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June 16 2017 9:53 PM

The Jury in Bill Cosby’s Trial is Deadlocked, Wants to Know What “Reasonable Doubt” Means

Twelve Pennsylvania residents currently have the power to write Bill Cosby into the history books as a convicted sexual assailant. They also have the power to uphold his status as the target of four dozen accusations but the perpetrator of no proven crimes.

The Norristown jury deliberating on Cosby’s alleged 2004 sexual assault of Andrea Constand looks like it’s leaning toward the latter. Over the past five days, the jurors have asked the judge several questions, and on Thursday told him they were unable to come to a unanimous decision. The judge instructed them to go back to the deliberation room and try again.

From the content of the questions, it sounds like there are one or more jurors willing to believe that Cosby did what no one disputes he did—bring her to his house for a career conversation; leave her to eat alone; offer her pills without telling her what they were; giving her as many he later said he’d take to go to sleep; penetrate her manually and put her hand on his penis; and abandon her on the couch, unable to move—in the context of a loving, romantic relationship. That is what the defense has argued: that Cosby is a mere philanderer, and that their sexual contact was one entry in a long-running affair. He was married and 37 years her senior; she was dating a woman and identifies as gay.

The jury has asked to hear again the passage of Constand’s testimony “put them down, they are your friends,” which she said Cosby told her when he offered her the pills he said would help her relax. (She says she asked if they were herbal, and he nodded, but when her mother later demanded that Cosby tell her what they were, he wouldn’t say.) They asked the judge to define “without her knowledge,” a part of one of the three charges Cosby’s facing, as in, Cosby gave Constand intoxicants “without her knowledge.” The jury has asked to rehear Constand’s testimony about the alleged assault and the testimony of two law enforcement personnel who’d interviewed Constand and Cosby. Twice, they reheard segments of Cosby’s deposition from the civil suit Constand brought. This was their only way to hear his version of the night she says the assault occurred, since he didn’t take the stand in court. On Friday, the jury asked to see Constand’s phone records, which the defense used to argue that she’d had an affair with Cosby, since she’d called him several times after the alleged assault. She testified that she’d been looking for answers about what happened and what pills he gave her; the jury asked to rehear that testimony, too.

They also wanted to know the definition of “reasonable doubt.” This is important, because it’s the crux of what the jury’s supposed to do—decide whether all 12 members are satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that Cosby committed the three counts of aggravated indecent assault with which the prosecution has charged him. The question makes it seem like there are one or a couple jury members who think Cosby did what Constand, several witnesses, and the prosecutors say he did, but aren’t sure whether their hunches clear the threshold of reasonable doubt. Perhaps the other jury members are trying to convince a few holdouts that yes, no one but Constand and Cosby know exactly what happened at his home in 2004, but any reasonable person would look at the mountains of evidence and testimony that support Constand and call this man guilty.

One of the jurors’ Friday requests was to rehear the part of Cosby’s civil suit deposition where he said he gave women Quaaludes to get them to have sex with him. Constand’s mother testified last week that Cosby told her he was a “sick man” in a phone call—the jury asked to rehear that testimony, too—but this deposition statement is the closest Cosby has ever come to admitting his guilt in his own words. If the jurors can hear that deposition, on top of all the other testimony they heard last week, and still believe the one-sided sexual encounter that took place on a couch in Cosby’s home was part of a consensual relationship, next to nothing could have convinced them otherwise.

June 16 2017 2:47 PM

Texas, the State With the Country’s Second-Highest Child Marriage Rate, Finally Bans It

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law Thursday that closed a few loopholes allowing child marriage in the state. The new law prohibits marriage people under age 18 unless they are emancipated minors, and therefore legal adults. Since Texas only allows emancipation for minors aged 16 or 17, the state now sets a hard age threshold on marriage at age 16.

Previously, 16- and 17-year-olds could get married with the permission of just one parent, even if the other parent objected. If a judge approved, consenting parents could marry off children of any age. According to the Tahirih Justice Center, an anti­–gender violence advocacy group that helped write the new Texas law, judges and law enforcement officials were not required to look into whether the minor being presented for marriage was a victim of abuse or coercion.

This law is a big deal for Texas, where the child-marriage rate is one of the highest in the nation. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center report, nearly seven of every 1,000 minors aged 15 to 17 were married in 2014, a rate second only to West Virginia’s. The national average is five per 1,000, and every other state in the country has a rate under six per 1,000. (Tahirih has also noted that the Pew report may underestimate rates, since it doesn’t count children under 15 or minors in the 15 to 17 age range who were married but have already divorced.) Between 2000 and 2014, almost 40,000 minors were married in Texas, Tahirih says, citing Texas Department of State Health Services statistics. Most of these minors were child and adolescent girls, some as young as 12 years old, marrying adult men.

Trevicia Williams was 14, a freshman at a high school in Houston, when her mother married her off to a 26-year-old in 1983. The man already had a criminal record; he’s now a registered sex offender. In April, Williams submitted written testimony in support of the bill Abbott signed this week, detailing the physical and emotional abuse she endured at the hands of a husband she’d met just a few months before her mother picked her up from school one day and told her she was getting married. She got pregnant at age 15, had a daughter, and filed for divorce after her husband got locked up. Williams’ mother never told her why she forced her daughter into wedlock.

Girls who marry before age 19 are 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school than their peers and four times less likely to finish college. They experience higher rates of psychiatric disorders and face rates of intimate-partner violence nearly three times higher than the U.S. average.

Yet most U.S. states still allow child marriage under certain circumstances. In March, the Republican majority in the New Hampshire legislature voted down a bill that would have raised the legal marriage age to 18. Currently, with parental and judicial consent, boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 13 can legally marry in the state. Republicans argued that banning child marriage would keep members of the military from getting benefits for their underage partners and disadvantage babies born to unmarried teen girls. In Virginia, until the state banned child marriage last year, a pregnant minor could legally marry the person who’d gotten her pregnant, encouraging rapists to avoid charges by convincing their victims’ parents to let them get married. Republicans in Virginia opposed the bill on the grounds that pregnant minors would be more likely to opt for abortions if they couldn’t marry a man.

Abbott is taking great pains to erode services and protections for women and children in his state—he recently called a special legislative session for the primary purpose of passing abortion insurance restrictions and anti-transgender bathroom legislation. On the day he signed the child marriage ban, he also signed a bill that will allow child welfare programs to refuse to place children with LGBTQ or non-Christian families on religious grounds. But, unlike his fellow Republicans in other states, Abbott did not argue that adults who get children pregnant should be allowed to marry them. On the issue of child marriage, on the superinflated curve by which we must grade today’s GOP, Abbott gets an A!

June 15 2017 4:10 PM

Polygamist Fugitive Captured, Disproving Lawyer’s Theory that He Disappeared in the Rapture

When polygamist religious leader Lyle Jeffs vanished from house arrest almost a year ago, there were at least two theories about what happened to him. The FBI said he appeared to have used olive oil to slip free from his GPS-enabled ankle monitor and go on the lam. His lawyer, meanwhile, suggested in court documents that the Rapture—you know, the end-times event when God will zap Christians back to heaven en masse—might have been responsible for his disappearance.

Until this week, both theories seemed equally plausible! But Wednesday night, Jeffs was captured alive and well in South Dakota. He had been on the run for almost a year, with the FBI issuing a $50,000 reward and a bold red “WANTED” poster for him in August. At a press conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday morning, an FBI representative said he was captured thanks to a tip. Jeffs had been living out of his car near a marina, and is now being held in a Sioux Falls jail.

Jeffs is the brother of Warren Jeffs, the so-called prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a fringe Mormon sect based on the border of Arizona and Utah. The FLDS broke off from the mainstream Mormon church in 1913, largely over the question of polygamy, which the mainstream church had long disavowed. The FBI said Lyle Jeffs was in touch with his imprisoned brother after he escaped from house arrest, but intercepted messages between the brothers also suggested Lyle had been removed from his position of bishop soon after he escaped. Warren Jeffs is now serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for child rape; he had 78 wives when he was arrested in 2006, and a third of them were under the age of 17.

A detailed 2016 profile in the Salt Lake City Tribune portrayed Lyle Jeffs as a braggart with a temper, who enforced the rules at the FLDS compound with little mercy. “Uncle Lyle” evicted possibly hundreds of the faithful, and forbade members from reading or watching secular media or consuming any news about the evidence against his brother. One parishioner told the paper that Lyle would act respectfully during private counseling sessions with church members, but would make fun of people behind their backs when the sessions were over.

As of last year, Jeffs was believed to have eight wives and about 60 children. His legal troubles do not stem from his marital preferences, however, but from his role in what the FBI describes as massive food-stamp fraud. Eleven church leaders are accused of forcing members to “donate” their food stamp benefits to the church, which then used them for their own expenses. A lawyer for another family member implicated in the scheme last year compared it to a PTA bake sale, and said that the crackdown was an infringement on the group’s religious freedom. Prosecutors, meanwhile, said the scheme had cost taxpayers more than $12 million. Previously, Jeffs and a church-related company had been fined for violating child labor laws for forcing at least 175 children under age 13 to harvest pecans without pay.

So far the FBI has offered few details on Jeffs’ capture, though the representative said at the press conference on Thursday that “it’s a great story.” But at least one element of the case seems settled definitively now: The Rapture did not single out for salvation a polygamist accused of child-labor violations and food-stamp extortion. If nothing else, that’s a relief, theologically speaking.

June 15 2017 3:33 PM

Most Major U.S. Employers Fail on Paid Paternity Leave. The ACLU Says That’s Illegal.

 

Paid family leave is a luxury in the U.S. About 114 million U.S. workers don’t get any at all, and among those that do, a recent survey showed, just 10 percent get paid leave at their full salaries. In some ways, the paid leave landscape is getting worse: In the past decade, the number of weeks of leave the average company offers has decreased, and employers have gotten less likely to offer leave at full pay.

In part because many companies that offer leave tie it to disability insurance for women who give birth, fathers and adoptive parents are often surprised to find that their employers don’t give them similar benefits to their birth-mother peers. A new survey of 44 top U.S. employers reports that 17 completely exclude some or all fathers and adoptive parents from their paid family leave policies. CVS, Gap, Kroger, Publix, Walgreens, and Staples are among the eight that give no fathers or adoptive parents any leave. Amazon, Marriott, McDonalds, Nike, Starbucks, and Walmart are among the nine that give paid leave to higher-paid corporate employees but exclude fathers and adoptive parents who are hourly, part-time, or field workers.

The report comes from Paid Leave for the United States, a nonprofit that styles itself PL+US and regularly exposes big corporations that shaft low-wage workers when it comes to paid family leave. Its latest survey also points to several companies—Amazon, Apple, GE, JPMorgan, Proctor and Gamble, and Disney—that give more than eight weeks’ extra leave to mothers than to fathers and adoptive parents. (Update, June 16, 2017: Wells Fargo noted after the publication of this article that it gives 16 weeks to a primary caregiver and four weeks to a secondary caregiver, whether those parents are male or female, adoptive or biological.) Just 10 of the 44 companies surveyed offer equal paid leave to all new parents: Bank of America, CitiGroup, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Hilton, Ikea, Levi’s, Nordstrom, Target, and Verizon.

Unequal paid leave policies are an important pillar in a foundation of parenthood that casts caregiving as women’s work. Studies have shown that men who take two or more weeks of leave after having a child are more involved in the day-to-day care of their babies nine months later than men who didn’t take any leave. Years later, those men are still more capable fathers. Paid leave for men also benefits female partners, who are able to devote more time to paid work or personal pursuits if they want to.

Giving birth mothers more leave than fathers or adoptive parents may also be illegal. LGBTQ parents are about four times more likely to adopt children than straight ones and far more likely to be two-dad households, putting queer employees at a disproportionate deficit under unequal paid family leave plans. PL+US contends that policies that offer different benefits to parents based on their sex—or that privilege women while excluding gay men—violate Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination, and a smattering of state laws against sexual orientation discrimination.

The American Civil Liberties Union is making that exact argument in a discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against J.P. Morgan Chase on Thursday. Derek Rotondo, a fraud investigator who’s been employed by the company for seven years, filed the claim after learning that J.P. Morgan wouldn’t let him designate himself a “primary caregiver” to get the 16 weeks of paid leave birth mothers get. Rotondo has a 2-year-old child and a 9-day-old infant; before the latter was born, he asked human resources for permission to take leave as a primary caregiver. Since the company considers men default non-primary caregivers, HR told Rotondo that he was only eligible for two weeks of paid leave unless he could prove that his wife had returned to work or was “medically incapable” of taking care of the newborn. Rotondo’s wife was on summer break from her teaching job and perfectly healthy, so he was denied the leave that a new mother would have gotten even if her partner was the primary caregiver.

“It was like something out of the 1950s,” Rotondo said in a statement from the ACLU. “Just because I’m a father, not a mother, it shouldn’t prevent me from being the primary caregiver for my baby.”

The class-action charge holds that J.P. Morgan is violating the Civil Rights Act and the Ohio Fair Employment Practices Act, which protect employees from discrimination based on sex or gender stereotypes. Rotondo is asking J.P Morgan to apply its paid leave policies equally to men and women and to pay retribution to him and other male employees who didn’t get the same paid leave their female peers were granted. If he succeeds, companies around the country may have to revisit policies that seem generous from the outside but ignore the realities of contemporary parenthood.

June 14 2017 5:46 PM

A New Southern Baptist Bible Changes “Brothers” to “Brothers and Sisters.” That’s a Step in the Right Direction.

Fifteen years ago, the country’s largest Protestant denomination issued a stinging rebuke to a new Bible translation. The Southern Baptist Convention accused an update to the popular New International Version of “erasing gender-specific details” by changing some references to “man” to “mortals” and “father” to “parent,” among others. It was not the first time the SBC condemned “gender-neutral” translations of Scripture, and it would not be the last. Soon afterward, the SBC issued its own “gender-accurate” Bible, the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

This spring, the SBC’s publishing arm issued a refreshed translation of that Bible that some observers are now calling “gender-inclusive.” Religion writer Jonathan Merritt, the son of a former SBC president, and Garet Robinson, a pastor with a Ph.D. in theology, compared the new version, now called the Christian Standard Bible, with the original. Writing in the Atlantic, they conclude that it has “significant deviations from rigidly literal interpretation methods” and catalog the changes in detail:

The CSB now translates the term anthropos, a Greek word for “man,” in a gender-neutral form 151 times, rendering it “human,” “people,” and “ones.” The previous edition had done this on occasion; the new revision adds almost 100 more instances. “Men of Israel” becomes “fellow Israelites;” when discussing Jesus’s incarnation the “likeness of men” becomes “likeness of humanity.” The CSB translates the term adelphoi, a Greek word for “brother” in a gender-neutral form 106 times, often adding “sister.” “Brotherly love” is translated “love as brothers and sisters.”

So how big of a deal is this? The Christian Standard Bible translation team says it hasn’t made a point of being gender-inclusive but simply tried to capture the meaning of the original text.* The new version uses masculine terms such as father and king and masculine pronouns to refer to God and in passages referring to specific men. But with more generic references, it often opts for neutral terms such as mortal or person. The translators used an approach called optimal equivalence, which prioritizes word-for-word renderings when the meaning is understandable to contemporary readers but shifts to a “thought-for-thought” translation when literalism would obscure that meaning.

Denny Burk, a Southern Baptist professor of biblical studies, dismissed the notion that the new translation is gender-inclusive as “demonstrably false.” Burk writes that traditionalists don’t oppose all gender-neutral translation decisions but only those that “mute the author’s masculine meaning”; the new version, he said, makes no such errors. It also follows the Colorado Springs Guidelines, a widely used standard for translators who oppose the gender-neutral approach.

Debates over Bible translation are debates about theology and linguistics, and they can be dustier than the valley of dry bones. But scholarly nit-picking can obscure what’s really at stake here: interpretations relating to gender roles, marriage, sexuality, the character of God, and how readers see themselves—or not—in the Bible’s story. Christian blogger Rachael Starke wrote that the Christian Standard Bible’s new language “moved [her] to worshipful tears of thanks.” The translation, she wrote, “reveals with beautiful clarity the way Jesus’ redemptive work has always been for, and on behalf of women, as much as it has been for men.”

Correction, June 16, 2017: This post orginally stated the translation team for the Christian Standard Bible was from the Southern Baptist Convention. It was not.  

June 14 2017 4:54 PM

Once Again, a Mass Shooter Has a History of Domestic Violence

Americans who follow news about public shootings in the country will not be surprised by the biography of James T. Hodgkinson, the 66-year-old from Belleville, Illinois, who shot up a D.C.-area baseball practice for congressional staffers on Tuesday morning. He is a white man with a legal license to own firearms, for one thing. And, like so many men who attempt mass murder, he has a history of violence against women.

On Tuesday, Hodgkinson shot two Capitol Police officers, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and multiple congressional staffers, all of whom have survived their injuries. (Hodgkinson was killed by law enforcement officers.) According to police records, he had exhibited a tendency toward violence before. In April 2006, Hodgkinson was arrested in Illinois after allegedly punching a woman in the face at a private residence and firing a shotgun at a young man at the scene. NBC reports that police recovered a shotgun, a pocket knife, and hair from a woman’s head at the scene; the Daily Beast is reporting that Hodgkinson was seen “throwing” another woman identified as his daughter around a room, hitting her, pulling her hair, and grabbing at her. The first woman tried to leave in a car with Hodgkinson’s daughter, but he reached in, turned off the engine, and cut her seatbelt with a knife. Though Hodgkinson was charged with battery, his case was later dismissed.

June 13 2017 5:51 PM

All the HR Suggestions in the World Can’t Change the Soul of Uber 

In February, after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a nightmarish account of the sexual harassment and retaliation she experienced at the company, Uber commissioned a law firm to investigate Fowler’s charges and the company’s culture in general. The task was given to former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder. On Tuesday, Uber released the report he prepared, which 47 recommendations the company’s board unanimously adopted on Sunday.

The Holder report is far less salacious than some of Uber’s recent detractors might have hoped. Though a separate Uber investigation led by a different law firm precipitated the firing of 20 employees for violating sexual-harassment policies, Holder’s document contains no details of wrongdoings and hardly any criticisms at all. It is primarily a proactive document that suggests how Uber might transform itself if it ever intends to climb out of its current reputational ditch.

In that sense, every company could benefit from taking most of Holder’s report to heart. It is full of best practices for diversity, inclusion, and HR work that aren’t specific to the problems recently uncovered at Uber. The report suggests holding company leaders accountable through performance reviews and offering financial incentives to those who model ethical behavior. It recommends tracking HR complaints so it’s easier to find out when violators of HR policy become repeat offenders. Managers should be trained in leadership skills, combating unconscious bias, and interviewing job candidates pinpointed through a “blind” resume process that obscures race and gender, the report says. One provision proposed that Uber adopt a modified Rooney Rule, a hiring tactic the National Football League launched in the early 2000s. The rule held that all interview pools for open senior roles include at least one candidate of color. The Holder recommendation would expand that requirement to include women and compel leadership to put at least one woman and/or one member of an “underrepresented minority group” on each interview panel, too.

Some of the report’s more specific suggestions—forbid romantic relationships between employees and their supervisors, institute guidelines on alcohol use during work hours, require managers to report instances of harassment they witness—seem like no-brainers for any company, especially one with 14,000 employees. Readers can infer a lot about the company’s character from what Holder and his fellow law partner had to spell out. If Fowler hadn’t written a public account of her sexual harassment and mistreatment, Uber might have indefinitely ignored the more than 200 sexual-harassment complaints that led to 20 terminations. Uber Asia executive Eric Alexander, who obtained the police report of a woman was raped in an Uber because he and CEO Travis Kalanick were convinced it was a ploy set up by a competitor, might still have the job he left last week.

Even if the company tries to faithfully honor all the points in Holder’s report, its character won’t be so easily reformed. That character is embodied by Kalanick, who by all reports will remain at the company, though he is taking a leave of absence. Uber is still the company that threatened to spy on critical journalists and used manipulative sexism to wheedle its drivers into working more hours—that’s all part of why it’s succeeded. Kalanick is still the guy who bragged about how much sex Uber was getting him and commented “#FML” in a mass email to employees about how he had to remain “celibate” on an upcoming company trip. There’s only so much robust HR and diversity policies can do to neutralize eight years of growth in the wrong direction.

Just today, the New York TimesMike Isaac reported that, at an all-hands meeting about the Holder report, Uber HR head Liane Hornsey asked everyone to stand up and hug one another. That is a request few capable HR administrators would ever make. At that same meeting, according to audio obtained by Yahoo!, board member Arianna Huffington said that Uber would be adding a woman to its board, and that data showed that boards with one woman are likely to add another. “Actually, what it shows is it’s much likely to be more talking,” fellow board member and billionaire David Bonderman quipped.

That is the state of Uber today: The company can’t even make it through a meeting about its reputation for sexism without somebody making a sexist joke. Sexism at Uber goes far deeper than the things it does. At this point, it’s a core component of the brand.

Work at Uber? Want to talk about the conditions there? Email tips@slate.com.

June 13 2017 5:41 PM

Kamala Harris Got Shut Down After Asking an Incredibly Important Question. Again.

Last week, when deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein repeatedly refused to answer a question from Sen. Kamala Harris, both Sens. Richard Burr and John McCain essentially shushed her. As my Slate colleague Christina Cauterucci noted of the Twitter reaction at the time, “two long-serving white male legislators working together to stop a new female senator of color from getting an answer to a simple question was not a good look.” On Tuesday, attorney general Jeff Sessions also tried to filibuster the former California attorney general’s questions without properly answering them. And again, the same two white male Senators essentially shushed her.

Most importantly, yet again, the substance of what Harris was asking was incredibly important. Last week, she was trying to get a “yes or no” answer from Rosenstein on whether he’d reinstate a Bush-era special prosecutor policy that would ensure that President Trump couldn’t fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Rosenstein repeatedly refused to answer "yes or no," and when Harris pressed him that is when her fellow senators shut her up.

In this hearing, she asked Sessions what was his legal basis for refusing to answer questions about his communications with President Trump. Sessions had essentially been refusing to assert executive privilege—which could be challenged in court and knocked down—citing a “longstanding DOJ policy” for his decision. Harris asked him straight up: What is that policy and did you actually look at it? Again, the witness filibustered and again the questioner was repeatedly interrupted. You can watch a few of those interruptions here:

And here’s exactly how that critical exchange went:

Harris: You referred to a longstanding DOJ policy, can you tell us what policy it is that you're talking about?
Sessions: Well, I think most cabinet people as the witnesses you had before you earlier, those individuals declined to comment because we're all about conversations with the president.
Harris: Sir, I'm just asking you about the DOJ policy you referred to.
Sessions: The policy that goes beyond just the attorney general.
Harris: Is that policy in writing somewhere?
Sessions: I think so.
Harris: So did you not consult it before you came before this committee knowing we would ask you questions about it?
Sessions: Well, we talked about it. The policy is based --
Harris: Did you ask that it would be shown to you?
Sessions: The policy is based on the principle that the president --
Harris: Sir, I'm not asking about the principle. I'm asking --
Sessions: I'm not able to answer the question.
Harris: When you knew that you would be asked these questions and you would rely on this policy, did you not ask your staff to show you the policy that would be the basis for refusing to answer the majority of the questions that have been asked of you.
McCain: The attorney general should be allowed to answer the questions.
Burr: Senators will allow the chair to control the hearing. Sen. Harris let him answer.
Harris: Please do.
Sessions: We talked about it. And we talked about the real principle that is at stake is one that I have some appreciation for as having spent 15 years in the department of justice, 12 as United States attorney. And that principle is that the Constitution provides the head of the executive branch certain privileges. And that members—one of them is confidentiality of communications. And it is improper for agents of any of the department of any departments in the executive branch to waive that privilege without a clear approval of the president.
Harris: Mr. Chairman, I have asked—
Sessions: That's the situation—
Harris: Mr. Sessions, I asked for a yes or no.
Sessions: So the answer is, yes, I consulted.
Harris: Did you ask staff to see the policy?
Burr: The senator's time has expired.

It should be noted that Harris did get Sessions on the record stating that he had consulted the policy and that it is a real thing and not just something he made up. He was asked to produce this policy. Now he will hopefully have to do so. If it's just executive privilege by another name, then maybe that can also be challenged in court. And if we do ever get an answer to any of those questions, it will be thanks in part to Harris' doggedness.

June 13 2017 3:17 PM

Sexual Assault Allegations Make the Entire Premise of The Bachelor Seem More Sinister

The premise of The Bachelor and its spinoff shows has always been a bit slimy. The franchise presents as a given that a random sampling of fame-hungry heteros will all fall in love with the same random target. It doesn’t ask viewers to suspend their disbelief so much as revel in it.

This week, under the specter of alleged sexual assault, that foundation got even more slippery. After less than a week of production in Mexico, ABC has suspended taping of the fourth season of Bachelor in Paradise after a producer raised what Warner Bros. is calling “allegations of misconduct” that require a “thorough investigation.” TMZ has published several sources’ accounts of what they say went down. Two contestants, DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios, had a sexual encounter in a pool after a day of drinking. Sources close to Jackson say it was all consensual and he remembers the manual and oral sex in detail, while sources close to Olympios say she remembers nothing and wouldn’t have betrayed her boyfriend at home by hooking up with another contestant.

There’s an important third party to this encounter: the crew. People reports that three contestants saw the incident occur, and quotes one as saying that crew members “could have seen that [Olympios] was drinking too much and that he was taking advantage” and “stopped this before it got this far.” The contestant told People that the whole cast is “angry at the show.” Sources told TMZ that Olympios “doesn’t fully blame” Jackson, but “blames producers,” who also allegedly told the two before production began that they would be hooking as part of one of the season’s “storylines.” (Unlike the classic Bachelor set-up, Bachelor in Paradise is set up like a sexual musical chairs in which an uneven number of men and women must pair up at the end of each week to send the two unpaired members of one gender home. Two extra members of the other gender join the following week, and so it goes until the end of the season.) Some accounts of the footage say Olympios was “engaged” during the sexual encounter, while others say she was “limp.” According to an L.A. Times reporter, a producer that witnessed the incident is filing a third-party suit against the production company for allowing the “misconduct” to occur.

Anyone who’s ever watched a “reality” show will not be surprised to learn that Bachelor in Paradise appears to be a fertile environment for blacked-out, nonconsensual sex acts. By lubing strangers up with alcohol and forcing them into romantic scenarios, producers encourage contestants to do increasingly outrageous things that will get them airtime and kept for the next episode. Because the whole premise is rather silly and contestants in the traditional Bachelor format don’t usually do sex things until the end of the season, when finalists get to relieve their season-long sexual tension in a “fantasy suite,” it’s felt for the most part like good, clean (albeit deeply weird) fun.

Bachelor in Paradise is a bit different. Contestants are encouraged to find match-ups right away and sometimes hook up the first week—what took place between Jackson and Olympios allegedly happened on the very first day of production. But even in the original Bachelor series, which recently wrapped up its 21st season, the male star is encouraged to see the women vying for his love as willing potential marks. That premise seems a lot more sinister in the light of the recent accounts from the set of Bachelor in Paradise, the first sexual assault allegation in the franchise’s history. Contestants are saying they shared their concerns about Olympios’ inability to consent and intoxicated condition with members of the production team; production sources denied that account to TMZ. What’s undeniable, though, is that producers are incentivized to encourage drunkenness and sexual activity, and contestants are incentivized to get drunk and seduce one another. It would almost be more shocking if such a setup didn’t ever end in allegations of sexual assault.

NPR pop-culture reporter and noted Bachelor critic Linda Holmes tweeted on Monday that the Bachelor in Paradise story smelled a little rank. “Either something happened besides what the murmurs are suggesting or things DIDN'T happen in the past that seem to have happened,” she wrote. In other words, drunken hookups fuel the series’ “relationship” drama, its raison d’être. What’s different about this one? Either the previous hook-ups were totally staged, or this one was a far more clear-cut violation than initial accounts are letting on. 

However the case shakes out, the decision to completely suspend filming of a show less than a week into production should be serious enough to make viewers wonder what exactly they’re watching when they turn on The Bachelor. Is it an innocent dating game or a breeding ground for sexual coercion? Can it be both? Either way, now that the show has generated accusations of sexual assault with the complicity of the production team, many fans will watch The Bachelor through a lens less fogged by its lovey-dovey innuendo and thin pretense of finding a soulmate. A premise that depends on a total break from the reality of romance may crumble when viewers finally get a glimpse behind the scenes.

June 13 2017 2:39 PM

Why Ivanka Trump Is So Obsessed With Making Kissy-Faces

After declaring on Monday's Fox & Friends that her time in the White House thus far had been marked by “a level of viciousness that I was not expecting,” Ivanka Trump was hit with some blowback. Huffington Post: “Earth to Ivanka Trump: Your Dad Invented Vicious.” CNN: Those “10 words … blew up Ivanka’s reintroduction tour.”

So Ivanka retreated to the safety of Instagram. Around midday on Monday, she posted a clip of her in a familiar pose: blowing a kiss. She stands on what looks like the sunny balcony of an office building in Manhattan in one of her trademark sleeveless shift dresses. The caption: “Bye NYC! Until next time... 😘”

Bye NYC! Until next time... 😘

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Ivanka loves the kissy-face. A Google image search yields endless examples: her lips flirtily puckered in front of the New York City skyline, in the back seat of a car, at her dad's inauguration. When she posts Instagram “stories,” they often end with a blown-kiss signoff. It is Ivanka’s signature gesture. Even when she’s not air-kissing, she tends to evoke it, whether she’s kissing her actual baby or engaging in some light duckface. Ivanka, ever appropriate, know not to blow kisses when she’s meeting the pope or strategizing with a team of advisers. But when she’s on her own and having fun, just us gals, nearly without fail she’ll fall back on her favorite move.

Ciao Roma 🇺🇸🇮🇹

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This makes perfect branding sense. Ivanka loves to convey “soft-edged materfamilias wrongly cast as a brutal political henchwoman,” and the kissy-face is like the visual embodiment of her awkward everywomanism. Her “movement”-cum-book Women Who Work was her attempt to cast herself as a Sheryl Sandberg–like mogul, but one who’s more feminine and approachable, someone who wants to preserve the traditional silhouettes of the patriarchy (shift dresses!) rather than smash it. With her air kisses, she seems to say, “Who, me?” Why, she is literally sending love into the world! If this isn’t making “a positive impact in the lives of many people,” which she stated as her goal on Fox & Friends, what is?

Sending love from a photoshoot this AM!! 😘

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But if Ivanka is trying to cast herself as an everywoman, the kissy-face feels misguided: Movie stars air-kiss; so do European socialites. Every air kiss sends the message that you’ll never get a real kiss from the real her, only some aerial approximation. The air kiss feels like a girlish tic she's developed as a way to humanize herself, a task she is congenitally terrible at. As Broadly once put it, “Ivanka Trump doesn't have a personality—she has a content strategy.” When Ivanka makes kissy-faces, she is attempting to reveal a bit of her totally normal, approachable personality, but all she’s really revealing is that she … loves blowing kisses, and like a robotic processing human code, thinks it makes her look more fun.

Thank you North Carolina! 😘

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