lot,” he said on his show the day both suits were filed. “But these people picked the wrong guy.”

A public relations firm was hired to help shape the narrative in Mr. O’Reilly’s favor, and the private investigator Bo Dietl was retained to dig up information on Ms. Mackris. The goal was to depict her as a promiscuous woman, deeply in debt, who was trying to shake down Mr. O’Reilly, according to people briefed on the strategy. Several unflattering stories about her appeared in the tabloids.

After two weeks of sensational headlines, the two sides settled, and Mr. O’Reilly agreed to pay Ms. Mackris about $9 million, according to people briefed on the agreement. The parties agreed to issue a public statement that “no wrongdoing whatsoever” had occurred.”

Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt. “Bill O’Reilly thrives at Fox News even as harassment settlements add up.” April 1, 2017. New York Times.

It is worth noting the techniques used to attack the victim.  The perpetrator attacks the survivor personally, the company defends the perpetrator with a heavy-handed lawsuit, and the company hires a PR firm and private investigators to destroy the survivors reputation.

And then they settle.  That means that all the personal attacks and reputation smearing that ruin someone’s life were essentially pressure to beat someone down so they will take less money for their silence.  I can imagine the meeting where someone at 21st Century Fox has to run the numbers on how much they could save in destroying the lives of sexual harassment survivors.

The cost-benefit-analysis strategies of corporations who decide to try to ruin the reputations of employees who come forward to complain about sexual harassment may undervalue the public relations costs of being associated with a serial rapist or a serial harasser.

The Brock Turner survivor letter, Emma Sulkowicz and the performative mattress carry, an Obama/Biden administration with a robust advocacy for Title IX have changed public opinion about sexual harassment and rape.   The ascendance of a generation of young activists like Know your IX committed to fighting rape culture will not return to the cover-up and blame-the-victims days.

Which means that large corporations who are in the business of making money are going to have to factor in what explicit boycotts and affiliated bad PR will cost them when they defend a prominent figure like Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailles.

It seems grotesque that an institution would protect a serial predator because they make the business a lot of money.  Steel and Schmidt’s expose does a good job documenting how much advertising revenue O’Reilly’s show pulls in ($446 million from 2014-2016).  So what would a boycott have to cost the parent company to dump O’Reilly?   A couple of hundred million dollars?

More importantly, I wonder how little effort it would take for people on social media to destroy the 21st Century brand.  A dozen volunteers could watch O’Reilly’s show, note advertisers and then illustrate businesses which give money to support victim-blaming.  Simply posting the New York Times article in the publicity threads for each new 20th Century Fox blockbuster movie would convince me to spend my movie money elsewhere.   Artists who might record soundtrack music for Fox Music can be gently reminded through fan pages or tweets about the retaliatory behavior of the parent company.

Steel and Schmidt’s article is a good piece of investigative journalism that makes visible the retaliatory behavior of one of the largest companies in the world.  It also exposes how much the company has to lose if they mishandle the public relations associated with their brand being tainted by O’Reilly’s harassment lawsuits.

Leave a comment

Filed under capitalism, communication, gender, media, protest, representation, resistance, sexism, sexual assault

Synthesizers in motion: Bastl instruments documentary

This is a very enjoyable trip to Bastl instruments in the Czech Republic. Host Cuckoo is a charming interviewer and Bastl instruments showcase a people-oriented business.

My anticipation is that we’ll meet a lonely Eastern European modular maker, but what unfolds is a robust community has grown dramatically. Includes the boss describing how to avoid “poop face,” a woman modulating with a baby strapped on, Bastl’s boutique coffee plans, and a business where everyone is a musician. No really, it seems like *everyone* is a musician at Bastl.

Best part of the video is a chance to get some perspective from Peter Edwards (Casper Electronics) a circuit-bending scientist whose website has inspired a lot of people, including myself.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, capitalism, do-it-yourself, documentary, humor, music, synthesizers, technology

Torture Gorsuch: looking at a single email

I’m reading through the pile of documents that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch provided to the Congress.  The documents show a legal advisor helping the Bush administration justify their torture policy.  Although being portrayed as a friendly frat guy, these documents suggest that Gorsuch is a more dangerous individual who is not qualified for the Supreme Court.   This essay is a discussion of a single email Gorsuch writes in a 2005  after his visit to the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay Cuba.

The email is a message coordinating strategy to defend Guantanamo.  The email is to other lawyers who represented the positions of the Bush administration.  Gorsuch writes the email giving three suggestions about how to defend the use of the base in Guantanamo Bay as a detention, interrogation and torture facility.  His first suggestion is to destroy the evidence:

“1.  Camp X-Ray.  It serves no current purpose, is overgrown and decaying.  Gen Hood would understandably like to tear it down.  Of course, there may be some evidentiary concerns with this, but can we at least tee this up for a prompt resolution?  Eg — notify counsel of our intent to remove it or seek advance court authorization?”

-Neil Gorsuch, released email from November 10, 2005.  “GTMO trip”

His suggestion to tear down camp X-Ray suggests a desire to cover the nastier parts of the torture at Guantanamo.  Gorsuch’s first suggestion when he returns from a trip to Guantanamo Bay is to destroy the original detainee holding facility despite noting: “Of course, there may be some evidentiary concerns with this . . . ”

This memo is from November 2005.  A couple of months earlier a federal judge had ruled that Camp X-Ray was protected as evidence.   Here is Carol Rosenberg, in the Miami Herald reporting on the legal stakes of destroying Camp X-Ray:

“In July 2005, U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts became the first federal judge to impose a protective order on Guantánamo, ordering the government to “preserve and maintain all evidence, documents and information.”

At the time, the Bush administration argued that courts had no right to meddle in what the White House wanted done here.

Defense Department lawyers interpreted it to mean that nobody should touch Camp X-Ray, even though it officially closed in April 2002, leaving it a ramshackle rot of plywood interrogation huts and cage-like cells engulfed in weeds and wildlife droppings.

For now, that’s where plans for closure start. The FBI team that spent a week earlier this month creating digital imagery did it for Pentagon lawyers, who will ask federal judges if they will accept imagery as a substitute.

But defense lawyers don’t want anything removed or razed.

First, dozens of captives are still suing for their freedom in federal court and their lawyers say their confinement could be used to challenge confessions as bogus, coerced, whether they are tried in the future or set free.

Later, some may want to sue the U.S., said New Mexico criminal attorney Nancy Hollander, who argues that her Mauritanian client Mohammedou Slahi, 38, was subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” at Guantánamo. Never been charged with a crime, he is suing for his freedom.

Detention center staff defend their work as “safe, humane and transparent,” even as they declare portions of the prison camps off-limits to media and lawyers.

But, says Hollander: “I think they should preserve it all. Camp X-Ray figures in too many cases in terms of how people were treated, how people were interrogated.”

“There are interrogation rooms throughout Guantánamo’s prison system. There are loudspeakers. There are strobe lights. The bottom line for me is that Guantánamo is a crime scene and that it should be preserved.”

Moreover, she said, Slahi was moved around the base in blindfolds — at one point taken into the bay on a boat and threatened with death. He says U.S. forces beat him, subjected him to a systematic campaign of sleep deprivation and threatened his family. If she ever gets to look at intelligence logs of his interrogations, she may want to send investigators to examine the sites.

“Many of those things are violations of the conventions against torture,” she said. “And I believe he was tortured, and he received cruel and degrading treatment in violation of the law. There may be civil suits.”

– Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald November 15, 2009.  http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/guantanamo/v-print/story/1335533.html

This couple of years are the apex of political and legal scrutiny on the Bush Torture policies.  And they were Gorsuch’s responsibilty.  Charlie Savage explains in the New York Times:

“Judge Gorsuch’s time in the executive branch was brief. He joined the Justice Department in June 2005 as the principal deputy associate attorney general, meaning he was the top aide to the No. 3 official in the department. He left in August 2006, when Mr. Bush appointed him as a federal appeals court judge in Denver.

But those 14 months were tumultuous ones for the Bush administration amid controversies over detainee abuses, military commissions, warrantless surveillance and its broad claims of executive power. Judge Gorsuch’s job put him at the center of both litigation and negotiations with Congress over legislation about such topics.

References to those efforts may offer clues to Judge Gorsuch’s approach to the sort of national-security and executive power issues that rarely come before his appeals court but can be crucial at the Supreme Court.”

– Charlie Savage.  “Neil Gorsuch helped defend disputed Bush-era torture policies.” New York Times, March 15, 2017.

Gorsuch, fresh back from Guantanamo zips off a 3 point memo to provide more robust support for Guantanamo.  He casually suggests destroying camp X-Ray despite the legal prohibition to do so.  Why might a Bush Administration lawyer hope to protect Guantanamo from legal scrutiny?  Oh yeah, turns out the CIA was running a top-secret torture detention facility out of Guantanamo.  Here is Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald in 2014:

“In 2004, as the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to let Guantánamo captives consult lawyers for the first time, the CIA spirited some men who now face death-penalty trials from a clandestine lockup at the U.S. Navy base — and didn’t tell Congress.

Two years later, even as President George W. Bush announced at the White House Rose Garden that the spy agency had transferred its most prized captives to Guantánamo for trial, the alleged al-Qaida terrorists were still under control of the CIA.

The release of 524 pages of the 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee report confirms for the first time that the CIA used Guantánamo as a black site — and continued to run the prison that held the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and 13 other men even as the Pentagon was charged to prosecute them.

It also offers graphic details that the U.S. government has hidden from view in the pretrial hearings of six captives it seeks to execute — about the sexual torture and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of the alleged USS Cole bomber and why a sickly looking accused 9/11 conspirator sits on a pillow at court proceedings.

But it does not resolve whether the spy agency that systematically hid its prized interrogation program from court and congressional scrutiny has ceded control to the U.S. military of the secret facility where the men are imprisoned. And, if so, when?

“I would find it hard to believe that they let go. Throughout this entire program, the CIA is running from the law at every turn,” says Navy Cmdr. Brian Mizer. He calls the revelation that his client, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the accused planner of the USS Cole bombing, “had a tube inserted into his anus” tantamount to rape.”

– Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald.  December 11, 2014. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article4434603.html

Gorsuch consistently ran interference and helped to cover-up the potential crimes of Guantanamo.  That original quote is a grotesque artifact and it is just a single paragraph.  Gorsuch leans so heavily in favor of the Republican President of the time this email is a documentation of his hustle to find justifications and run interference.

In this same November 10, 2005 email Gorsuch suggests bringing federal judges to Guantanamo to sway their opinion of Guantanamo.  Gorsuch writes:

“2.  Judges trip.  If the DC judges could see what we saw, I believe they would be more sympathetic to our litigating positions.  Even if habeas counsel objected to such a trip, that might not be a bad thing.  What do they want to hide, a judge might ask?  Habeas counsel have been eager to testify (sometimes quite misleadingly) about conditions they’ve witnessed; a visit, or even just the offer of a visit, might help dispel myths and build confidence in our representation to the court about conditions and detainee treatment. Of course there are countervailing considerations — e.g., can judges come take a view under such circumstances?  do any judicial ethical considerations exist?  who bears the costs?  (. . . )”

-Neil Gorsuch, released email from November 10, 2005.  “GTMO trip”

Gorsuch’s bias to defend Guantanamo at all costs and to sway judges seems offensive to me.  Federal judges have been the only realistic check on potential abuses at the facility.   Is Gorsuch trying to prevent rulings such as the judge who ordered Camp X-Ray be preserved as evidence?  It seems this way.

Neil Gorsuch is a danger to the United States.  President Trump has widely called for an expansion of the use of Guantanamo.  Including at times for illegally sending United States citizens to Guantanamo.  Here William Finnegan explains in the New Yorker:

President Donald Trump has never been particularly lucid on the subject of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He is for it, of course. Early last year, at a campaign rally, he said, “I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantánamo Bay, which, by the way, which, by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open . . . and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.” This cartoonish threat raised the question of where or in which putative wars the United States would find these new inmates. Trump seemed to think, in a later interview, that he could send Americans accused of terrorism to Guantánamo to be tried by military commissions. But American citizens cannot, by law, be held at Guantánamo. Details, for Trump.

– William Finnegan. “President Trump’s Guantánamo Delusion” New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/president-trumps-guantanamo-delusion

Gorsuch seems to be a torture-leaning, executive branch yes-man in this email.  The United States must have a robust Supreme Court who can prevent or respond to illegal presidential actions.  Sadly, Gorsuch has shown us that he is not that judge.

Leave a comment

Filed under colonialism, communication, human rights, prisons, propaganda, punishment, representation, sexual assault, Surveillance

Big Money: Robert Mercer and Trump

Jane Mayer is a national treasure.  A thoughtful investigative journalist for the New Yorker, Mayer has authored books on torture (The Dark Side) and on the Koch brothers funding the Tea Party uprising (Dark Money).  Mayer is scholarly, relentless and enthusiastic for details.

Her new essay in the New Yorker is a great write up on Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund financier (and his family) who helped to create and sustain Donald Trump.  The essay has a number of vital arguments to archive:

  1.  The Mercer family has been the money behind the rise of Breitbart and Steve Bannon.

“In 2011, Bannon drafted a business plan for the Mercers that called for them to invest ten million dollars in Breitbart News, in exchange for a large stake. At the time, the Breitbart site was little more than a collection of blogs. The Mercers signed the deal that June, and one of its provisions placed Bannon on the company’s board.

Nine months later, Andrew Breitbart died, at forty-three, of a heart attack, and Bannon became the site’s executive chairman, overseeing its content. The Mercers, meanwhile, became Bannon’s principal patrons. The Washington Post recently published a house-rental lease that Bannon signed in 2013, on which he said that his salary at Breitbart News was seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Under Bannon’s leadership, the Web site expanded dramatically, adding a fleet of full-time writers. It became a new force on the right, boosting extreme insurgents against the G.O.P. establishment, such as David Brat, who, in 2014, took the seat of Eric Cantor, the Virginia congressman. But it also provided a public forum for previously shunned white-nationalist, sexist, and racist voices.”

Source: The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency – The New Yorker

2.  Those seemingly innocent “personality tests” on Facebook may have been part of the data-mining and political work of Cambridge Analytics.

“In 2012, one area in which the Republicans had lagged badly behind the Democrats was in the use of digital analytics. The Mercers decided to finance their own big-data project. In 2014, Michal Kosinski, a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Cambridge, was working in the emerging field of psychometrics, the quantitative study of human characteristics. He learned from a colleague that a British company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, wanted to hire academics to pursue similar research, for commercial purposes. Kosinski had circulated personality tests on Facebook and, in the process, obtained huge amounts of information about users. From this data, algorithms could be fashioned that would predict people’s behavior and anticipate their reactions to other online prompts. Those who took the Facebook quizzes, however, had been promised that the information would be used strictly for academic purposes. Kosinski felt that repurposing it for commercial use was unethical, and possibly illegal. His concerns deepened when he researched S.C.L. He was disturbed to learn that the company specialized in psychological warfare, and in influencing elections. He spurned the chance to work with S.C.L., although his colleague signed a contract with the company.

Kosinski was further disconcerted when he learned that a new American affiliate of S.C.L., Cambridge Analytica—owned principally by an American hedge-fund tycoon named Robert Mercer—was attempting to influence elections in the U.S. Kosinski, who is now an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s business school, supports the idea of using psychometric data to “nudge” people toward socially positive behavior, such as voting. But, he told me, “there’s a thin line between convincing people and manipulating them.”

It is unclear if the Mercers have pushed Cambridge Analytica to cross that line. A company spokesman declined to comment for this story. What is clear is that Mercer, having revolutionized the use of data on Wall Street, was eager to accomplish the same feat in the political realm.”

Source: The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency – The New Yorker

The rest of Mayer’s article is a great read.  Useful to keep a list of the right-wing funded “research” organizations that are thinly-veiled research firms designed to dig up (or create) dirt on an opponent.   It is also interesting how small the circle of funders, activists and decision-makers appears to be from this essay.

Leave a comment

Filed under communication, media, propaganda, representation, rhetoric, technology

#Blacklivesmatter and Militarized police responses to protest

Baton Rouge Police officer points machine gun at peaceful crowd. Photo by David Lohr/Huffpost

Astounding images of militarized responses to peaceful protestare emerging from the July actions against police violence.  Stunned by the graphic videos of the police killing Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge Louisiana many people have taken to the streets to express their outrage.   They have been met with police seemingly ready for confrontations.

While thinking about heavy-handed police responses  it is essential to consider the killings of police officers in Dallas.  Police were covering a peaceful #blacklivesmatter rally when they were shot.  Five officers were killed and seven people were shot by a sniper unaffiliated with the movement.  I can imagine that the police are looking for enemies around every corner.

I hold both things true at the same time.  I mourn the dead and hurt police officers in Dallas.  I mourn the black people killed by police officers.

***

DeRay McKesson was arrested in Baton Rouge last night.  You may have seen the photo of his arrest.

11McKesson-2-superJumbo

DeRay McKesson getting arrested in Baton Rouge. Photo by Max Becherer AP.

Mckesson is a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who had traveled to Louisiana to document the protests.  One of hundreds arrested, Mckesson was filming when he was tackled by two police officers while walking on the side of the road.  The New York Times reports:

Mr. McKesson, 31, repeatedly tells viewers in the broadcast that there is no sidewalk where they are marching. In the background, an officer can be heard shouting, “You with them loud shoes, I see you in the road. If I get close to you, you’re going to jail.”

“I think he’s talking to me, y’all,” says Mr. McKesson, who often wears a blue vest and red sneakers to demonstrations.

Soon after, Mr. McKesson repeats that there is no sidewalk. “Watch the police, they are just literally provoking people,” he says.

Then, about five minutes into the broadcast, the video gets shaky and a police officer can be heard saying: “City police. You’re under arrest. Don’t fight me. Don’t fight me.” Then Mr. McKesson shouts, “I’m under arrest, y’all.”

Source: DeRay McKesson Among Protesters Arrested Nationwide – The New York Times

This seems like a targeted grab to arrest a spokesperson.  An arrest to intimidate and bully a journalist.  It also seems to be a particularly military response to activists calling attention to disparate racial policing.   Police have to know that these gun-waving, activist tackling moments make them look irrational and violent.

So many of these arbitrary and scary arrests appear to intentionally silence people.   A protester was doing an interview with Rochester journalist Tara Grimes when she was charged and grabbed and arrested by a circle of armored police officers.

These images are not inspiring.  I hope for civil dialogue and rapid cultural change.  But along the way we are going to have to document the logic and reasoning of these moments of militarized policing and hold them accountable.  I think public visibility is the only hope we have. I bet it will be hard, but it is necessary that communities continue to insist on respectful engaged police.

Leave a comment

Filed under communication, documentary, media, police, protest, representation, resistance

Cops on Alton Sterling: ‘Just leave him’

Louisiana Police killed Alton Sterling.  This is the 558th police killing of civilians THIS YEAR.   The convenience store clerk (Abdullah Muflahi) who witnessed the killing and reported to The Advocate:

Muflahi, who said he was two feet away from the altercation, said an officer yelled “gun” during the scuffle. An officer then fired four to six shots into Sterling’s chest, he said. “His hand was nowhere (near) his pocket,” Muflahi said, adding that Sterling wasn’t holding a weapon. After the shooting, an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and retrieved a handgun, Muflahi said. “They were really aggressive with him from the start,” Muflahi said about the officers. Sterling appeared to die quickly, Muflahi said. Just after the killing, the officer who fired the bullets cursed, and both officers seemed like they were “freaking out,” Muflahi said. The store owner said he heard one of the officers say, “Just leave him.”

Source: ‘He’s got a gun! Gun’: Video shows fatal confrontation between Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge police officer | The Advocate — Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Its worth watching the video of the killing taken by bystanders.  Let’s note that both of the officer’s body cameras “fell off” according to law enforcement and the first thing the cops did is seize the surveillance footage from the convenience store.

Thanks to the Guardian for The Counted, the web site which documents police killings in the US.  Here is to peace and justice for the family.  Here is to accountability and a hope for change.

Leave a comment

Filed under communication, human rights, media, memorial, police, representation

RIP Prince: Musicology

Leave a comment

Filed under art, funk & soul, memorial, music