Sexual assault | Page 7 | Media Matters for America

Sexual assault

Tags ››› Sexual assault
  • Fox Personalities Respond To Gretchen Carlson's Sexual Harassment Lawsuit With Familiar Victim-Blaming

    Fox’s Response Serves As A PSA In How NOT To Cover Sexual Harassment Stories

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    After Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox CEO Roger Ailes, Fox News personalities have rushed to defend Ailes while disparaging Carlson’s character, dismissing her allegations, and accusing her of having ulterior motives. Their response mirrors the false tropes the network hosts push in their sexual assault coverage.

    On July 6, former Fox News host Carlson filed a lawsuit against Fox CEO Roger Ailes, alleging that he fired her “after she rebuffed Mr. Ailes’ sexual advances and also tried to challenge what she felt was unequal treatment of her in the newsroom by some of her male colleagues.” Carlson also alleged that while she was a host of Fox & Friends, her co-host Steve Doocy “engaged in a pattern of severe and pervasive mistreatment” of Carlson. Carlson has been a witness to years of sexism from her male colleagues, plenty of it directed at her.

    Several other women have come forward with complaints or contacted Carlson’s law firm to report similar experiences of mistreatment.

    Numerous Fox figures have rallied to Ailes’ defense, falling back on the network’s long-held strategy of dismissing sexual harassment – and even sexual assault – allegations by blaming the victims, trying to discredit the allegations by disparaging the victims’ characters, and rushing to defend the character of the accused. Just as New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman predicted, the “Fox News PR machine” is fighting the sexual harassment allegations by “try[ing] to discredit Carlson’s claims and any of the other women’s claims who come forward.”

    Disparaging The Victim’s Character

    After Carlson filed her lawsuit, her former Fox colleagues defended Ailes by immediately disparaging her character, dismissing her allegations, and suggesting she may have had ulterior motives.

    Greta Van Susteren suggested Carlson may have falsely accused Ailes of sexual harassment because she was “unhappy that her contract wasn’t renewed.”

    In a flurry of tweets on July 12, Sean Hannity dismissed Carlson’s allegations, suggesting that if she had really been harassed, she would not have stayed, asked for more airtime, or written to Ailes:

    Brit Hume asked Carlson why she didn’t just quit following the alleged harassment:

    This behavior isn’t new for Fox figures. In the past, Andrea Tantaros has asked, “At what point do women need to take some responsibility” for sexual harassment. Hannity blamed a victim of sexual harassment for “staying in the car” with the accused offender after the alleged harassment. Greg Gutfeld claimed that victims allege sexual harassment “to safeguard future reputation-damaging things.”  

    The network’s victim-blaming isn’t limited to sexual harassment. Hosts have blamed victims of sexual assault for “wearing a miniskirt,” characterized victims as “bad girls … who like to be naughty,” and altogether disputed the prevalence of sexual assault.

    Defending The Character Of The Accused

    Fox figures also responded to Carlson’s lawsuit by touting Ailes’ character.  

    Jeanine Pirro called Carlson’s allegations “absurd” and called Ailes a “no-nonsense guy,” saying, “I just loved him.”

    Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed that of the women she’s talked to at Fox, “Nobody believed” Carlson’s allegations, adding that Ailes “is a man who champions women.”

    Bret Baier said that’s “not the Roger I know,” and added, “I can’t say enough good things about Roger.”

    Neil Cavuto called Carlson’s allegations “sick” and said they “don’t remotely resemble the Roger that I know” because Ailes “is ALL professional.”

    Ainsley Earhardt, Martha MacCallum, and Harris Faulkner have also vigorously defended Ailes, calling him a “father figure” and a “terrific boss.”

    By focusing on defending the character of the accused, reporters treat the accused offender as the victim. And it’s not just Ailes. Fox has a history of treating accused offenders as victims, including by claiming  that the focus on campus sexual assault amounts to “a war happening on boys” and dubiously hyping the frequency of false accusations of sexual assault against men, even though  false accusations are rare.  

  • CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield Shows The Media How To Report On Sexual Assault

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    Following public outrage over the lenient sentencing of convicted rapist and former Stanford University student Brock Turner, CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield dedicated five consecutive days of coverage to the case. In those five days, Banfield featured the words of the woman Turner attacked and brought on guests to discuss the severity of sexual violence, demonstrating how the media should report on sexual assault and rape.

  • VIDEO: The Flawed Way The Media Covers High-Profile Rapists

    Why Did News Outlets Highlight Brock Turner's Swimming Abilities After He Was Found Guilty?

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    After a jury found former Stanford student Brock Turner guilty of sexual assault, The Washington Post published an article that highlighted Turner’s accomplishments as an All-American swimmer. The article drew widespread condemnation from critics who argued the Post was irresponsibly emphasizing Turner’s swimming abilities rather than focusing on the crime he committed.

    But the Post’s report isn’t an isolated incident -- it’s an example of a media tendency to treat high-profile sex offenders with kid gloves, even after they’ve been found guilty.

    After two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty of raping a minor, news outlets highlighted their athletic abilities and previously promising futures. After a former college football player in Oklahoma City was found guilty of raping multiple women as a police officer, media outlets highlighted his physical strength and athletic accomplishments.

    News outlets don’t highlight these kinds of details by accident -- they do it because those details run counter to audiences’ expectations about what sex predators look like. People don’t expect sex predators to be successful, popular, rich, or white, so when someone like Brock Turner is found guilty, news outlets jump at the chance to tell a “fall from grace” story.

    The problem with the “fall from grace” narrative is that it can make audiences naturally sympathetic towards offenders. Spend enough time hearing about someone’s athletic accomplishments or academic success, and you might start wondering, “How could someone so great have done something so awful?”

    Taken to its extreme, that framing can produce coverage that ends up treating offenders like victims. The Washington Post’s write-up stated that Turner’s “extraordinary yet brief swim career is now tarnished, like a rusting trophy.” After the Steubenville verdict, CNN’s Poppy Harlow seemed to fixate on what impact the decision would have on the perpetrators, saying they “literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.”

    That kind of sympathetic news coverage is arguably even more dangerous when a trial is still ongoing. Jurors are humans, and this kind of coverage doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Glowing reports about the accused’s prior accomplishments or reputation could influence the biases and assumptions that jurors bring in with them when they enter a courtroom.

    The reality is that all crime reporting can be tricky -- people are innocent until proven guilty, and conflicting testimony means that news networks will always have to worry about sounding sympathetic to either side. But the coverage of Brock Turner’s case is a reminder that a bizarre double standard exists when it comes to high-profile sexual assault and rape reporting -- a double standard that almost works against victims who come forward.