Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault

Issues ››› Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault
  • 21st Century Fox had to settle reports about sexual harassment as early as 1998

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    21st Century Fox paid a woman a “substantial” settlement in 1998 after she reported David Hill, former chairman of Fox Sports, for sexual misconduct. The case is one of the “earliest recorded” settlements by 21st Century Fox for sexual misconduct according to attorney Lisa Bloom.

    Hill was reported by Paula Radin, a vice president for special events at Fox Broadcasting Company, for “sexually aggressive behavior,” leading to a “substantial” settlement. Hill was later promoted to chairman of Fox Sports Media group according to The Wrap.

    Earlier this year, Bill O’Reilly was let go following a long history of sexual harassment reports by multiple women. In 2016, former Fox News chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes was reported for sexual harassment by 25 women and forced to resign. Recently, Fox Business host Charles Payne has been suspended while being investigated following a report of sexual harassment by a former political analyst at the network. And less than two weeks ago, Fox Sports president, Jamie Horowitz was let go under sexual misconduct allegations.

    Lisa Bloom, an attorney who has filed multiple sexual harassment cases against Fox says that Fox’s failure to address these cases in an appropriate manner has allowed this behavior to continue for years. From The Wrap:

    21st Century Fox paid off a woman who accused former top executive David Hill of sexual misconduct while he ran Fox Sports, two individuals with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap.

    The payment happened in 1998, and suggests Fox had issues with sexual harassment long before the investigations that led to the exits of Fox News star Bill O’Reilly and founder Roger Ailes, and the ouster of Fox Sports President Jamie Horowitz last month.

    The payment came when Hill was chairman of Fox Sports. Hill, part of Fox chief Rupert Murdoch’s inner circle, was promoted to chairman of Fox Sports Media Group the following year, and had a 24-year career with the company that ended in 2015.

    “That’s the earliest recorded Fox case I’ve heard about,” attorney Lisa Bloom, who has filed several sexual harassment suits against Fox, said of the 1998 case. “If they’d cleaned house then, or simply monitored their staff to require compliance with the law, so many women could have been spared.

  • Betsy DeVos just perpetuated years of right-wing attacks on rape survivors

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Many have questioned the incomprehensible logic of President Donald Trump’s proposal to collaborate with Russia on cybersecurity policy, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be deploying a similar strategy: collaborating with rape deniers on policy regarding campus sexual assault. This comes after right-wing media spent years questioning the severity of sexual assault and attacking the credibility of survivors.

    First reported by Politico, DeVos planned a July 13 meeting with “advocates for survivors of campus sexual assault, as well as with groups representing students who say they were wrongfully accused.”

    Politico identified several invitees as representatives from the men’s rights groups Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and National Coalition for Men -- all of which have dedicated themselves to combating what they believe is rampant false reporting of sexual assault, and the lack of attention paid to the “true victims”: those who are accused.

    As The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified SAVE as an organization that is “promoting misogyny” and "lobbying to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Jaclyn Friedman, an expert on campus sexual violence, told Silverman that groups like SAVE not only “actively publicize the names of rape survivors in order to intimidate them,” but also “blame women for ‘instigating’ men's violence against them” and believe that “victims' sexual histories should be fair game in rape cases.” According to ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, organizations like FACE, National Coalition for Men, and the like are no better in their advocacy, nor less extreme in their beliefs.

    Despite posturing from these groups, false rape reports are actually a statistical minority -- representing between 2 and 8 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Survivors already face rampant challenges when reporting sexual assault, and it is unlikely the Department of Education’s invitation to these men’s rights groups will improve these conditions.

    A July 12 press release explained that DeVos would meet with the various groups in a series of “listening sessions” meant to “discuss the impact of the Department’s Title IX sexual assault guidance on students, families and institutions.” In 2011, the Obama administration provided schools with guidance on how to “review and enforce Title IX complaints,” emphasizing the role assault and harassment play in the creation of “a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX.” Many have speculated that DeVos’ openness to including men’s rights organizations in the meetings is just the latest signal that the department will revoke these protections.

    In April, ProPublica implied that DeVos’ selection of Candice Jackson to head the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was a sign of bad things to come for Title IX and anti-sexual violence protections, noting that Jackson had previously “arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” and that she called women who accused Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.” In June, ProPublica published a memo from Jackson that directed OCR staff to make changes to investigative procedures that “advocates fear will mean less consistent findings of systemic discrimination at colleges.” As ThinkProgress previously reported, DeVos herself has “long donated to organizations that frequently side with students accused of rape and sexual abuse.”

    The men’s rights groups DeVos plans to meet with aren’t alone in waging war on sexual violence protections and survivors. Some of Trump’s favorite right-wing media figures and staunchest cable news supporters have put on a masterclass in how to not report on sexual assault. After an uncovered 2005 audio showed Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, many Fox News employees seemingly made it their jobs to either downplay the severity of his comments or attack the many women who came forward with specific allegations against him.

    Even before Trump, right-wing media were especially adamant in their campaign of misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment. Beyond disputing the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, right-wing media figures have called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a “coveted status,” blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although she has since fled the network in an attempt to rehab her image at NBC, former Fox News star Megyn Kelly was a chief proponent of the “war on boys” talking point -- which was just part of her long history of criticizing sexual assault prevention measures and minimizing the credibility of survivors.

    Fox itself has spent the better part of the past year -- when not providing the ultimate safe space for Trump and his administration -- embroiled in a series of sexual assault allegations after years of harassment at the network. Such allegations ultimately led to the ouster of both the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and longtime host (now aspiring podcast provocateur) Bill O’Reilly, as well as the recent suspension of Fox Business host Charles Payne.

    Although right-wing media have engaged in some of the most overt attacks on survivors, many other outlets are far from magnanimous in their coverage of sexual assault. As coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed, media have a bad habit of sympathetically highlighting the past accomplishments of the accused, or bemoaning the costs to their lives and careers.

    The New York Times fell into this very trap in a July 12 article about the meetings. The Times began its report by highlighting the “heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault” before going on to describe the consequences they faced, ranging from “lost scholarships” to expulsion. In one case, as the Times noted, a man had tried to “take his own life” but “maintained he was innocent” and “had hoped to become a doctor.” In another example, the Times highlighted the comments of the father of an accused student who complained that his son’s “entire world [was] turned upside down” and that, as the paper put it, he had been “forced to abandon his dream of becoming a college wrestling coach.” Reporting like this -- although seemingly benign -- not only perpetuates victim blaming, but also downplays the severity of allegations by treating offenders as the real victims.

    Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described DeVos’ planned meetings as “a classic case of false balance, because the two sides here do not have equal merit.” She noted that one side includes “advocates for sexual-assault victims” while the other is made up of “trolls who have made it their lives’ work to defend domestic violence.” She concluded that however unfortunate the decision to invite these men’s rights groups to meet, it was unsurprising. After all: “As a representative of an administration run by a man with an interest in protecting sexual harrassers, DeVos has every reason to side with the latter.”

    Undeterred, survivors aren’t letting DeVos off the hook that easily. While she meets with men's rights groups that have systematically tried to silence and shame survivors, organizations that advocate for them will be outside the Department of Education making their voices heard.

  • Fox executives will only protect women when the public is watching

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Another day, another report of workplace sexual harassment perpetrated by a 21st Century Fox employee. Horrifyingly, this will probably keep happening -- because Fox has proven time and again that it only takes measures to protect women when others are watching.

    Fox Business host Charles Payne has been suspended from the network after a frequent Fox guest reported that Payne had coerced her into a years-long relationship “under threat of reprisals.” The Los Angeles Times reported on July 6 that the Fox guest (whom the Times did not identify) reported sexual misconduct to Fox’s law firm in June, stating that “she believed she was eventually blackballed from the network after she ended the affair in 2015 and tried to report Payne to top executives at Fox News.” HuffPost reported that the woman who came forward is political analyst Scottie Nell Hughes, and that Hughes believes that not only did Payne retaliate against her for ending the relationship, but that then-Fox News and Fox Business co-President Bill Shine and the network itself were involved. (Payne is denying the report.) 

    Payne’s suspension was announced one year to the day after former Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against former Fox chief Roger Ailes, who died in May, for serial sexual harassment. At least 25 women came forward to report similar harassment by Ailes in the aftermath of the Carlson lawsuit, citing incidents that spanned decades. Carlson’s lawsuit helped to expose a hostile work culture of silence and harassment at 21st Century Fox that has undoubtedly persisted since Ailes was forced out.

    In the year since Ailes resigned, Fox fired former host Bill O’Reilly (and paid him tens of millions on the way out) after news broke that five women had reported him for sexual harassment. On the same day that O’Reilly’s firing was announced, Fox News co-host Greg Gutfeld sexually harassed his fellow co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle on-air. Soon after, Ailes’ “right-hand man” Bill Shine was fired from his top executive spot at Fox amid reports that he had attempted to silence and retaliate against women who came forward to report harassment at the network.

    In March, former Fox News contributor Tamara Holder reached a legal settlement with 21st Century Fox after she reported sexual assault by Fox News Latino executive Francisco Cortes at company headquarters in 2015. The company subsequently fired Cortes. Just days ago, Fox Sports fired Jamie Horowitz, its head of sports programming, amid an investigation into sexual harassment reports.

    The common thread in this series of high-profile firings is that they were exactly that -- high-profile. Fox’s response to a systematic, decades-long workplace culture problem that transcends time, a single perpetrator, a single survivor, or any sort of isolating detail, has been to do the absolute bare minimum to make immediate criticism go away.

    21st Century Fox has proven that it only cares about its women employees when the public -- or its bottom line -- forces the issue. It will continue to treat each report of workplace harassment as a singular incident, offering a response that categorically hinges on the number of bad headlines, threats of advertiser boycotts, dollar amounts of lawsuits, or persistence of public outcry a story has garnered.

    O’Reilly was fired amid an activist-driven advertiser boycott, as hundreds of sexual harassment survivors publicly asked Fox to do better. The network has fired Cortes and Horowitz and suspended Payne as it faces intense scrutiny from British regulators who are weighing whether to approve its bid to acquire the Sky PLC television company (and thus allow Fox to expand its toxic workplace culture).

    Shine was replaced by two longtime Fox executives from the Ailes era, one of whom, Suzanne Scott, was reportedly also involved in silencing, ignoring, and retaliating against women who reported harassment at the network. And it took Fox nearly a year to fire Shine, even after former Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros named him in a sexual harassment lawsuit last August; it took more pressure from advertisers and the public before Fox would start to hold Shine accountable.

    To add insult to injury, Fox’s shallow attempt to address systemic culture issues in its office appears to have been a sham. After Carlson filed her lawsuit, Fox retained the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to lead an internal investigation into the claims. The agreement between Fox and the law firm allowed for both an investigation and for the firm to give “legal advice” to the company, leading some to doubt its true independence. And after the Carlson lawsuit was settled in September, Vanity Fair reported that the so-called investigation “never officially expanded to examine the broader culture of Fox News” but instead “simply got a revenue machine back on track.”

    Paul, Weiss was also the law firm Fox retained in April to investigate at least one report of sexual harassment against O’Reilly. And Paul, Weiss is where Hughes went last month with her account of Payne’s misconduct -- around the same time Fox renewed Payne’s contract for multiple years. HuffPost reported the firm will lead another internal investigation into Hughes’ report. 

    If past behavior is any indication, this investigation, too, will end with some public lip service until the news cycle passes, maybe a high-profile firing, and little concrete action to actually protect the women who work at Fox. Have executives and on-air personalities begun to treat women and people of color with more respect yet? The results are inconclusive.

    Here’s what is clear: Fox seems hellbent on only doing what is asked of them and nothing more. So don’t stop asking.

  • Another Fox host suspended after report of sexual harassment

    Fox Business spokesperson says host Charles Payne has been suspended while "matter is being thoroughly investigated"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox Business host Charles Payne has been suspended from the network amid reports of sexual harassment by a former political analyst.

    According to Variety, a “Fox Business spokesperson said Payne had been ‘suspended pending further investigation’” following a Los Angeles Times report that Payne had a three-year extramarital relationship with a woman who says she was coerced into the relationship "under threat of reprisals." The Times reports the woman “believed she was eventually blackballed from the network after she ended the affair in 2015 and tried to report Payne to top executives at Fox News.” These new developments come as Fox Business’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, faces heavy scrutiny in their bid to acquire Sky PLC:

    A Fox Business spokesperson said Payne had been “suspended pending further investigation” after being asked about allegations that surfaced previously in The Los Angeles Times. “We take issues of this nature extremely seriously and have a zero tolerance policy for any professional misconduct. This matter is being thoroughly investigated and we are taking all of the appropriate steps to reach a resolution in a timely manner,” the network said in a statement.

    A female political analyst who has appeared on Fox News as well as CNN has contacted the law firm of Paul Weiss, which has been working for Fox for several months, alleging she was banned from Fox after ending an extramarital affair she had with the anchor in 2015, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times. An attorney for Payne told the Times the anchor denied sexually harassing the woman. The analyst alleged her Fox appearances were reduced after she terminated the relationship.

    […]

    But the revelations around Payne suggest the company faces more disclosure about past behavior. 21st Century Fox remains under scrutiny as it strives to acquire the remaining shares in European broadcaster Sky PLC that it does not own and its bid is examined by British government regulators. Proving that the company has taken steps to improve its working culture could serve to curtail criticism as its effort to buy Sky gains further scrutiny. Earlier this week, Fox Sports dismissed programming chief Jamie Horowitz, citing an investigation into claims of sexual harassment.

    Payne is the latest example of the culture of predatory behavior at Fox News, joining former chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, host Bill O’Reilly, Fox News Latino vice president Francisco Cortes, and the decades-long reports of harassment at the network. 

    UPDATE: HuffPost wrote that the report of sexual harassment against Payne came from conservative commentator Scottie Nell Hughes. From HuffPost:

    Conservative analyst Scottie Nell Hughes has accused Charles Payne, a Fox Business host, of sexual harassment, multiple sources tell HuffPost.

    [...]

    Hughes has told several sources that she feels that Payne, the network and Bill Shine ― then co-president of Fox News and Fox Business ― retaliated against her after they learned of the relationship, which would be the basis for her sexual harassment claim.

  • Ahead of Megyn Kelly’s NBC Sunday Night debut, here’s the Fox News commentary she wants you to forget

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Former Fox News host Megyn Kelly debuts a new Sunday newsmagazine show on NBC on June 4. Kelly has promoted the show as an opportunity to show viewers “a range of emotion and personality” in a way that “wasn’t possible when I was in prime-time cable news." Media Matters has spent years chronicling what we did see from Kelly at Fox; here are the worst moments.

  • Listen to Sean Hannity contradict himself on human rights in Saudi Arabia within 5 minutes

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing Fox host and professional hypocrite Sean Hannity took two distinct positions on Saudi Arabia's human rights record and what it means for U.S. relations with the country within five minutes of each other on his radio show. As a sycophant for President Donald Trump, Hannity defended Trump’s decision to work with Saudi Arabia to combat terrorism, asserting that advances in human rights there would “come through better relations.” But just five minutes earlier, Hannity had attacked Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama for their interactions with the Saudis over the government’s oppression of women, religious minorities, and LGBTQ people. 

    Hannity has frequently cited Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses -- of which there are many -- in order to attack Clinton. However, his tone sharply changed on the May 22 edition of his show when discussing Trump’s trip to the country, which included negotiating “arms sales and infrastructure investments.” Hannity heaped praise on Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia, saying that Trump was creating a “better future” by having the Saudis “working with the Israelis and the United States.” Hannity began to acknowledge the human rights abuses, saying he “got it,” but interrupted himself to say that human rights changes would “come through better relations.” He then indicated that fighting the Iranians and “Iranian-supported radical terrorists” comes first:

    SEAN HANNITY: But for the president, a better future now that you have the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians now working with the Israelis and the United States that is now being a part of it. And a president that said “radical Islamic terror” and described a better vision and future only if these nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists: “Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land, and drive them out of this earth.” Was so powerful, especially comparing everything that happened under Barack Obama. And pledging cooperation, principled realism, rooting in partners, not perfection.

    [...]

    If you create, like sort of like Sun Tzu and The Art of War, alliances against one common enemy, just like we allied with the former Soviet Union in World War II to defeat Nazism. The world can be a much better, safer place with less evil in it. And in that sense, would I prefer the president talk about human rights abuses? Yeah, I got it, but -- and the oppression of women, and persecution of Jews, and slaughter of Christians, and that’s all going to come through better relations. But the first big elephant in the room here is, we better all understand if you want your lives not to be -- because remember, they’re in close proximity. The Iranians want hegemony. Iranians are willing, they are now fighting proxy war after proxy war. Who do you think is fighting the Saudis out of Yemen? That would be the Iranian-supported radical terrorists there. They’re doing the bidding of the Iranians. The Iranians being Shia and the Sunni Arab nations that I’ve been discussing here like the Saudis.

    Less than five minutes prior, however, Hannity had applauded Trump for being willing to “go up against evil, and confront evil, and identify evil,” saying there's a "distinction" between that approach and the actions of Obama and Clinton. In addition, he specifically attacked Clinton for the Clinton Foundation receiving money from Saudi Arabia because of the human rights abuses there, saying, “They oppress women, and kill gays and lesbians, and oppress Christians and Jews”:

    HANNITY: There you have a tale of two presidents. You have [Barack Obama] the apologist, the appeaser, versus [Donald Trump] the realist, and the individual that is willing to go up against evil, and confront evil, and identify evil.

    [...]

    You have money in the Clinton Foundation. You have the Saudis and all these corrupt governments that adhere to Sharia law, giving millions to the Clinton Foundation, buying her silence. Meanwhile, they oppress women, and kill gays and lesbians, and oppress Christians and Jews. Such a distinction.

    This was not the first time that Hannity contradicted himself on human rights in Saudi Arabia or on the country’s relationship with Democratic politicians. According to The Washington Post, Trump has business ties to the Saudis, something that Hannity has not acknowledged in his frequent bashing of the country’s donations to the Clinton Foundation.

    Hannity’s so-called concern for the murders of “gays and lesbians” and the “oppression of women” rings hollow given his storied history of sexism and homophobia. He has frequently dismissed women who give their opinions or seek power. Hannity has also said that “you could argue that Bill Cosby probably helped women in their careers,” despite numerous reports of Cosby sexually assaulting women. Hannity was fired from a short-lived radio show after making a series of homophobic remarks, including spreading the myths that gay men are prone to HIV/AIDS because they consume each other’s feces, engage in fisting, and insert gerbils into their rectums. He also agreed with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage across all 50 states marked “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.”

  • If you appear as a guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight, there's a good chance you'll be a target of online harassment

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After appearing on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, several guests have reported that they were subject to waves of harassment, usually from “alt-right” and white supremacist trolls. Tucker Carlson has become cable news’s most favored hosts among neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and those in the “alt-right.” 

  • How To Remember Roger Ailes

    (As A Liar And Enabler Who Hurt Women)

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    “He went out in such a sad way, but who doesn't have sins? We all have our sins, we all have our cross to bear.”

    That’s how Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt addressed the death of former Fox CEO Roger Ailes on Fox & Friends this morning. A few hours later, Fox News’ Happening Now co-anchor Jon Scott similarly said of Ailes, “Yes, he had his faults. We all do.” The “sins” and “faults” they’re referring to -- the ones “we all have” -- include Ailes’ serial sexual harassment of Fox News employees spanning decades. They also include the creation of a culture, on and off the air, that repeatedly told women that their bodies were not their own, but rather are subject to the sometimes-violent whims of men.

    Roger Ailes hurt women. A lot of women -- probably more than we know. And if those facts are lost in praise about the ways Ailes “forever changed the political and the media landscape,” or reduced to “kind of a sad ending to an incredible career,” it will be another message that those women don’t matter.

    In addition to the incalculable damage Ailes' signature creation has done to the political landscape in this country, his real legacy is the pain he caused for countless people: the 25 women who reported his sexual misconduct and harassment, the employees who were silenced or surveilled by Ailes and his cronies, the women and black employees who were serially harassed by others under Ailes’ watch, the surely many more Fox employees who went to work every day scared, the viewers who watched harassers deliver the news each day with Ailes’ stamp of approval, and the survivors who hear the stories about Ailes’ serial harassment and are reminded of their own pain.

    These are not “sins” that we all have committed; these are atrocities.

    Ailes’ real legacy is the message that if you’re a wealthy, powerful white man, you can hurt as many people as you want and probably get away with it. You can do it for decades, building up an environment where no one even talks about the pain you cause. And when women speak up, you can spy on them, dismiss them, and harass them.

    And when people listen to those women despite your best efforts to stop them, you can walk away with a “tarnished legacy” and an extra $40 million.

  • Women In Sports Media Discuss What’s Missing From Coverage Of Sexual Violence

    Jessica Luther: Imagine The “Conversations That Are Getting Lost Or Ignored Because Women Aren’t There”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    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.

    McManus, a role model whom Luther described as “the leader, especially at ESPN, on reporting on the NFL and domestic violence,” was among those laid off from the network in April.