Category Archives: media

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.

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

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.

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#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.

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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.

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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.

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You are dead to me Kanye

35 of Bill Cosby’s accusers sitting for New York Magazine. Photos by Amanda Demme.

I’m done with Kanye West.  To tweet that you think Bill Cosby is innocent after dozens of his victims have come forward is deeply offensive.

1. I know Kanye doesn’t care, but I have been cheering for him for years.  I bought every album.  I defended Kanye after interrupting Taylor Swift.  I reminded people about his painful speech during the Katrina telethon (‘George Bush doesn’t like black people.’)

No more.

No more mashups, no more shout-outs, no more sidebars in my class to discuss Kanye.  No more loud Kanye coming out of my car.  Total and complete boycott.   You are dead to me Kanye West.

2.  Fuck you for not believing black women.  Sure, you could make the case that many African-American male celebrities have experienced racism.  But to chalk up the accusations against Cosby to racism is really disrespectful to the survivors and to all women.   One of the reasons Cosby preyed on women of color was his understanding that they wouldn’t be believed.

“I had a few moments where I tried to come forward. But I was just too scared, and I also had the extra burden of not really wanting to take an African-American man down.” —Jewel Allison

Source: 35 Bill Cosby Accusers Tell Their Stories — The Cut

Boycott Kanye West’s album.  Rape apologists don’t get my money and they shouldn’t get yours.   Sure, I like College Dropout, but not as much as I dislike rape.

3.  Social media plays a role in accountability.  Hold Kanye West accountable.  Remember Cosby’s victims, consider the voice of Tamara Green and hold the feet to the fire of rape apologists.

“People often these days say, ‘Well, why didn’t you take it to the police?’ Andrea Constand went to the police in 2005 — how’d it work out for her? Not at all. In 2005, Bill Cosby still had control of the media. In 2015, we have social media. We can’t be disappeared. It’s online and can never go away.” —Tamara Green

Source: 35 Bill Cosby Accusers Tell Their Stories — The Cut

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Life of refinement endorses Bernie Sanders

Life of refinement endorses Bernie Sanders for President of the United States in 2016.  I agree with most of his politics, I think he will listen to constituents if elected and he hasn’t taken big money from large corporations.

As I follow the campaign I can see opinions about my home state of Vermont reflected in the political analysis of Sanders.  Take this quote from Edward Mccelland in Salon:

Also, he’s from Vermont, which vies with Utah for Least Typical State. Vermont is America’s version of The Shire, the Hobbit-populated land in “The Lord of the Rings”: a green liberal Zion with no cities, no minorities and no urban problems.

Source: My day with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton: Two Iowa rallies explain why Hillary may be about to blow a sure thing – Salon.com

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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.

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