The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

Feb. 2 2016 6:55 AM

How Dare the Iowa Caucus Interrupt Fans’ Sacred Communion With The Bachelor

Hello yes 911? I turned on my TV to watch The Bachelor and there was some completely irrelevant news about Iowa and caucuses on instead!!!

Such was the outrage some fans experienced Monday evening when they tuned into ABC for their weekly communion with dreamboat Ben Higgins and his quickly dwindling number of prospective wives, only to find their regularly scheduled programming interrupted for some pesky election news. Good thing democracy is all about making people’s voices heard, and some Bach fans spoke out on Twitter.

This is Week 5 of Ben’s Bachelor season and a crucial juncture in all 11 of the relationships he’s currently having. This is about true love, people! Contrast that to the 2016 election, which has been going on for years at this point and will continue to play out probably over several more months. Like, no matter what position Ted Cruz comes in, his campaign will live to fight another day. Whereas if Olivia and her cankles don’t get a rose, that’s it for her. (Don’t tell me what happens, by the way, I DVR’ed it.)

Feb. 1 2016 5:55 PM

Dakota Johnson and Leslie Mann’s Shameless Flirting Is Hollywood Under the Female Gaze

Unless you’re Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron doll, movie promo interviews can be monotonous, overscheduled affairs with few opportunities for unscripted merriment. All the more reason, then, to praise Dakota Johnson and Leslie Mann for turning their How to Be Single press tour into a piece of performance art by disarming a Miami TV reporter with a barrage of flattery about his attire and alleged good looks.

The giggling pair starts out by giving Chris Van Vliet a compliment on his socks, a bold statement pair covered in fish silhouettes. They ask after his relationship status, applaud his workout regimen, and finally convince him to unbutton part of his shirt. It’s brazen, though not particularly sexy, and just uncomfortable enough to be a gender-politics power grab.

Of course, the indignant men of YouTube are already riled up about the interview’s implications. “Yeah no this is perfectly fine right? Funny, cute, awesome?” the top comment reads. “Except only if it were two male actors hitting on a female reporter, then it'd be labelled 'degrading, low, unprofessional, creepy' etc. If its okay for women to do this it should be okay for men to do it too.”

I disagree: Johnson and Mann’s shameless flirting is degrading, and definitely creepy. That’s what makes it great. (It’s worth noting that Van Vliet appears game throughout their shtick and has been joking about it on Twitter for the past few days.) Men have so often objectified women reporters and interview subjects, minimizing their professional accomplishments by making statements about their looks, that it’s wonderfully unsettling to see a little evening of the score with a glimpse of the world through the female gaze. The patriarchy doesn’t have to crumble under male tears—sometimes, a little chest hair will do.

Feb. 1 2016 5:47 PM

New Survey Confirms Straight White Women’s Domination of Book Publishing

In the writer Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s beautiful profile of Toni Morrison, published in the New York Times Magazine last year, Junot Díaz remembered what he felt when he saw Morrison on the cover of Time in 1998. “At that moment…you could feel the demographic shift, you could feel in the ’90s what the future was going to be,” he said. But when you look at the world of publishing now, he added, “it’s almost like that future was never realized. The literary world has tripled down on its whiteness.”

The results of a new survey to measure diversity in publishing, released last week by the children’s publisher Lee & Low, loudly concur with Díaz’s point. But interestingly, publishing isn’t just white: It’s dominated by white women.

Lee & Low sent its survey to 13,237 people at all levels of the publishing and book reviewing professions, from marketing assistants to senior editors. Some major publishers, including Penguin Random House, participated, although it appears that others, including HarperCollins and Simon and Schuster, did not. The overall response rate was 25.8 percent. Of the respondents, 79 percent were white, 78 percent were cis women, and 88 percent were straight. The pool was 4 percent black, 7 percent Asian/Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and 6 percent Hispanic, Latino, or Mexican; 8 percent of respondents reported being disabled.

As Kait Howard, a publicist at Melville House, points out, male representation increases to 40 percent at the executive levels of publishing, suggesting that men and women are still being promoted at different rates. A Publisher’s Weekly survey last year also found that the pay gap persists, citing an average salary of $70,000 for men versus $51,000 for women. In other words, while white women have clearly amassed a great deal of power in publishing, that power is in many cases concentrated at the lower and middle levels of the ranks, suggesting it’s too soon to declare total hegemony. But the survey is an essential, depressing reminder of the extent to which the feminist movement has swept in new opportunities for primarily straight, white, and affluent women while excluding others, especially women of color.

“Just because you are a woman, that doesn’t make you an expert in the marginalization that people of color face or people with disabilities face,” Lee & Low director of marketing and publicity Hannah Ehrlich told Take Part. “Do not assume that because women are successful or are in positions of power that that means that that success or power will automatically be offered out or shared with other marginalized groups.”

Man Booker prizewinner Marlon James made a similar point in response to Claire Vaye Watkins’ essay “On Pandering” in November. Watkins wrote that her literary aesthetic was shaped by a life of “watching boys do stuff”—that her work was about “pandering” to white men. James countered, “We writers of colour spend way too much of our lives pandering to the white woman.” He returned to Facebook after the results of the diversity survey went live to point out, “Not to beat what many hoped would be a dead horse, but I still remember how I was near crucified in certain circles for saying this.”

The survey comes just weeks after the much-lauded news that Penguin Random House’s UK office will no longer require job applicants to have a college degree—but, as Salon reports, the US offices have followed a similar policy for years, with minimal effect on the company’s diversity. Jennifer Baker, creator of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, points out that “marginalized people with degrees” already have a disproportionately hard time getting a foot in the door.

The survey results suggest that instead of patting itself on the back for lowering superficial barriers, the literary world needs to actively recruit more staff who aren’t, well, straight white women. (No bonus points allotted for straight white men.) As Quartz suggests, “Pushing publishing companies to launch diversity initiatives may take things a step in the right direction. Readers and writers can also be more vocal about what they’d like to read; after all, publishers are businesses, and businesses need people to buy their product.”

What’s clear is that as long as publishing houses stay overwhelmingly white, so will the authors they select and the characters and stories that they put into the world. Lee & Low points out that the proportion of children’s books that contain “multicultural content” has hovered at around 10 percent for the past 18 years. Adult publishing isn’t much better. That’s a problem for people of color, who deserve to tell their stories, and to read stories that reflect them. And it’s also a problem for society as a whole. “There’s a currently popular argument that books help us feel empathy,” Rebecca Solnit wrote recently, “but if they do so they do it by helping us imagine that we are people we are not… Which is a reminder that literature and art can also help us fail at empathy if it sequesters us in the Boring Old Fortress of Magnificent Me.” Lee & Low has quantified the extent to which publishing remains a Boring Old Fortress. Hopefully the survey will help to crack open the gates.

Feb. 1 2016 3:52 PM

Former Trump Staffer Files Complaint Accusing Campaign of Sex Discrimination

A former Iowa field organizer for Donald Trump’s presidential bid has accused the campaign of gender discrimination, filing an official complaint with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission on Thursday. Elizabeth Mae Davidson, a 26-year-old paralegal and former paid Trump staffer, alleges that the campaign paid her male counterparts a heftier salary and gave them more leadership and speaking opportunities. In her complaint, Davidson also claims that Trump made a sexually inappropriate remark to her and a female volunteer at a 2015 rally.

The New York Times reports that Davidson made $2,000 a month on the Trump campaign while some men who shared her job title, district representative, made $3,500 to $4,000 a month. Davidson told the Times the campaign justified her pay by classifying her work as part-time, since she had another job as a paralegal, but a male district representative who also worked a second gig made the higher pay grade.

Davidson’s complaint states that when she and another campaign-affiliated woman met Trump last year, he commented on their physical appearance: “You guys could do a lot of damage,” Davidson alleges he said. Trump told the Times that he never said that, writing off Davidson’s accusations as the bitter retribution of a scorned former employee. “My people tell me she did a terrible job,” he said.

The Trump campaign fired Davidson on Jan. 14; her gender-discrimination complaint says the she was terminated for making “disparaging comments about senior campaign leaders to third parties” and violating a nondisclosure agreement. Her termination came just one day after a Times article called her “one of the campaign’s most effective organizers.” The piece doesn’t quote or mention any interviews between the reporter and Davidson, who claims that male district representatives spoke to news outlets on the record and were not fired.

It does, however, quote Davidson’s recruitment pitch to a potential volunteer:

As people streamed in, a Trump field representative, Elizabeth Mae Davidson, sought to enlist volunteers as precinct leaders.
“What does that entail?” asked Selena Jacobs, who had never caucused before.
“You stand up and say why you want to support Mr. Trump,” Ms. Davidson said.
“Hmm,” Ms. Jacobs replied, adding that she was not sure she would speak well in public.
“I think you would, you’re pretty,” Ms. Davidson said.

A comment about a woman’s looks means something different when it comes from another woman instead of a man, and certainly when it comes from a young organizer instead of a presidential candidate and millionaire. Trump denies that he ever remarked on Davidson’s appearance. “That is not the worst thing that could be said,” he told the Times, “But I never said it. It’s not in my vocabulary.”

Such an aside wouldn’t be completely out of character for the candidate, who’s made crude assessments of the looks of women in all parts of his life, including his employees, GOP competitor Carly Fiorina, and his own daughter. (Poor Ivanka, of whom Trump has repeatedly invoked incestuous images, has defended her father by calling him “highly gender-neutral.”) There is a power differential between Davidson’s “pretty” and Trump’s “do a lot of damage.” But Davidson’s chosen means of flattering speaks to the Trump machine as a campaign that rests on belittling attitudes toward women, who are either commended or disparaged based on their sex appeal.

Feb. 1 2016 2:28 PM

White Feminism Downplayed California’s Coerced Sterilization of Latinas in the ’70s

In the early 1970s, as feminists advocated for abortion rights in the lead-up to Roe v. Wade, an L.A. county hospital was years into a federally funded population-control program that targeted poor Mexican American women for sterilization when they came to the hospital to give birth. Several only learned years later that they’d had tubal ligations without their consent; 10 testified against the head of the hospital’s OB-GYN program in a federal class-action lawsuit. One woman said a doctor showed her the consent form as she was on a gurney being wheeled into an operating room, midlabor, and asked her to sign it to give them permission to save her and her baby. One said she was told her husband had already read and approved the form, when he hadn’t. Many of these women couldn’t understand the English the doctors were speaking or read the form in front of them. Some heard the doctor say “tubes tied” and assumed they could be untied. Some heard the word sterilize and thought they were being cleaned after an emergency cesarean section.

Lawyers representing the women in the resulting class-action suit, Madrigal v. Quilligan, argued that the plaintiffs had a right to have children, established by Roe, as well as a right to marital privacy under Griswold v. Connecticut, in which the Supreme Court struck down a law banning contraception. But when Latina and Chicana feminists proposed measures that would help protect vulnerable women from reproductive exploitation—like instating a mandatory waiting period between when a woman consented to a tubal ligation and when the procedure took place—many primarily white feminist groups fought them on it, contending that Roe gave them the unalienable right to contraception procedures on demand.

No Más Bebés, a 2015 documentary that airs on PBS Monday night, chronicles the history of this watershed moment in the divide between movements centered on “abortion rights” and those that claim a broader agenda of “reproductive justice.” The clash in priorities has long run parallel to lines of race and class, and its legacy persists. In 2014, the New York Times ran a piece on feminist activists moving from a narrative of “choice” to one that acknowledges the spectrum of reproductive health care and economic barriers to access—a framework that feminists of color have advanced for decades. The article only quoted white women and discussed mainstream feminist organizations with largely white leadership, prompting reproductive justice advocates to protest that their contributions had been erased. Two days after the Times piece ran, a top Planned Parenthood employee wrote a clarification.

“Since the beginning, the narrative of reproductive rights has focused so much on abortion,” No Más Bebés director Renee Tajima-Peña told me. “More and more today, the conversation around reproductive freedom does focus on the full spectrum of a woman’s reproductive rights—to have a child or not have a child. But it’s taken many decades, and a lot of work, especially [by] organizations led by women of color, to change that conversation.”

Some of the film’s most arresting moments come from clips of old newsreels and doctor training videos about birth control programs meant to “space out or limit children born to the poor,” a common U.S. health policy strategy amid a countrywide panic about a population boom that scholars worried would lead to famine and social unrest. But California, which also allowed doctors to perform forced vasectomies on teen boys in group homes and sterilize thousands of people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities, was known for its extensive, systematic sterilization model. Germany used California’s laws as the basis for its eugenics program under the Nazis. Even in recent years, the state has come under fire for unethical sterilization practices. After an audit uncovered 144 cases where incarcerated women were sterilized without state authorization—39 without proper consent from the inmates—between 2005 and 2011, the state passed a law against it.

Though Madrigal v. Quilligan was decided in favor of the doctors, it was the galvanizing moment for Chicana feminists that Roe and Griswold had been for middle-class white women. Tajima-Peña pegs it as one of the first and few cases that gave the most marginalized women a chance to speak. “Forty years ago, the women of the Madrigal 10 were among the most at risk for losing their rights. They were Latinas, predominantly low-income and Spanish-speaking,” she says. “Even within the women’s movement, they weren’t being heard. That’s always been the case with poor women, then and now.” The mainstream Chicano and Latino civil rights movements in the ’70s, which were dominated by men, didn’t offer them any more power. “We were their workers as well,” one woman recalls in No Más Bebés.

“For me, the larger issue is the idea that some women have children that are more desirable in our society, and others have children that are disposable,” says No Más Bebés producer Virginia Espino. “Forced sterilization or coercive sterilization practices are a symptom of this larger belief, not the cause.” Right-wing activists still often peg poor women of color as irresponsible overbreeders and wealthier white women as abortion-obsessed to advance an anti-immigration or anti-abortion agenda. Feminists cannot battle these related injustices in a vacuum. “I think that some white feminists are realizing that issues affecting the rights of women of color also affect them,” Espino says. “[White feminists and feminists of color] need each other if we are going to defeat the forces that are trying to strip us of our right to bodily autonomy.”

Feb. 1 2016 1:58 PM

How a Bunch of Clowns Shut Down Anti-Migrant Vigilantes in Finland

The idea that “our women” need protecting from physical threat—and sexual contamination—is an age-old rationale for racist violence and exclusion. From Donald Trump’s claim that Mexican immigrants are “rapists,” to Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s tirade against men named “D-Money, Smoothie, [and] Shifty” who “come from Connecticut and New York” and “impregnate” Maine’s women, the trope has been on full display in American politics this campaign season. Last year, white supremacist Dylann Roof showed the extent of its hateful potential when he killed nine black worshipers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, saying, “You are raping our women and taking over the country.”

As asylum-seekers arrive in European cities, bands of vigilantes are using the same sick logic as an excuse to prowl the streets. The Washington Post’s Berlin bureau chief, Anthony Faiola, wrote on Sunday about a “far-right citizens group sprouting chapters across Finland” called the “Soldiers of Odin.” Odin is the Nordic god of war, and the group “includes known neo-Nazis and followers with criminal records, as well as more typical men”; the avowed purpose of the patrols is to “keep ‘our women’ safe.” It seems these Finnish thugs are emulating American white supremacists: The patrol Faiola shadowed drove “a beat-up van sporting the stars and bars of the American Confederacy,” though when he commented on it, they told him that they “just liked the look of it.”

The proliferation of far-right groups in Europe and the anti-Muslim, anti-refugee sentiment they reflect is deeply troubling. But the Post story contains a note of hope. A group of mostly female protesters in the Finnish city of Tampere, where Faiola was reporting, refused to be co-opted as a justification for the vigilantes’ xenophobia. Faiola describes the scene:

[T]he Soldiers’ first foray in Tampere recently proved less successful than they’d hoped. Moments after they hit the streets, a troop of protesters dressed as clowns and calling themselves the Loldiers of Odin (a play on the Internet shorthand for “laughing out loud”) ambushed the black-clad vigilantes.
At one point, the clowns—most of them women—surrounded the men and taunted them by singing a local version of “Ring Around the Rosie.”
“They are clowns, too, doing what they’re doing,” said one young protester, who, like the others, declined to give her name. “We are here to show tolerance, because these clowns,” she said, gesturing toward the men, “are the ones who are winning in Finland.”

At this point, farce may be the most appropriate response to the debate over the migrant crisis in both Europe and the U.S. Faiola reports that “sales of pepper spray have gone through the roof across Finland and Germany. New self-defense classes are popping up. In some German communities, sales of fake weapons are soaring.” Fears ballooned after hundreds of women reported being sexually harassed or assaulted by a throng of men in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve; Dec. 31 brought several complaints tied to male asylum-seekers in the Finnish capital of Helsinki as well.

Supporters of welcoming policies toward migrants and refugees blame the reports of sexual violence on a few bad apples, while Europe’s far right paints the Muslim arrivals as enemies of Western values. It’s true that some migrants coming from conservative societies may be confused or scandalized by the sight of women in Western clothes, said Abbas al-Arja, a 25-year-old Iraqi immigrant who moved to Finland in 2010 and is interviewed in the Post story. “Some of them coming now have a lot to learn,” he said. “They do not understand a woman dressed like that.” But he emphasized the way that fear has taken on a life of its own, making matters worse for everyone. “Now Muslim women are afraid to go in the streets because of the Soldiers of Odin. What have we achieved? We are afraid of them, and they are afraid of us.”

The Loldiers of Odin can’t untangle that noxious dynamic. But by staging a sendup of their supposed protectors, they did highlight the way that misogyny and racism can weave together and augment each other. They also made it clear that they don’t want to serve as an excuse for anyone’s bigoted agenda. After the murders in Charleston, the writer Chloe Angyal, in a piece for the New Republic, urged white women “to decry the violence that is done in our name.” With their comic protest, these Finnish clowns found a way to tackle that dead-serious imperative.  

Jan. 29 2016 4:29 PM

Avid Furries Pit Tony the Tiger Against Chester the Cheetah in Junk-Food Sex War

Lest you fret that you’d never get to ponder the sexual connotations of Tony the Tiger’s bowl of “milk,” furries are bombarding the Twitter alter ego of the beloved cereal mascot with pornographic images, a response to Tony’s request that they stop tagging him in sexual fantasy tweets.

The debacle began when the human behind Tony’s account noticed that furries—people who dress up in animal suits for personal and/or sexual gratification—were tweeting lewd demands at the Frosted Flakes spokestiger, which Gawker pointed out last year. All of a sudden, furries found themselves blocked by the tiger’s account. Some hadn’t tweeted come-ons, just loving kindness (“I’d definitely hug him”), and some hadn’t tweeted at him at all.

In response, furries tweeted their outrage at #tonytigergate, and some started sending Tony all manner of erotic images. Tony pleaded for them to keep things non-sexual. It’s for the cubs!

Many were sad to lose the support of their favorite heartthrob.

Others tried to organize a boycott.

But Chester the Cheetah, a sex-positive cartoon jungle cat who’s got an endorsement deal with Cheetos, was there to welcome the furries who’d been shunned by their original striped Adonis.

And the furries embraced their new fantasy cat.

Now, the two beloved junk-food mascots have divided the furry community over the tactics used in Tony-Tigergate. On Reddit, furries are debating whether tweeting erotica at Tony’s social media assistants amounted to sexual harassment, and whether the people behind the sexual tweets are trolls, jerks, or even furries at all.

In 2014, Salon called furry culture a “craze,” though it’s more like social media and a burgeoning convention scene has helped it become more visible to people outside its limits. In earlier years, furries had to be deeply committed to the scene to even find it; now that it’s mainstream accessible, it can be a casual hobby or one-time-only affair. It’s not a fetish, some furries told Buzzfeed in 2014—it’s a community, and a community that thrives online. Tony Tiger-gate is what happens when that community grapples with its own definition and its members’ diversity of opinions on respectability, protest, and degree of public sexuality.

It’s easy to see why furries landed on Tony as a favorite “daddy”: He’s got a hulking upper body, a catchphrase perfect for sexual wordplay, and a red hanky that’s flagging for fisting partners. Chester is a different kind of dreamboat: a wily sleazeball with ‘90s-era sneakers and cheese all over his fingers. But to the willing go the spoils. Then again, Tony isn’t all Puritan ideals and G-rated affirmations: That whiskered hypocrite has been known to purr over a furry-esque photo, too:

Jan. 29 2016 11:31 AM

White House Takes New Action to Address the Gender Wage Gap

The White House will announce a new proposal to advance equal pay on Friday, the seventh anniversary of Barack Obama’s signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The policy would require all institutions that employ 100 or more people to report data on their employees’ compensation, along with standard reporting on gender, race, and ethnicity.

In a press call on Thursday, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett said that the gender wage gap, which is particularly wide for women of color, harms the U.S. in global competition. “Equal pay for equal work isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a family issue, a business issue, and an economic issue,” she said. “Too often, pay discrimination goes undetected because people are unaware.”

The new rule comes from the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has been collecting data from employers for half a century to analyze potential cases of hiring discrimination. Employers of 100 or more people currently report demographic statistics in 10 job groups; after the rule is instated, they will also have to report gender, race, and ethnicity numbers for those groups across 12 “pay bands.” EEOC Chair Jenny Yang said the commission will use the information to analyze pay disparities across industries and, once the EEOC publishes its aggregate data, it could help employers take a critical look at their own pay structures.

Yang also suggested that the data would help the EEOC launch “larger, more complex investigations” and build stronger cases when employees issue pay-discrimination complaints. She estimates that the new rule will be complete by September 2016, and companies’ data will be due in September 2017. “Collecting pay data will help fill a critical void in information we need to ensure Americans aren’t shortchanged for their hard work,” she said.

The government has required this kind of reporting from federal contractors since 2014, when Obama signed an executive order. Today’s announcement, which will hold private employers to the same standards, comes alongside two dozen new state-based measures to address pay inequity introduced this week. Those include proposals in Massachusetts and Colorado that would bar employers from asking prospective employees about their salary histories and a bill in Oklahoma that would create a formal complaint process in the state’s labor department and prevent companies from retaliating against women who use it.

On Friday, Obama will also reiterate his support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, an extension of damages and enforcement under the Equal Pay Act, which the Senate has failed to pass since it was passed by the House in January 2009. Jarrett also announced that the White House will host a summit on the state of women and girls in Washington, D.C. on May 23.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff remarked on Thursday’s call that U.S. corporations have already spent millions of dollars on human resources consultants; business leaders could find out if they’re contributing to pay inequality at the touch of a button. At the urging of two top-ranking female employees in 2014, Salesforce leadership audited its compensation data and found that it was paying women less. The company spent $3 million last year to raise its female employees’ salaries to the levels of their male counterparts. “We will be judged on whether we made the world a more equitable place for all,” Benioff said. “Just push that button.” 

Jan. 29 2016 7:37 AM

Donald Trump’s Transformation of the Republican Primary Into a Reality TV Show Is Now Complete

The transformation of the Republican primary into a reality TV show is now complete. Donald Trump’s nationalist infomercial-cum-veterans’ fundraiser on Thursday night began with Tana Goertz, an Iowa-born contestant from Season 3 of The Apprentice. She promised the audience that Trump would change their lives just as he did hers—which seems unlikely, since he is not going to turn them all into television personalities, but speaks to the magical thinking at work in the Trump phenomenon. Next up were Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson, black women and sisters who have catapulted to minor celebrity with their pro-Trump YouTube videos. “We had a president that ran on hope and change,” said Diamond. “But our veterans don’t have any hope, and some of our veterans don’t even have enough change to buy a loaf of bread.” “Uh huh,” Silk exclaimed.

It remains to be seen how Iowa voters will react to Trump’s decision to ditch the Fox News debate to stage his own pageant, but inside Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium, it felt like a terrifying triumph. It helped that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, desperate for airtime after being relegated to the undercard debate, showed up to lend the whole bizarre affair an air of Republican legitimacy. (They are, after all, the last two winners of the Iowa Republican caucuses.) “I want to say how grateful I am to Donald Trump for inviting us,” said Huckabee, who apparently really hates Ted Cruz. “The easy thing for him to do is to simply ignore that anybody else cares about veterans, and he’s not that kind of person.”

They were followed by John Wayne Walding, a charismatic Green Beret who lost a leg in Afghanistan. Walding then introduced two of his Marine friends, one of them the executive director of 22 Kill, an organization that fights suicide among veterans. (The name comes from the statistic that 22 veterans kill themselves every day.) He presented Trump with a personal “honor ring,” worn in remembrance of these lost soldiers. I lost track of how many times the hundreds of people in the audience burst into shouts of “USA! USA!” When it was over, Trump announced that he’d raised over $6 million for veterans’ groups.

Thus, rather than absorb the attacks of his competitors on Fox, Trump got to play the magnanimous benefactor, starring in his own show that was broadcast on competing networks. “We’re actually told that we have more cameras than they do by quite a bit,” Trump boasted. When he mentioned Fox, the crowd booed. A farmer in the audience told me he respected Trump’s gambit, because it showed that “the press does not always get their way.” Fox has stoked this sort of distrust of the mainstream media since its inception, and it’s enjoyable to watch that distrust turned back on Fox itself. The pleasure is muted, though, by seeing who benefits.  

Jan. 28 2016 11:47 PM

Megyn Kelly Played Up Her Power as the Anchor Too Tough for Trump

Megyn Kelly has gotten more attention than any other media personality during this GOP presidential primary, chiefly due to Donald Trump’s shambling insults and toddler’s temper. The current front-runner opted out of Thursday night’s debate because he’s still mad at Kelly for questioning him about his misogynist past in an early debate, but Kelly had plenty of opportunities to force other candidates into tight ideological spots and to watch in glee as they squirmed—she was in peak form.

Kelly played up her power as the anchor who was too tough for Trump to handle; for her first question, she asked Ted Cruz about Trump, who she called “the elephant not in the room.” Trump’s absence was a gold medal for Kelly to wear throughout the debate. But where she really shined was in a series of questions about combating radical Islam and the xenophobia and infringements on civil liberties that can result from overzealous security measures. First, she asked Marco Rubio about his support for closing down mosques and diners where radicalization might take place. “The Supreme Court has made clear that hateful speech is generally protected by the First Amendment. In other words, radical Muslims have the right to be radical Muslims unless they turn to terror,” Kelly said. “Doesn't your position run afoul of the First Amendment?”

Rubio talked about rooting radical Muslims out wherever they congregate and sending them to Guantánamo Bay—no mercy on his watch, that kind of thing—playing right into Kelly’s hand. She turned to Rand Paul with a mischievous glint in her eye: “Do you agree with that? We’re gonna close down mosques, we’re gonna close down diners, wherever we think radicalization is occurring?” She riled the two candidates up and set them against each other, easy as waving a matador’s cape.

Then, Kelly turned to Chris Christie with a question about the San Bernardino, California, shooting. “Neighbors of the terrorists said that they did not report the couple to law enforcement prior to the crime because they were afraid that they would be accused of profiling,” she said. “Now, you have said we should not profile. How do you square that with the San Bernardino case?” Christie argued that the neighbors had enough reason to go to the police, then bumbled around some kind of distinction between people who “know how to do this” and people who’ve “never done this before,” presumably advising people to let law enforcement decide whether suspicious behavior is worth investigating.

“[The neighbors] didn’t know [the terrorists] were going to attack the country,” Kelly said in response.

“They were talking about the issues of attacking people,” Christie said.

Credit Kelly with speaking over him to get her piece in and pointing out his wobbly version of the story. “That’s not true,” she said. “Neighbors said that they saw men going in and out of the garage. They saw packages being delivered. They saw Muslims. And they did not think that was enough to call the cops. Do you?”

Christie came back with an endorsement of “see something, say something” and uttered just about the weakest argument about profiling, whether for or against: “I think people should use their common sense.” If Trump’s popularity is any indication, the conservative Republican base would have loved to hear a full-throated endorsement of profiling against Muslims. Kelly made sure Christie didn’t give it to them.

But Kelly’s acumen as a moderator belies the fact that she, too, stokes the fires of Islamophobia and offers her show’s platform to radical ideologues who make Donald Trump look quaint. Trump’s jabs at Kelly, which have included period jokes and brushed up against the “bimbo” line without quite crossing it, have brought feminists and other bystanders to Kelly’s defense, and as one of the few Fox News anchors who actually make some pretense about being fair and balanced, she’s garnered a lot of unearned goodwill from unlikely places. Her sharp performance in Thursday’s debate will only shore up her harmless center-right façade.