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Jessica Luther: Imagine The “Conversations That Are Getting Lost Or Ignored Because Women Aren’t There”
Reporters who cover sports media say major outlets like ESPN have a long way to go before they can claim to be reporting responsibly and accurately on sexual assault and harassment in the sports world.
A recent Media Matters analysis found that during the first quarter of 2017, ESPN networks relied disproportionately on male guests (74 percent) to discuss domestic violence and sexual assault.
ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN News together aired about 30 hours and 40 minutes of coverage on sexual assault and domestic violence -- out of more than 8,600 hours of airtime. And about one-third of the minimal coverage across ESPN networks on the topic was the re-airing of an ESPN documentary highlighting false rape accusations made against the Duke lacrosse team.
This snapshot of coverage at the leading sports network hints at a much larger problem: an extremely narrow pipeline for talent and expertise in sports journalism.
In fact, an annual report by the Women’s Media Center on gender diversity in media indicates that these ESPN numbers are (sadly) pretty good when you consider the rest of the sports media landscape. The report cites data showing that women made up just 13.3 percent of total sports staff and less than 10 percent of sports editors at major newspapers and websites in 2014. ESPN employed by far the largest proportion of that small percentage of women, who were also overwhelmingly white. Another study, examining gender and sports reporting, found that ESPN’s on-air talent was also overwhelmingly male and white -- though slightly more diverse than the Los Angeles affiliate networks the study also analyzed.
Deadspin writer Diana Moskovitz considered Media Matters' study and said, “Given the systemic exclusion of women from sports journalism (as well as other forms of journalism, including politics, criminal justice, and investigative work), these numbers show just how far the industry still has to go in creating newsrooms that actually reflect the country we live in.”
When women -- and particularly women of color -- aren’t part of the conversation, audiences are denied important perspectives. And this trend can cause specific and irreparable harm when it comes to sports reporting on sexual violence.
Jessica Luther, an expert on sports and culture, said the demographic imbalance in terms of who is reporting on sports has an impact when it comes to discussing sexual violence: “There is a sort of bias to who we see as experts in this society, and who we think can speak to these things. … Imagine the conversations that are getting lost or ignored because women aren’t there.”
ThinkProgress sports reporter Lindsay Gibbs expanded on that often-missing perspective. She said that while there “are certainly men who are well-versed on the subject of sexual violence, and there are absolutely men who have been victims as well,” women typically have a different daily experience.
“I think there are things [women] have to deal with on a daily basis that men don’t -- whether it’s being afraid to go out on a run after dark because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “Or locking your doors the second you get home, or having to think twice before you talk to that person at the bar, or having to send your friend the location of your Tinder date just in case they don’t hear from you.
“These are things that women of all kinds deal with on a daily basis, that inform our discussions of topics like this, that men don’t have to deal with,” she continued. “That’s going to impact the sensitivity and the awareness of the issue.”
Olympic athlete Anita DeFrantz, who is a board member at the Women’s Media Center, added, “Women reporters will have a different view based on the context of their life experiences. … If one truly wishes to contribute to knowledge about a subject, why continue to use the same sources of thought?”
The Media Matters snapshot of ESPN coverage also hints at immediate opportunities sports reporters -- and all reporters -- can take advantage of to better serve an audience that undoubtedly includes survivors of sexual violence.
Gibbs said that when media ignore a sexual violence report about a sports figure or try “to paint it as a distraction,” they are “minimizing the subject as a whole, and that does a lot more harm than good.”
Sports reporters also have an obligation to report on sexual violence without bias, taking care not to focus on the perpetrator without including the survivor’s perspective, or to ascribe blame to anyone who has come forward to report.
Luther explained that, because of widespread reports of sexual violence involving athletes, a 24-hour sports news cycle, and the nature of sports fan investment, “whether they like it or not, sports reporters are going to be leading the discussion on [sexual violence], on a ubiquitous issue that is harmful when it’s reported poorly. It keeps people quiet. It emboldens people who do violence. When it’s reported in a way that is mean to people who’ve come forward, it’s sympathetic to people who’ve been reported in a way that isn’t balanced with sympathy for victims.”
“I always think of the victims in this case,” Gibbs said. “They’re watching.”
Sexual violence is a topic that’s far too important to get wrong -- and women leaders in the sports media industry are demonstrating what quality reporting looks like.
Luther, Moskovitz, and Gibbs have all contributed to a promising category of in-depth, nuanced reporting on sexual assault and domestic violence in the sports world. They’re joined by stand-out journalists at ESPN too: Kavitha Davidson, Paula Lavigne, and, until recently, Jane McManus.
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Male pundits on CNN are criticizing the all-male Republican working group writing the Senate version of the health care bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, and they’re right in slamming the panel for excluding women. But they’re wrong in saying that “optics” -- by which they mean the political effects of how something looks -- is the reason excluding women from the group is wrong.
As reported by The New York Times, the Republican working group on health care comprises 13 senators, none of them women. While discussing the working group on the May 9 edition of CNN’s Inside Politics, host John King speculated about whether Republican leadership should, “for optics purposes, have tinkered with the working group.” Appearing as a guest on the same show, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny agreed with King that excluding women was “optically terrible.” CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson was thankfully at the table to add more substance to the shallow optics argument. She challenged King’s focus on optics as a reason for Republican leadership to change the makeup of the working group, suggesting that gender diversity would be a positive for “For real purposes, right?” and mentioning the female senators whom Republicans could have included in their working group.
Later on CNN, political correspondent Phil Mattingly focused his report on noting that Republicans “are keenly aware” that the all-male panel is “not a good look” and that it wasn’t a “good public scene” to exclude the five “very talented, very well regarded” Republican women in the Senate. While Mattingly was reporting and not providing commentary, he missed an opportunity to point out that excluding women from a panel working on an issue that directly and disproportionately impacts women is wrong for reasons that go beyond optics.
In contrast, some of the female journalists at the network did a better job of pointing out the substantive issues linked to leaving women out of the working group. During CNN Newsroom, co-host Poppy Harlow noted that the group’s lack of gender inclusion is “out of the 1920s playbook” and asked her guest Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times, to explain what it meant “in terms of policy to not have more diversity.” Sweet pointed out that “a lot of preventative medicine provisions” in Obamacare specifically affect women and are “at risk in Trumpcare:”
During CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, host Brooke Baldwin and chief political correspondent Dana Bash criticized calling the exclusion of women “an optics problem,” with Bash stating, “It’s also a substance problem,” and Baldwin responding, “An optics problem? It’s a little more than that.”
While it is true that Republicans in the Senate are overwhelmingly white and male -- slimming down the possibility of any real diversity in the group -- the “optics” angle is especially offensive given the female senators with expertise and experiences that would add value to the discussions on the panel. As USA Today’s Jessica Estepa pointed out, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) “has sat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee since 2015.” In the past, Collins has voiced concerns about defunding access to reproductive health care. Estepa also mentions Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) 10-year track record on the Senate health committee, as well as Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) who hails from a state that has seen Medicaid expanded and who could provide insight on how cutting expansions would affect people like her constituents.
This is just the latest example of “optics” punditry getting in the way of substantive policy analysis. At best, cable news’s obsession with discussing “optics” turns commentary uninformative and shallow, and at worst, it becomes an incentive for political actors to overtly focus on the way political processes look as opposed to their real life effects and the constituents they affect.
After President Donald Trump’s February 28 address to a joint session of Congress, pundits focusing on optics and “tone” earned criticism from other commentators. The criticism was well-deserved, as pundits should use their platforms to give their audiences useful information, like the consequences of a speech turning into policy and the viability of such policy positions, not superficial analysis that those watching could make for themselves. The punditry optics analysis that came after Trumpcare passed the House also got in the way of media assessing the bill’s real impact on the millions of Americans who could lose health insurance. Audiences tuning in deserve actual analysis of the political process. The focus on optics gets in the way of that.
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Conservative media figures, right-wing media outlets, and fake news purveyors attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) after she appeared at the MTV Movie and TV Awards as a presenter and received a standing ovation, calling her “dumb as a brick,” attacking her for her age, and claiming that she “worships at the feet of totalitarian monsters.”
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Fact Check: A Historic Number of Activists Have Taken To The Streets To Protest The Trump Regime
New York Times White House correspondent Michael Shear claimed during the May 5 edition of CNN’s Inside Politics that there hasn’t been “the [same] kind of intense activism on the Democratic side” against President Donald Trump and his administration as there was “instantly in the Tea Party revolt” against former President Barack Obama.
Shear must not have been paying attention, because he couldn’t be more wrong about the scope of activism against Trump. Here are some numbers for Mr. Shear:
On Trump’s first day in office, an estimated 3.2 to 5.2 million people marched in the Women’s March across the United States and even more people marched around the world. There was even a march in Antarctica.
Estimates vary on attendance for marches and demonstrations opposing Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. But some estimates put 8,000 people at the U.S. Capitol and 10,000 people at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in New York. Others outlets estimated that 7,000 people protested at Los Angeles International Airport, and an activist leader told NBC that 12,000 signed up for the protest at Battery Park in New York.
An estimated 125,000 marched on April 15, the weekend before Tax Day, to demand that Trump release his tax returns. Shear’s New York Times even had a correspondent embedded with the Tax March in New York.
On Trump’s 100th day in office, roughly 200,000 people took part in the People’s Climate March in Washington to demand action against global climate change.
By contrast, the largest protest during Obama’s first few months was the Tea Party protest on Tax Day 2009. A nonpartisan analysis showed that it drew 300,000 total attendees across the country despite heavy promotion and participation by Fox News and major conservative donor groups.
This is a time of historic protests and activism against the bigoted and hateful policies of President Donald Trump. Activists have been central to the evolution of American democracy and have fought for policies that are more inclusive and that better their communities. Shear’s dismissal of the efforts of millions of Americans is line with the outdated tradition of mainstream news outlets speculating about and judging protests from a studio, rather than reporting real information from the scene or interviewing activists and protestors.
Media should do better.
Move Over Nerd Prom; Troll Prom Is In Town.
On April 29, about a mile away from the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, a little over a hundred members of a group who dubiously brand themselves as purveyors of the “real news” gathered in a downtown Washington cigar lounge to revel in their success. And the success is not insignificant - leveraging social media audiences to manufacture controversies and troll, they are now providing for their followers an increasingly expanding alternative to what they see as a hopelessly biased press.
At first glance, The Gateway Pundit's ‘80s-themed “Real News Correspondents Gala” -- billed as an alternative to the simultaneous "establishment media" dinner of the White House press corps -- was indistinguishable from a stereotypical Washington affair: The audience consisted of high-profile figures, apparent benefactors, and an insatiable crowd eager to network with anyone seemingly important. However, the standard, “What do you do?” networking question often preceded the more cultish reference to a new alternative right-wing: “How did you arrive at the movement?”
This movement has run rampant on new-media and is rapidly expanding throughout the internet. Its members have taken to social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, Reddit, and YouTube to promote far-right nationalist politics, conspiracy-laden worldviews, and fact-flexible rants to an audience it has isolated and now dominates, shoddy journalistic practices aside, as its preferred news source. Their increasing reach over online subscribers has turned them into an asset for the White House, which has compensated members of this new media circuit -- often eager to undermine media reporting negatively on the administration -- with access to bring their paranoia straight into White House press briefings.
The event hosted and celebrated a handful of the most prominent members of the so-called “new right fam” (a transparent attempt at rebranding after their "alt-right" identification grew toxic) including “dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft, self-described “guerilla journalist” and fraud-peddling performance artist James O’Keefe, Rebel Media host Gavin McInnes, the White House’s favorite rape-denying troll, Mike Cernovich, Gateway Pundit White House correspondent and troll Lucian Wintrich, and “alt-right” figure Cassandra Fairbanks, who writes for the Russian state-sponsored outlet Sputnik.
The night took off with Hoft, who had donned a retro white headband and a pair of reflective sunglasses, welcoming guests to the shindig, giving shoutouts to a roster of speakers from the “alt-right” including McInnes and Wintrich, and presenting O’Keefe and Cernovich with awards for their “work.” The people Hoft introduced then took the floor to acknowledge that without that digital echo chamber, many in their movement would be virtually unknown. Cernovich reminisced about “Hillary’s health thing,” referring to rumors he helped push that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was chronically ill, whose spread “only happened because of the amplification of social media.”
But for a group that previously basked in its own isolation and claims to despise the Washington establishment media, the night was sharply punctuated by complaints that “the movement” -- shorthand many of its members now use in conversation to refer to these "alt-right" or “new right” online content creators and their acolytes -- and its message are not validated by mainstream reporting.
“Not only do they not do the journalism,” O’Keefe told attendees as he accepted an award for his own so-called journalism, “but they’re too afraid. ... We really are the only ones left to actually do the job.” For the record, O’Keefe’s journalism has included creating misleading and doctored “undercover” videos as well as embarrassing himself while attempting sting operations targeting liberal organizations.
In a self-aggrandizing speech, Wintrich claimed, “Many of the people in this room, we’re all the last bastions of free speech in America. We’ve had this old guard media who have been running with these stale narratives that are purely left-leaning for decades, and finally after ages we’re seeing this beautiful transition.”
But the movement’s idea of journalism contains a clear premise: that their own right-wing bias is an advantage that allows their followers, who already think mainstream media cannot be trusted, to trust them. As described by The Washington Post when profiling Cernovich, “objectivity is less important than an impression of honesty." To gain the trust of their audiences, they actively attack and undermine mainstream media. As Wintrich admitted, he’ll “take the occasional jab at media, because” he “hate[s] them all," and “half of” his job as a White House correspondent is “fucking with people.” To members of this group, this approach validates their charade as legitimate news providers and lends authenticity to their work.
Cernovich went so far as to suggest that many of the movement’s narratives are artificial and self-induced -- yet still journalism.
“There’s this new form of media now which is part activism and part real journalism,” Cernovich said. “And the way I put it is if there’s nothing happening, make it happen, and a lot of people say, ‘Well, that’s not real journalism. Real journalism is observing things,’ and I don’t really believe that’s true, actually. If you can get on a microphone and say ‘Bill Clinton is a rapist’ -- if the crowd reacts, that’s news.”
Despite the questionable journalistic premises the movement holds dear, like Cernovich’s method of provoking crowd reactions for “news,” or O’Keefe’s habit of presenting heavily edited videos as evidence or attempting to smear mainstream media, the night was full of recognition of attendees for their supposed journalistic merit. Along with presenting an award to O’Keefe, Hoft also honored Cernovich for being “one of the main individuals who helped [President] Donald Trump get across that finish line” and celebrated him as the person who “first started noticing” and “pushing” the idea that Clinton “looks a little sick.”
This journalistic debauchery would be nothing more than bad theater if it hadn’t been legitimized by the White House by granting practitioners access to press briefings. Despite Gateway Pundit’s admission that its correspondent is “there to troll,” Wintrich was credentialed to attend White House press briefings. Cernovich was also approved for a press pass, and he used his access to cause a commotion in the briefing room by yelling at members of the press corps. He later uploaded a video of his outburst to his Periscope feed.
The “Real News Correspondents Gala” also hosted many young people hoping to board the new-media train barreling out of the “new right” movement. One amateur media personality told us that he was there to network and make connections to expand his platform online. Media figures in attendance seemed receptive to the aspiring personalities and were eager to pose for pictures. As Cernovich gave his speech, he recounted the story a young woman in attendance told him about her college broadcast journalism professor telling her she would never make it in the industry.
“Her dreams were killed in college, but you can live your dreams now,” Cernovich said. “Give her a hug. Tell her we love her.”
And the movement may have good reason to entertain new media aspirants: Many prominent online personalities of the “alt-right” movement have talked publicly about expanding their media operations and hiring more people. Vanity Fair reported that “alt-right” poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos is planning to launch a new media operation “for libertarian and conservative comedians, writers, stand-up comics, intellectuals, you name it” and plans to hire 30 people. O’Keefe told the audience that his group Project Veritas would hire “dozens of full-time infiltrators who are going to work their way to the top” of progressive organizations.
Cernovich also revealed that the movement’s leaders are considering hosting a TED talk-style conference over the summer and will continue to host happy hours and social events for their supporters.
“Connection and community is what we have to focus more on because everybody on the internet feels isolated and alone, and then they come to an event and they go, ‘Wow, Mike. A lot of people come to your happy hours,’” Cernovich said. “Well, yeah. No shit, right? We’re popular. There’s a lot of us out there and you wouldn’t get that message if you only watched the news.”
As its members enjoy their newfound popularity, the "new right" movement is also challenged with balancing the inflammatory rhetoric and “meme magic” that have been the foundation of its online success, against the backlash that results from deploying this rhetoric in the real world, which could threaten the long-lasting political capital and broader legitimacy they crave. That is what explains their attempts to rebrand themselves as “new right” and distance themselves from the most toxic figures of the “alt-right,” even despite their gaining notoriety and followers during the 2016 election by associating with and praising the “alt-right.”
Online, these personalities behave like trolls, taking pleasure in triggering “social justice warriors” (the pejorative nickname given in online forums to those perceived as socially progressive) by, among other things, using inflammatory language, but claiming it’s in jest. As New York magazine’s Noreen Malone explains, the group uses irony as armor when their jokes get criticism: “If you take them seriously, they’ll claim you miss the joke.” Much of this ironic contrarianism permeates into their real life personas and makes them seem like walking memes. At the “gala,” as Mike Flynn Jr., son of Trump’s former national security advisor and one of the leading proponents of the pizzagate fake news story, generously positioned himself and his Golden Girls T-shirt into any and all pictures he was asked for, he couldn’t help but invite fellow partygoers to“trigger some snowflakes” by flashing the “OK” sign. Members of the “alt-right” have ironically appropriated the “OK” sign to represent their faction after a viral message board hoax pushed the idea that it had white nationalist connotations. The vocabulary of this “new right” group draws so much from the online forums its members frequent that it would be foreign to anyone who hasn’t spent time reading their digital output. Our female reporter was congratulated by a fellow partygoer for being “red-pilled” (someone who has been awakened to the real world) -- which he determined based simply on her being one of the few women in attendance (the male to female ratio was, by generous approximation, seven-to-three -- not counting the women on Flynn Jr.’s Golden Girls T-shirt).
Again, all of this would seem just amusing anecdote were it not for the powerful connections that have legitimized their shoddy journalistic practices, employed in order to reach their growing audiences and leverage their support. President Donald Trump’s sons are allegedly serving as sources to Cernovich, and his media appearances have been publicized by Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president. And those connections suggest the possibility that some “new right” ideas could influence policy. But until it’s possible to assess how much of the movement’s digital output is meant as posturing to continue amassing followers that sustain their digital media enterprises, and how much represents actual positions with enough political support to make them executable, we are forced to keep taking them at their word, meant in jest or not.
Images by Dayanita Ramesh
Bo Dietl Reportedly Admits Digging Up Dirt On Gretchen Carlson And Andrea Mackris
According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal about the ongoing federal investigation into Fox News, Roger Ailes, who engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment against female Fox News employees and was forced to resign as president and CEO in July 2016, hired private investigator and former Fox contributor Bo Dietl to discredit the sexual harassment allegations made against himself and Bill O’Reilly. Dietl confirmed his involvement in an interview with the Journal.
This revelation comes in the wake of significant ongoing turmoil at the network. Bill Shine, who was promoted to co-president of Fox News after Ailes’ departure, resigned after multiple reports named him as being complicit in burying sexual harassment complaints by helping to coordinate smear campaigns against women who came forward with reports. Shine has been replaced with Suzanne Scott, who was referenced in a racial discrimination lawsuit against the network, and has reportedly participated in Fox’s sexist culture and retaliation efforts against employees who reported sexual harassment. From The Wall Street Journal:
Investigators are also looking at Mr. Ailes’s use of prominent private investigator Bo Dietl to probe the backgrounds of people perceived to be a threat to either Mr. Ailes or the channel, according to people familiar with the situation.
Mr. Dietl said in an interview with the Journal that he was used by Fox News to look into the pasts of Ms. Carlson and Andrea Mackris, a former producer who sued Mr. O’Reilly for harassment in 2004 and received a $9 million settlement from Mr. O’Reilly. Mr. Dietl said he was hired to find information that could discredit the women’s claims.
He said he had an investigator eavesdrop on Ms. Mackris’s conversations at an establishment, in an effort to show she wasn’t under duress from alleged harassment. A lawyer for Ms. Mackris didn’t respond to a call seeking comment.
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