Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault | Media Matters for America

Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault

Issues ››› Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault
  • Fox Business host’s interview with Betsy DeVos ignores rule changes for campus sexual assault and failures on student debt forgiveness

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appeared on Fox Business Network for a softball interview during which the host, Maria Bartiromo, failed to ask a single question about either changes DeVos has initiated to rules about campus sexual assault, which would be harmful to survivors, or her failure to implement student debt forgiveness.

    In mid-November, DeVos proposed new rules for colleges and universities regarding campus sexual assault under the Title IX law, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools. According to The New York Times, the changes “established a narrower definition of sexual harassment, tightened reporting requirements, relieved colleges of the responsibility to investigate off-campus episodes, and outlined steps schools should take to provide support for accusers.” The new rules would also give those accused of sexual harassment and assault the right to cross-examine their accusers, which could retraumatize survivors of these incidents. According to former Department of Justice Civil Rights Division official Anurima Bhargava, DeVos’ new rules “would make schools less safe by narrowing the definition for what counts as sexual misconduct, creating barriers for students to report these incidents and limiting the responsibility of schools to respond.”

    Additionally, DeVos was sued earlier this month for the second time for failing to cancel debts of students defrauded by for-profit colleges. According to NPR, a federal judge ruled in September that her “delay of a key student borrower protection rule was improper and unlawful.” GQ explained earlier this month that DeVos has undermined the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which was “designed to forgive the student debt of people who spend ten years working in public service while making steady payments.” Under DeVos, over 99 percent of applications for debt forgiveness under this program have been rejected.

    Instead of covering these topics, the nearly 10-minute interview focused on attacking public education, criticizing teachers unions, and promoting a Department of Education mobile app for college students to enroll in federal student aid. From the November 27 edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria Bartiromo:

  • Tucker Carlson's descent into white supremacy: A timeline

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Since the early days of his tenure as a Fox prime-time host, Tucker Carlson’s unabashed championing of white grievances earned him the accolades of neo-Nazis, who praised him as a “one man gas chamber” and complimented the way he “lampshad[ed] Jews on national television.” While Carlson claims to have nothing in common with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, he constantly echoes their talking points on his show and was very reluctant to condemn white supremacists following their deadly 2017 demonstration in Charlottesville, VA. In fact, Carlson’s racist roots can be traced back more than a decade.

    Here’s a timeline of the public devolution of Tucker Carlson’s thinly veiled racism into full-throated white supremacy:

  • Hugh Hewitt and Sen. Tom Cotton go to the fever swamps in Kavanaugh nomination postmortem

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) are pushing a conspiracy theory that professor Christine Blasey Ford’s decision to speak out about then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was actually orchestrated by Democratic leaders in the Senate. The version of events proposed by Hewitt and Cotton is at odds with reports on how Ford decided to come forward, and it serves to undercut Ford’s bravery.

    Cotton was a guest on the October 9 broadcast of Hewitt’s radio show, The Hugh Hewitt Show. Hewitt prompted the conspiracy theory by asking Cotton if he thought “that this was planned long before it was unveiled? And by that, I mean the leak of Dr. Ford’s letter. I don’t know who did it, but I believe it was part of a campaign that was set up to occur exactly when it did. Do you agree with me?”

    Cotton did agree, and he wove an evidence-free conspiracy theory that as early as July, “the Schumer political operation” -- a reference to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) -- and possibly former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara were involved in a plan to leak the contents of a letter Ford had sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). In the letter, Ford gave an account of Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school.
     

    This conspiratorial timeline is at odds with reality. Ford sent a letter dated July 30 to Feinstein and asked that the California senator keep its contents confidential. The Intercept was the first to report on the letter, writing on September 12 that it “describes an incident involving Kavanaugh and a woman while they were in high school” and that Feinstein was refusing to share its contents with other senators, which “created tension on the committee.” According to Politico, “The reporter behind that [Intercept] story later stated that Feinstein’s staff did not leak the letter.”

    Ford came forward publicly in a September 16 Washington Post article. She said later during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the presence of reporters at her home and workplace made her realize her identity would be revealed in any case, so she decided to speak on the record with a reporter at the Post who she said had gained her trust.

    Hewitt has a history of being dishonest while discussing federal judicial nominations, but political talk shows still treat him as a mainstream conservative commentator when they bring him on to talk about the topic. While previously his falsehoods served to provide cover for the GOP to radically change norms around the nomination process, he has now sunk to pushing a conspiracy theory.

    Cotton, for his part, has his own history of underhanded behavior on executive branch nominations. In 2014, Cotton placed a hold on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Cassandra Butts to serve as ambassador to the Bahamas. More than two years after her nomination was announced, Butts, who Cotton acknowledged was not a controversial nominee, died of leukemia at age 50, with Cotton’s hold still in place. Before she died, Butts told The New York Times that she had visited Cotton to ask about the hold and he said he knew she was friends with Obama and the hold was a way to inflict personal pain on the president.

  • Fox & Friends fearmongers about left-wing violence while ignoring violence and threats from the right 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    Today’s edition of Fox & Friends painted a picture of a society terrorized by left-wing violence and threats toward conservatives, completely ignoring very real incidents of violence and intimidation against Democrats and professor Christine Blasey Ford.

    Hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and guest host Ed Henry spoke at length about the supposed violence of the left, and fearmongered about the danger it entails for conservatives. Some of the hosts’ most pressing concerns included people protesting inhumane policies by yelling at politicians dining in restaurants, and peaceful protesters placing cameras in politicians’ faces. While the discussion did highlight some genuinely concerning threats against Republican senators, the hosts did not mention any threats against their Democratic colleagues or their staffs.

    Just three days ago, a Florida supporter of President Donald Trump was arrested after repeatedly posting online about his plans to kill Democratic senators. In one post, he wrote that he was “about to accept an offer on my house just to get more money to fund my plan to kill Democrat office holders and their families.” He also expressed hope that fellow conservatives would break into liberals’ homes and murder them in their sleep. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama reported that his female staff members have received violent threats from supporters of newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And Christine Blasey Ford, who testified under oath that Kavanaugh assaulted her while in high school, has been the target of sustained harassment and death threats for weeks. The threats are so serious and pervasive that she still cannot return to her home, even after Kavanaugh was confirmed and sworn in as a Supreme Court justice.

    Fox & Friends chose to ignore these clear incidents and threats of right-wing violence, and instead focused on fearmongering about an allegedly lawless left. From the October 8 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

  • What we owe Christine Blasey Ford

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Professor Christine Blasey Ford had originally chosen not to publicly share her account of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh because of the onslaught of harassment she would undoubtedly face. “I was ... wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated,” she explained during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she told The Washington Post when she decided to come forward.

    Tomorrow, 20 days after Ford first shared her account publicly in the Post (and just nine since she movingly recounted her story before millions of Americans), 13 days since Deborah Ramirez’s account was published, and 10 days from when Julie Swetnick spoke out, senators will vote to send Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. He was ushered there by dozens of representative leaders who long ago abdicated their sworn responsibilities both to represent and to lead. The whole farce was cheered on by a pundit class that’s far removed from the brutal realities of American life, and unjustifiably ignorant about interpersonal violence that directly harms another American every 98 seconds.  

    Christine Blasey Ford stepped in front of that moving train, and it kept moving. Her personal trauma is now public text, and her courage and grace will leave an indelible mark on us all. And make no mistake about it: She has shown us a way forward.

    The first thing Ford taught us is that it’s OK to share your story when you don’t remember every detail, because it’s fundamentally your own. You will always remember the most important parts. Indelible in the hippocampus will be what happened to you in that moment. It’s your story to tell, if you choose. And people -- the good ones -- will remember it, and believe you.

    She has also taught us what is broken in our common language, our media ecosystem, our politics and institutions. If you were lucky -- or ignorant -- enough to not have realized this before September 16, you may now know just how far gone we are.

    We do not know, for example, how to talk about the harm we experience at the hands of others. Tragically common forms of interpersonal violence still have no consensus-driven label in the English language. This is how an attempted rape -- a hand over a mouth, a feeling like you are going to die, uproarious laughter as your humanity is diminished -- can so easily vanish into nothing in another person’s eyes.

    And we have a better approximation of the twisted depths to which the conservative political and media ecosystem will go in their attempt to discredit, diminish, and disappear a survivor’s story. They will call you a slut, and question your mental fitness, and speculate about your political motivations, and blame you for ruining your alleged assailant’s career, and simply make things up about you. They will hear you explain that the worst part was the laughter and the humiliation, and then they will mock you for it in front of a laughing audience. Even worse, in its own way: They will say that they do believe you, they just don’t care.

    We have also seen how irreparably broken our public news and information systems have become, even in just the two years since the last presidential election. All manner of false information is encouraged to spread, and private information is subject to the often stupid and sometimes violent whims of the internet.

    And we know now, if we didn’t before, that our institutions will not save us. Instead, they will close ranks. The academy, the court, the presidency, the legislature, the FBI, and the media have always been fundamentally tainted by the same poisonous cornerstone of violent patriarchy. They do not deserve our faith, and the people who work within them do not automatically deserve our respect. Almost none of them have done anything to earn it.

    Christine Blasey Ford showed us once and for all that if we are to be saved, it will be only because of moments when individuals directly challenge these systems, or work to tear them down. It will be in the moments of rage, when we stick our feet in the elevator door.

    Thank you, Christine Blasey Ford. Thank you, Deborah Ramirez. Thank you, Julie Swetnick. Thank you, reporters and activists who tried against all odds to give them a voice. Thank you, protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court and senators’ offices at this moment, and yesterday, and last week, and at all the other times when righteous outrage has countered with equal force a willful injustice.

    Because of you, millions of people will never forget what happened here. And that’s a threat.