Tag Archives: New York Times

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

Inspired by ‘Who gets to graduate’

Paul Tough has a very strong essay in the New York Times called “Who gets to graduate.”  It is a snapshot of the strategies used by caring teachers and administrators at the University of Texas at Austin to help students succeed.  I appreciated the emphasis on successful strategies.  Here are a few of my favorite points.   Chemistry professor David Laude gets props for his initial approach:

In 1999, at the beginning of the fall semester, Laude combed through the records of every student in his freshman chemistry class and identified about 50 who possessed at least two of the “adversity indicators” common among students who failed the course in the past: low SATs, low family income, less-educated parents. He invited them all to apply to a new program, which he would later give the august-sounding name the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan, or TIP. Students in TIP were placed in their own, smaller section of Chemistry 301, taught by Laude. But rather than dumb down the curriculum for them, Laude insisted that they master exactly the same challenging material as the students in his larger section. In fact, he scheduled his two sections back to back. “I taught my 500-student chemistry class, and then I walked upstairs and I taught this 50-student chemistry class,” Laude explained. “Identical material, identical lectures, identical tests — but a 200-point difference in average SAT scores between the two sections.”

Laude was hopeful that the small classes would make a difference, but he recognized that small classes alone wouldn’t overcome that 200-point SAT gap. “We weren’t naïve enough to think they were just going to show up and start getting A’s, unless we overwhelmed them with the kind of support that would make it possible for them to be successful,” he said. So he supplemented his lectures with a variety of strategies: He offered TIP students two hours each week of extra instruction; he assigned them advisers who kept in close contact with them and intervened if the students ran into trouble or fell behind; he found upperclassmen to work with the TIP students one on one, as peer mentors. And he did everything he could, both in his lectures and outside the classroom, to convey to the TIP students a new sense of identity: They weren’t subpar students who needed help; they were part of a community of high-achieving scholars.

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

Laude’s interventions have been successful with many students.  Inspired by Laude, UT has developed a research tool which helps them discover which incoming first year students are likely to need some help.

I have a pang of concern about privacy and labeling.  There is something terrible about telling a student from a poor family who has worked really hard that they are “unlikely to succeed” because of some algorithm. This notion of a computer assessing students seems particularly soul crushing.   I appreciate that the folks at UT have something similar in mind in their communication strategy about their interventions.  Paul Tough again:

Perhaps the most striking fact about the success programs is that the selection criteria are never disclosed to students. “From a numbers perspective, the students in these programs are all in the bottom quartile,” Laude explained. “But here’s the key — none of them know that they’re in the bottom quartile.” The first rule of the Dashboard, in other words, is that you never talk about the Dashboard. Laude says he assumes that most U.L.N. students understand on some level that they were chosen in part because of their financial need, but he says it is important for the university to play down that fact when dealing directly with students. It is an extension of the basic psychological strategy that he has used ever since that first TIP program: Select the students who are least likely to do well, but in all your communications with them, convey the idea that you have selected them for this special program not because you fear they will fail, but because you are confident they can succeed.

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

UT has turned to psychologists to help figure out how to best communicate to at-risk incoming students that they belong.  How do you best re-articulate the fears and doubts to make them manageable?  Here is Paul Tough explaining UT professor David Yeager and his insights about persuasion and argument:

Yeager began working with a professor of social psychology named Greg Walton, who had identified principles that seemed to govern which messages, and which methods of delivering those messages, were most persuasive to students. For instance, messages worked better if they appealed to social norms; when college students are informed that most students don’t take part in binge drinking, they’re less likely to binge-drink themselves. Messages were also more effective if they were delivered in a way that allowed the recipients a sense of autonomy. If you march all the high-school juniors into the auditorium and force them to watch a play about tolerance and inclusion, they’re less likely to take the message to heart than if they feel as if they are independently seeking it out. And positive messages are more effectively absorbed when they are experienced through what Walton called “self-persuasion”: if students watch a video or read an essay with a particular message and then write their own essay or make their own video to persuade future students, they internalize the message more deeply.

In one experiment after another, Yeager and Walton’s methods produced remarkable results. At an elite Northeastern college, Walton, along with another Stanford researcher named Geoffrey Cohen, conducted an experiment in which first-year students read brief essays by upperclassmen recalling their own experiences as freshmen. The upperclassmen conveyed in their own words a simple message about belonging: “When I got here, I thought I was the only one who felt left out. But then I found out that everyone feels that way at first, and everyone gets over it. I got over it, too.” After reading the essays, the students in the experiment then wrote their own essays and made videos for future students, echoing the same message. The whole intervention took no more than an hour. It had no apparent effect on the white students who took part in the experiment. But it had a transformative effect on the college careers of the African-American students in the study: Compared with a control group, the experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned G.P.A.s in the top quarter of their class, and it cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A. It even had an impact on the students’ health — the black students who received the belonging message had significantly fewer doctor visits three years after the intervention.

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

As a communication professor I’d like to claim some particular insight into these persuasive pathways.  Communication and Rhetoric teachers tend to think about exactly this kind of strategic approach to making messages, but it is also kind of common sense.   I bet English, Ethnic Studies Women’s Studies and Social Work professors all recognized some of our core principles in our fields in these insights.

I don’t think it is about credit.  There is certainly work to go around.  Part of the story is the structural support of administrators and the other part of the story are the good teachers primed  to implement these ideas.   You’d need administrators and informed teachers working in cooperation for a while to get results.   And you’d need all those teachers from all those fields who already know this to implement change successfully at a university.

Much of the ‘ah-ha’ arguments of the article are about a communication practice known as inoculation — that you pre-warn someone about a coming moment of persuasion in order to steer the person’s understanding of that moment when it happens.

Often used by political candidates to warn about an argument about to be spoken by an opponent in a debate, the tactic works equally well when thinking about education.   Here is Paul Tough analyzing UT’s online messaging module which helps to intellectually-inoculate first year students about belonging and doubt:

Our first instinct, when we read about these experiments, is that what the interventions must be doing is changing students’ minds — replacing one deeply held belief with another. And it is hard to imagine that reading words on a computer screen for 25 minutes could possibly do that. People just aren’t that easy to persuade. But Yeager believes that the interventions are not in fact changing students’ minds — they are simply keeping them from overinterpreting discouraging events that might happen in the future. “We don’t prevent you from experiencing those bad things,” Yeager explains. “Instead, we try to change the meaning of them, so that they don’t mean to you that things are never going to get better.”

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

Nice essay and more to think about as we do the important work of hustling to make change.

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Cannibal capitalism: Derek Boogaard, hockey and head trauma

Turns out that the 3-part New York Times (you still suck) documentary is available at youtube.  Worth watching for the discussion of representation, violence, and consumption of sports bodies.  Cannibal capitalism – mediated violence where viewers devour the bodies of sports stars who are trading of their bodies for fame.

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Martin Luther King improvising

I heard a nice tribute to Martin Luther King Junior and his speech at the March on Washington on the radio this morning.  Another version of this showed up in my RSS feed thanks to the fantastic “Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet” on Feministing.

Apparently, the essential chorus of “I have a dream” was a semi-improvisation for King.  It was a response to Mahalia Jackson.

As King neared the end, he came to a sentence that wasn’t quite right. He had planned to introduce his conclusion with a call to “go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction.” He skipped that, read a few more lines, and then improvised: “Go back to Mississippi; go back to Alabama; go back to South Carolina; go back to Georgia; go back to Louisiana; go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”

Nearby, off to one side, Mahalia Jackson shouted: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” King looked out over the crowd. As he later explained in an interview, “all of a sudden this thing came to me that I have used — I’d used many times before, that thing about ‘I have a dream’ — and I just felt that I wanted to use it here.” He said, “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” And he was off, delivering some of the most beloved lines in American history, a speech that he never intended to give and that some of the other civil rights leaders believed no one but the marchers would ever remember.

via Mahalia Jackson, and King’s Improvisation – NYTimes.com.

Don’t sleep on the impact of the solid gospel choices of Mahalia Jackson in motivating a political crowd.  Remember that music is key for every liberation movement I can think of.

She sang two spirituals, “I Been ’Buked and I Been Scorned” and “How I Got Over.” King was seated nearby, clapping his hands on his knees and calling out to her as she sang. Roger Mudd, covering the event for CBS News, said after the first song: “Mahalia Jackson. And all the speeches in the world couldn’t have brought the response that just came from the hymns she sang. Miss Mahalia Jackson.”

***

I hope you have some remaining monthly New York Times tokens!  Or else you won’t be able to follow the link I’ve recommended to read the whole article.  Pretty short-sighted New York Times.  #newyorktimeshatesfreeinformation

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Screw you New York Times for restricting access

When you read the New York Times online you are limited to ten articles per month.  I believe this is a terrible practice in a shortsighted desire for profit.  It hurts the business, and is terrible for informed citizenry.

This morning I was going to quote an article from the New York Times that was about a specific article (American soldiers, military drugging and the relationship with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.)  I thought it would be interesting to join in the conversation about this topic by re-blogging a key argument from the article.

But the realization that anyone who clicked the link would be swept into the New York Times crappy paywall made me say “forget it.”

Screw you New York Times!

This is the internet era where advertisers ask about things like “reblogging” and “brand loyalty” right?  How is this possibly good for their business?

More importantly, how terrible is limiting access to information?  It’s bad for readers, reporters, other news agencies, and of course limits the participation in important conversations.   The paywall is bad for citizens, bad for communities, bad for working people and of course, bad for the New York Times!

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Packaged food juxtaposition: the New York Times edition

Artifact #1: (How suspect are packaged greens?)

The stuff bought whole and chopped on the kitchen counter is definitely more healthful.

This is because time, temperature and damage during harvest and packing can deplete vitamins and other nutrients. Vegetables begin to shed them the second they’re picked.

via The Food & Drink Issue – Interactive Feature – NYTimes.com.

Artifact #2: (Michael Pollen answers reader’s questions)

Frozen vegetables and fruits are a terrific and economical option when fresh is unavailable or too expensive. The nutritional quality is just as good — and sometimes even better, because the produce is often picked and frozen at its peak of quality. The only rap is that freezing collapses the cell walls of certain fruits and vegetables, at some cost to their crunch. But this has no bearing on nutrition.

via The Food & Drink Issue – Interactive Feature – NYTimes.com.

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