Category Archives: gender

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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

Sexism and corporate beef riding: Drake vs. Meek Mill

I have the faint sense that the Drake / Meek Mill ‘beef’ is a pre-planned public relations stunt.  Meek is dating Nikki Minaj a long time collaborator of Drake (via Young Money / Cash Money).   Both rappers have gained massive media attention and tons of new social media followers.  But I don’t know, it’s possible it started as a funny joke and then turned into a fight.  It’s also possible that this is a real scrap.

Given that the daily beef updates are worldwide news (CNN, New York Times, and dozens of ‘serious’ news outlets grabbed the story and have been breathlessly posting gossip and re-posting tweets).   It is worth checking out some of the themes that make this scrap significant.

  1.  Everyone sort of expected Meek Mill to do better against Drake.  It’s no secret that Drake is respected among hip hop folks, but seen as a johnny-come-lately former actor who sings his hooks.  He is a pop rapper, with the sales numbers and teenage fans to prove it.   This isn’t to take anything away from Drake, because in that formula has been a world dominating path to rap success.  In some ways beating Meek has been vital for his image.   His previous meme struggles had been the unerring connections of his rap career with his acting career.  Witness the Degrassi memes which swim around online Drake discussions.

2.  The key argument which seems to have ‘won’ Drake the battle against Meek Mill was just sexism.   Witness the lines from “Back to back:”

Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?/ I know that you gotta be a thug for her/ This ain’t what she meant when she told you to open up more/ Yeah, trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers/ Yeah, you gettin’ bodied by a singin’ nigga/ I’m not the type of nigga that’ll type to niggas/ And shout-out to all my boss bitches wifin’ niggas/ Make sure you hit him with the prenup

via Drake – Back to Back Lyrics | Genius.

Cheap sexism — the idea that opening up for Nikki Minaj’s Pink print tour is too feminine to be legit for a real tough guy rapper.   Add in the suggestion in “Charged up” that Drake had sex (or never could) with Nikki Minaj and you’ve got perhaps the most over-used trope in rap.

I also think it is a clear insult to Nikki Minaj who is a phenomenal rapper and a stunning internet strategist.   That her success is an insult to Meek is also sexist.   The result was some ugly photo shop work to create images like this:

To mark the bodies as distinctly female and male with roles associated.  It is gender policing to suggest that any violation of these roles is unmanly or unfeminine.

3.  For some pitiful corporate social media coordinators, this beef has been an opportunity to interject their product.  Crappy corporate fast food chains have posted snarky jokes about beef and attempted to connect their brand to something current and edgy.   It seems trite to me, but the re-posts by passionate fans suggest that this branding strategy of riding the coattails has some significance.

I would call it trolling.  Corporations mock either Drake (usually Meek Mill) in a semi-related tweet hoping that fans will respond.  But that isn’t that far away from the origins of this beef — Meek attacking a target that seemed vulnerable at the time.

Much of the enthusiasm for the beef might come from the comeuppance of traditionalist rap sources (MMG, tough-guy rappers, Funk Master Flex (who has failed to emerge with much promoted Meek Mill responses) in favor of the new power in hip hop (pop media, savvy social media stars and mockery memes).   In some ways the internet makes this an accessible fight — one that encourages a certain amount of piling on.

Leave a comment

Filed under communication, gender, hip hop, media, representation, rhetoric, sexism, technology

Changing culture vs. changing laws: gay marriage

It is important to understand the distinction between changing culture and changing laws.   Legal institutions (courts, legislatures, or leaders) might grant rights to people, but other people (some of them prejudiced) are likely to impliment those laws.   Many will circumvent legal changes and continue to use systems of power to discriminate.

Thus we have a lengthy history of changes in law that required years of enforcement.  For Example, federal troops being sent to Arkansas to protect the Little Rock Nine — black students attempting to enroll in a previously white high school.

It is worth viewing the 30 for 30 “Ghosts of Ole Miss,” an ESPN documentary that gives some similar context to educational changes for civil rights.

It is always worth taking note of the tactics used to resist change.  Thinkprogress has an astounding rundown of the circumvention efforts of Hood County (Texas) clerk Katie Lang to deny Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton a marriage license.

Since June 29, the Monday after the ruling, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been together for 27 years, have been trying to obtain the marriage license they’ve waited so long for. When rejecting them, Lang claimed that her staffers would issue the license instead, but Cato and Stapleton were then told they couldn’t be helped because the clerk’s office did not have the new gender-neutral forms, which would supposedly take “three or more weeks” to arrive.

Last Thursday, they brought their own copy of the state’s new form, and still they were refused a license. When they insisted, Lang told everyone to leave the office and called the Sheriff’s Department, who stood guard but did not force anyone out. Cato and Stapleton had been in touch with their lawyer, who arrived at Lang’s office to deliver a letter warning of a suit if a license wasn’t issued. A staffer began to process their application, but then asked, “Which of you will be the husband?” When they insisted upon the new form, which lists “applicant 1″ and “applicant 2″ instead of “husband” and “wife,” the staffer then refused to accept their payment of the $83 fee. Lang reappeared and confirmed that they would still have to wait several weeks to get their license anyway because she had to wait for revised certificate forms, even though a different-sex couple could have filed the form and left with a license the same day.

Monday morning, Cato and Stapleton filed a federal lawsuit, which describes their experiences being rejected as “humiliating and degrading.” Less than two hours after the suit was filed, Lang’s office issued the couple a marriage license.

via This Is What Happens To Court Clerks Who Refuse To Issue Same Sex Marriage Licenses | ThinkProgress.

Cheers to Cato and Stapleton for their fierce pursuit of equal rights.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gay, gender, human rights, representation, resistance

Deadpan administrators: Emma Sulkowicz graduates with mattress

Most of you know of the case of Emma Sulkowicz who was raped at Columbia university.  Sulkowicz committed to carry around the mattress where the crime took place until the university expelled her rapist.  Activism, performance art and a compelling articulation of the burdens that survivors of sexualized violence carry.

Sulkowicz graduated and walked across the stage in her gown carrying that mattress.  Worth a moment of reflection to look at the administrators who simply gape at her and her colleagues who help carry the mattress.  If you want to know which administrators to fire, start with the ones that won’t shake Sulkowicz’s hand as she completes her degree.   Please note the crowd volume for Sulkowicz.

Stick around for the short video on the Black Student Union’s die-in at the tree lighting ceremony.

Leave a comment

Filed under academics, feminism, gender, human rights, protest, representation, resistance, sexual assault

Online harassment in Massive online classes

Massive Open Online Classes (MOOC) were a big deal a few years ago.  Turns out that one of the most prominent MIT MOOC teachers, Walter Lewin has been  using his MOOC to harass (mostly) international students like French student Faïza Harbi.  Inside Higher Education has the details and a discussion over whether students enrolled in free classes get Title IX protection from gender-based discrimination:

Whether MIT could be held liable for not protecting Harbi and the other women is still an unanswered question. MOOC providers differ on whether learners who are not enrolled at institutions eligible for federal financial aid are covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which some researchers have warned about. But when it comes to discrimination, legal experts said, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 should apply to anyone who registers for a MOOC.

“Title IX talks in terms of ‘no person’ shall experience discrimination — not ‘no student,’ ” Buzuvis said. “That broad language creates the possibility for anyone who’s a victim of discrimination [to] potentially have a claim under Title IX.”

Buzuvis, who runs the Title IX Blog, said that, based on the severity of the Lewin case, a lawsuit against MIT could come down to if the institution knew about the harassment and didn’t act to protect learners.

via Complainant in ‘unprecedented’ Walter Lewin sexual harassment case comes forward @insidehighered.

Buzuvis mentioned is: Erin Buzuvis, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies at Western New England University.

Thanks for Feministing for the link!

Leave a comment

Filed under academics, capitalism, feminism, gender, human rights, sexism, sexual assault, technology

Fighting the trolls: Lindy West engages

I like Lindy West’s pop culture analysis.  She writes for a few online spots like Jezebel.  Feministing noted that she had been harassed by a troll who opened a twitter account in the name of her deceased father.  This is the feministing quote:

Lindy, who you might know from her writing at Jezebel and GQ, was trolled by someone who set up a Twitter account in the name of her dead father. She wrote about how awful that made her feel, and to her surprise, he wrote to her again – but this time, to apologize.

Then, she called him and interviewed him about what had gone through his mind when he decided to do what he did. And recorded it all. “It felt like if I could just get the specifics,” she says, “gather them up and hold them in my hands — then maybe I could start to understand all the people who were still trolling me.”

They talked for two hours, and by the end, she’d forgiven him for the terrible things he’d done – the meanest thing anyone has ever done to her. She understood what his life looked like at the time that he was trolling (he’s since stopped, he says) and she felt sorry for him. Still, she says, it’s disturbing to know that there was nothing wrong with him per se. “It’s frightening that he’s so normal,” she says. He’s not your idea of a monster, and unlike a fairy tale troll, he certainly doesn’t live alone under a bridge. He has women coworkers, and a girlfriend, and women friends. “They have no idea that he used to go online and traumatize women for fun.”

via “It’s frightening that he’s so normal.”.

In a Jezebel essay, West notes her reasoning to humanize and engage with trolls:

I feed trolls. Not always, not every troll, but when I feel like it—when I think it will make me feel better—I talk back. I talk back because the expectation is that when you tell a woman to shut up, she should shut up. I reject that. I talk back because it’s fun, sometimes, to rip an abusive dummy to shreds with my friends. I talk back because my mental health is my priority—not some troll’s personal satisfaction. I talk back because it emboldens other women to talk back online and in real life, and I talk back because women have told me that my responses give them a script for dealing with monsters in their own lives. And, most importantly, I talk back because internet trolls are not, in fact, monsters. They are human beings—and I don’t believe that their attempts to dehumanize me can be counteracted by dehumanizing them. The only thing that fights dehumanization is increased humanization—of me, of them, of marginalized groups in general, of the internet as a whole.

via Don’t Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode..

Leave a comment

Filed under communication, critique, feminism, gender, hacking, health, kindness, representation, resistance, rhetoric, sexism, technology

Birdman, consumption and representation

I launch the new video by Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan and the first image is . . . Birdman?

A month a go, Birdman splashed out in an effort to sign Young Thug.  While you are being courted by Birdman and Young Money why not shoot a video with a few of the symbols of conspicuous consumption?

Birdman, Birdman Birdman.  It is astounding how much space he takes up in this video.  Father figure, founder of the feast, center of the party, exceptionally wealthy and entitled.  The symbols are all there.  Lighting up a cigar in the middle of a boutique sneaker store, bored yacht face, neck yoke of control over attractive women, mansion hallway vignette with Young Money/Cash Money plaques, comforting stacks of cash to sooth weary fingers . . .

(What would it cost to create this video out of rented artifice?  Not actually that much real money . . . rent a mansion, boat, cars, shoot the plane scene with a landed dummy plane . . . )

Birdman doesn’t rhyme in the video — he just stars in it.  (He does give the exiting dialogue — a shout out to his deceased mother Miss Gladys).  I guess Birdman is the price you pay for entry into Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan’s video.

I appreciate that this opening verse gives Thug a chance to rhyme what to him is a kind of normal accelerated pace.  His lyrics are distorted by his own voice and he plays with the sounds in a pretty creative way.  I don’t know why I like the natural caterwauling squawks that emit from Young Thug more than the digital ones, but I do.

Quan always has a quality flow, and I like his subtly shifting styles through this verse.  His deep voice growling does good riding the bass line. It seems like his references and similes could step up a notch . . . but he certainly sounds good.

What to make of the brief scene where Young Thug gives a stack of money to an old woman?   Young thug is arguing in the song that he does all this to bring money home to his family — a little consciousness break in a snowstorm of sexism and consumption.  Hold on, Quan suggests that his motivation is his mom and dad.  And Birdman concludes the video with a sponsored vodka shout out and tribute to his deceased mom.

One of the early critical arguments about hip hop was that the representations of hip hop quickly became images constituted by the artists in order to sell an image to an audience.  That hip hop involved performers going to work and creating something intended to meet an audiences expectations (usually male and privileged).  One way to read hip hop was to imagine what kind of audience might enjoy and buy this kind of performance.  (I’ll note the writings of Eric Watts, Tricia Rose and Robin D. G. Kelley have mostly influenced my perspective on this subject).

To a degree this crass consumerism vs. I’m-just-doing-this-to-feed-my-family debate is played out in the video.  I would say that the dominant visual narrative of consumption clashes with any other message.    In some ways the class consciousness (dropping off a couple of stacks for mom) is part of the representation of excessive wealth.  (Gza: “Who promised his mom a mansion with mad rooms /She died, he still put a hundred grand in her tomb” Gold).

Leave a comment

Filed under capitalism, class, communication, gender, hip hop, media, representation, rhetoric