Social Justice, TMZ Style
Thank God for TMZ. In the course of the past year, the digital celebrity tabloid has leapfrogged police, prosecutors, and investigative reporters to become the sports world’s most dedicated watchdog. In November, the site broke the story that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston had been accused of sexual assault. (A year before TMZ’s story hit, the local police force’s slapdash investigation petered out quietly; TMZ’s scoop inspired serious scrutiny of both Winston and the cops.) In April, TMZ aired audiotapes revealing Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making casually racist comments about players and fans. (Sterling’s tenants and employees had been accusing him of racial discrimination for years; TMZ’s tapes finally forced the NBA to push Sterling out.) On Monday, the site published a video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée in the face and dragging her unconscious body out of a casino elevator. (Before the leak, New Jersey prosecutors gave Rice a cushy plea deal and the NFL slapped him lightly on the wrist; the video compelled the Ravens to cut Rice from the team.) And today—after beating the New York Times itself to each of these stories—TMZ gets its due in the form of a Times profile heralding its work as a necessary “rebellion against the established social order.”
The tabloid’s day-to-day sports coverage is itself vaguely offensive. (“Adrian Peterson – THE SPERMINATOR!” one recent story reads. “Chalk up yet ANOTHER baby mama for the Minnesota Vikings star.”) When the site takes on domestic violence, institutional racism, and sexual assault, it aims to titillate, too—the Rice story is titled “Ray Rice ELEVATOR KNOCKOUT—Fiancee Takes Crushing Punch”—but the central outrage is far from faux. And when its reporters aren’t hitting below the belt, they’re punching up: TMZ’s scandal coverage reaches above the big-name stars themselves to go after the colleges, cops, prosecutors, and sports leagues that have failed to investigate these incidents with TMZ’s swiftness or punish them with the site’s intensity. After breaking the Winston story, TMZ reported that Florida cops only notified the State Attorney’s Office of the incident after TMZ started asking questions about the year-old accusation; TMZ later contributed more on-the-ground reporting to demonstrate how police inaction in the case had led to lost evidence. And when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell claimed that authorities with the NFL failed to see the Rice elevator tape because the only “credible” source of the evidence—law enforcement officials—wouldn’t cough it up, TMZ razzed Goodell for his reasoning. “The police got the tape from the casino, so the police video CANNOT be more credible than the source,” TMZ countered. (It was speaking from experience—it obtained the tape from former casino workers, not authorities.) Goodell’s face now appears on TMZ’s running list of embattled celebrities.
What makes TMZ so effective? Unlike prosecutors (who hedge their bets to ensure they only prosecute people who juries will convict) and league officials (who are invested in selling athletes as heroes), TMZ has an economic imperative to administer uncompromising takedowns. And unlike traditional journalistic outlets, it’s willing to pay for tips, tapes, and documents to back them up. (As the Times notes, TMZ traffics in proof, not just gossip.) TMZ’s model also keeps pace with developing technologies, which encourage consumers to constantly surveil themselves and others; the result are videos and tapes of private incidents that otherwise would have been neutralized by he-said-she-said posturing. But TMZ’s success is also due to a shift in how the public consumes tabloids. Sites like Jezebel—which lifts celebrity gossip out of the pages of Us Weekly, then filters it with its own progressive bent—have revealed an audience of internet readers who are eager to wed their pop cultural interests to their social justice priorities. At its best, TMZ co-opts the sports world's star machine to reveal deeper scandals about how society still privileges the rich, the famous, and—more often than not—the male.
At this point, it looks like the only people who can undermine TMZ’s dominance are its disgraced subjects themselves. After TMZ’s tapes unseated Donald Sterling, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson privately contacted the NBA in July to admit that, two years ago, he had sent off a racist email claiming that the team’s black fans had “scared away the whites,” complaining that the Kiss Cam is “too black,” and requesting “some white cheerleaders.” NBA commissioner Adam Silver says Levenson immediately offered to sell the team; in a statement, Levenson has positioned himself ahead of the scandal, saying, "If you're angry about what I wrote, you should be. I'm angry at myself too." I bet TMZ is mostly mad that Levenson beat it to the story—anger that will fuel its next takedown of a worthy target.
Listen to Ray Rice’s Lawyer Say the NFL Player Is the One Who Got Beaten Up, “Hypothetically”
If you’ve seen the Ray Rice video, it’s impossible to forget what happened inside that casino elevator on Feb. 15: a Ravens running back punching his then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer, knocking her out cold, and then dragging her body across the floor. Before this week, when TMZ released footage shot from inside the elevator, all most of us had seen was the exterior footage, which showed Rice outside the elevator with the unconscious Palmer at his feet. Given that gap in the evidence, we had to rely on those who’d seen the full surveillance video to describe what exactly Rice had done.
As Deadspin points out, one man we relied on was Rice’s lawyer Michael Diamondstein. Back in May, the Press of Atlantic City reported that Diamondstein—who had been granted access to the video—wouldn’t confirm to reporters that Rice could be seen punching Palmer. “It’s more complex than that,” the lawyer said. “I can’t break it down to you in words that quickly.”
As a defense attorney, Diamondstein obviously wasn’t going to incriminate his client. But later that month, after Rice was accepted into a pre-trial intervention program, he went a step further. On May 24, on a show called “Sports Bash Saturday” that airs on South Jersey’s 97.3 FM ESPN Radio, Diamondstein said that “it’s not like a man of Ray’s character is going to then bash his wife in the media and say, Well, she did this, and so I did this, and so I did this, and then she did this.” And then a few minutes later, Diamondstein proceeded to bash the victim of Rice’s bashing.
In the clip below, Diamondstein lays out a “hypothetical” scenario—he says the words hypothetical and hypothetically six times in less than a minute—in which “Ray wasn't the first person that hit and Ray was getting repeatedly hit.”
Deadspin’s Tom Ley explains that “the narrative [Diamondstein] offers up more or less became the accepted one.” According to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, this is what Rice told his Ravens teammates as well, “that he had no choice but to defend himself that day in the elevator.” Forget the cute, smarmy hypotheticals: Rice’s lawyer smeared the victim of a vicious domestic assault, and that smear worked exactly as intended, at least until TMZ released the footage of Rice punching Palmer in the face. This was not, Well, she did this, and so I did this, and so I did this, and then she did this. It was a brutal assault, and it was not more complex, or harder to describe, than that.
“The Day Care Provider Suggested I Rebirth My Son”
The state of American child care is pretty abysmal. Day care is not well-regulated, the quality is often poor, and it’s expensive: In 35 states and Washington, D.C., it costs more than a year’s in-state college tuition. We are the only wealthy nation that does not guarantee paid vacation or sick days, so when a snow day or a fever keeps a child out of school, it can mean a career setback for many parents. And for working parents with low-wage jobs, things are even worse.
We point to other countries—often ones in Europe—as models of how to do child care right. But is it really so much easier to be a working parent in Paris than it is in Peoria? We asked working moms and dads from all over the world to tell us their child care experiences. Here is the fourth in our occasional series, from a Canadian-born mother in Vienna, Austria.
Name: Tova Marr
Partner's: occupation: Engineer
Children: A son, age 3.
Hi, Tova. What are your work hours?
I work 38.5 hours a week and my husband works 37.5 hours a week.
Who takes care of your son when you are at work?
Originally he went to a private day care, but he was kicked out because of his special needs. Long story short: After about a year at daycare, our son started to act up. They initially said it was because I work too much. Then they said he had ADHD. I had a child therapist visit the daycare who assured me that he is just very spirited. After a few months, without my knowledge, the daycare had him analyzed and one morning, they gave me a letter saying he has Asperger’s. Tears and many specialist visits later, it was determined that he has developmental delays and when he turns 4, a firmer diagnosis will be given.
Why I've Stopped Reading Twitter Mentions
I was an early adopter of Twitter, getting an account in 2007. I quickly fell in love with the service and how it dumped a constant stream of interesting information, insightful comments and jokes into my life. I particularly enjoyed the ease with which I could tweet at someone I didn't know and, with the "mentions" feed, get feedback on my work from smart people all around the world.
All of which is why I'm saddened to realize that it's time to permanently delete my mentions feed and give up looking at anyone tweeting @AmandaMarcotte. While there are still plenty of people who tweet at me with helpful comments and thoughtful opinions, including people who disagree with me, in the past few months (years?), most of what I get is harassment from users harboring a bilious hatred of feminists. Or, sometimes, just a hatred of me, a person they do not know.
What Victory for Women's Rights Looks Like
When the curtain fell on California's legislative session, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins released a bland statement celebrating its accomplishments. In it, she singled out a water bond, an on-time budget, and a bill that would cut down plastic bag use. What Atkins failed to mention: The state's first openly gay speaker had just wrapped up one of the most women-friendly legislative sessions ever.
That puts California on vastly different footing than many state legislatures around the country that have been hacking away at women's rights— including an astounding 200-plus restrictions on reproductive rights over the last three years, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But in California, "Women came out in a much better position than they have in past years," Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, told me.
None of the legislature's work is a done deal. Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of the month to veto bills passed this session. But even if the governor tosses any of the bills (and it’s unlikely that he will), the sheer number of measures passed is a very positive sign for California’s women, and, in turn, women across the country.
Here's what passed:
How to Have the Consent Talk With Your Kids
Thousands of parents have just sent their kids off to college in America, releasing them to an exciting new social and educational environment where new students experience a heightened risk of being sexually assaulted, where dozens of schools are being investigated for mishandling campus rape cases, and where one Ivy League victim has become so frustrated by the process that she's pledged to haul a mattress around campus until her administration takes her claims of assault seriously. Maybe parents should bring that up? I asked Heather Corinna—founder and director of the sex education and advice website Scarleteen—to weigh in on when parents should start teaching their kids about consent, how technology has changed the sex talk, and whether we should be sending different messages to college-aged boys and girls.
Slate: I imagine that the idea of “the talk,” where parents sit their kids down and tell them how sex works, is pretty obsolete at this point. So when should parents start having conversations with their kids about consent and sexual assault?
The Oakland Raiders Finally Gave Their Cheerleaders Minimum Wage. Yay?
The two Raiderette cheerleaders who revolted against the team this year—suing the Oakland Raiders for paying them less than minimum wage, withholding paychecks until the end of the season, and never reimbursing them for business expenses—have declared victory. Lacy T. and Sarah G., who filed a class-action suit on behalf of their fellow Raiderettes this spring, have reached a settlement with the NFL franchise. The team will pay out a total of $1.25 million to 90 women who cheered between 2010 and 2013. That translates to an average $6,000 payout per cheerleader per season for the first three seasons covered by the suit, and an average of $2,500 each for the final season. (Right before Lacy’s lawsuit hit, the Raiders unexpectedly padded the 2013 cheerleaders’ checks with additional cash). According to Sharon Vinick, lawyer for the Raiderettes, future Raider cheerleaders will be paid minimum wage for all hours worked, receive checks every two weeks, and be reimbursed for business expenses they incur in the course of the job.
“We are excited that the Raiders have decided to pay their current cheerleaders in accordance with the law,” Sarah G. said in a statement through her attorney. “This was our goal and I am pleased to say I was a part of an organization whose management decided to make these changes. Now we can just go back to dancing, being respected and taking down the Niners when they try to step onto our field!”
Is the settlement fair? $1.25 million sure sounds like a big number, and for many current and former Raiderettes, the split ain’t bad: The women who cheered for all four seasons covered by the suit could stand to receive checks for more than $20,000. (As for the naysaying cheerleaders who complained that Lacy T. and Sarah G. were making them look bad by speaking up: If they fail to cash their checks, the money will be donated to Girls Inc., an Alameda County nonprofit that provides enrichment activities for local girls.)
It’s depressing to remember, though, that the payout is not a surprise bonus: It represents money the Raiders stole from these women. Lacy T. in particular had to work long, unpaid hours to recoup the money she had rightly earned. (She cheered only last year, putting her in the $2,500 range.) Lacy knew that working to change the system would not be a lucrative endeavor: “I never dreamed that my decision to find a lawyer and file a lawsuit would lead to the kind of sweeping changes we are now seeing for the women of the NFL,” she said in the statement. “But as a mom, it makes me proud to know I’ve stood up for myself, other women, and my daughter.”
Cheerleaders for the Bengals, Bills, Jets, and Buccaneers—all of whom filed similar suits against their teams after Lacy took on the Raiders—have reason to be encouraged by the Raiders’ payout and policy shifts. Still, I wish the changes here were a little more sweeping. The Raiders have begrudgingly agreed to pay future cheerleaders—women they march out as the face of their organization, and hold to extreme standards of conduct—the minimum wage. It’s the least they can possibly do. That is indeed cause for celebration on the NFL sidelines. But it doesn't exactly communicate respect.
Republican’s Male-Only Fundraiser Invite: “Tell the Misses Not to Wait Up”
So, how are Republican congressmen fighting the "war on women" accusation this election cycle? For Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida, the answer is apparently to have a male-only fundraiser that's explicitly focused on keeping a woman out of power. "Washington DC is broken and we need to fight for Steve Southerland to return to Congress & prevent the gavel returning to Nancy Pelosi," reads the invitation, obtained by Buzzfeed, to a March fundraiser. And so, a "small group of concerned men" are invited to get together to fundraise and strategize, without any women clogging up the joint.
The invite eschews subtlety in favor of checking off as many good ol' boy tropes as one can cram onto a postcard while leaving room for illustrations of the manly fare on offer (cigars and steak). It kicks off with nostalgia for the medieval era: "Good men sitting around discussing & solving political & social problems over fine food & drink date back to the 12th Century with King Arthur’s Round Table."
The Mindy Project Really Needs an Abortion Storyline
Dr. Mindy Lahiri, the loveable lead played by Mindy Kaling in the sitcom The Mindy Project, is an ob-gyn. Her job functions as more than background decoration, as Jessica Goldstein of Think Progress notes. "One of the most standout things about The Mindy Project is the way its setting has allowed for stories that explicitly deal with women’s health," she writes, citing storylines about birth control, condom distribution, and even The Talk.
But there's one aspect of reproductive health care that Kaling has no intention of touching on in the sitcom: abortion. “It would be demeaning to the topic to talk about it in a half-hour sitcom," she recently said in the October issue of Flare.
Sorry, but that's total nonsense.
Female Inmates From Danbury Prison Still in Limbo, Lacking Key Services
A year ago, I wrote about a victory for more than 1,000 female inmates at the women’s prison in Danbury, Connecticut, featured in the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black. Like the character Piper in the show’s second season, the women were slated for transfer—to a newly constructed prison, far away, in Aliceville, Alabama. The proposed move would have sent many of the women hundreds of miles from their families in cities in the Northeast. Their beds at Danbury were to be filled with men.
The prisoners’ plight attracted the attention of the real Piper Kerman, who wrote the book the show is based on, and of 11 senators from the Northeast. The federal Bureau of Prisons temporarily suspended the transfers last August and announced that, along with creating a facility at Danbury for men, it would create enough minimum-security beds for women to keep female inmates who were U.S. citizens in the Northeast.
But ten months later, “no ground has been broken at Danbury for new construction, and the BOP has declined to provide a detailed timeline for the completion of the new facility,” according to a new report by the Arthur Liman Program at Yale Law School (where I teach). All but 200 of Danbury’s female inmates have been transferred to other facilities, including jails in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. The jails aren’t far from the families of many of the women, and that’s a significant boon. But the jails aren’t designed for long-term stays. They lack key services, like residential drug treatment, apprenticeships, and decent jobs. The women don’t know how long they’ll stay at these jails, but the BOP now says construction at Danbury could take 30 months.
The 11 Northeast senators released another letter to the BOP on Wednesday, calling the lack of progress on the renovations at Danbury “unjustifiable.” Most of the female inmates who are now being shunted around committed nonviolent crimes. Orange Is the New Black makes its viewers care about a slew of amazingly interesting incarcerated characters. But it’s their real counterparts who need help.