Can Someone Please Invent a Better Way to Remove Pubic Hair at Home?
Here’s a free idea for any bored engineers or energetic youths looking for a disruptable industry that hasn’t yet been disrupted: Make us a pubic hair removal device that doesn’t injure our genitals.
More than a quarter of U.S. pubic-hair groomers in a new nationally representative survey published in JAMA Dermatology said they’ve sustained at least one injury while beautifying their bathing-suit area, a truly reprehensible rate for a country whose every airport bathroom contains a machine that can completely dry a set of hands in eight seconds or less. Of those who reported injuries, 2.5 percent said the damage was severe enough to warrant surgical intervention, such as stitches or abcess drainage. Abcess drainage! From pubic grooming! We’re preparing to send human beings on a multi-year trip to friggin’ Mars, but we must still suffer drainable abcesses when we try to manage the shape and density of our bushes?
Please, ambitious innovators, innovate this. Three percent of all genitourinary injuries in U.S. emergency rooms are pubic grooming–related, researchers say. There must be a better way to do what we’re doing to our nether regions, because we’re clearly not doing it very well. Our genital wounds include cuts (61 percent of injuries), burns (23 percent), and rashes (12 percent). More than two-thirds of male pubic hair removal injuries occur on the scrotum, according to survey data. Does a cut, burned, rash-y scrotum sound like a scrotum that reflects the progress Western medicine has made in the past century?
No—that scrotum is the product of a stagnant industry led by disposable-razor barons and depilatory-cream tycoons too complacent to give us an easier way to whatever-scape. The user experience of all standard modes of pubic hair removal could use an overhaul, especially considering that more than three-quarters of Americans use some kind of removal device. Can’t we get an upgrade?
I don’t know exactly what a better device would look like—I’m not an inventor, Dyson employee, infomercial star, or start-up person. You are. Get those brain juices flowing and make a zillion dollars selling your magical pubic hair helper on QVC or Goop. The scrota of America can’t reach their full potential without you.
OkCupid Banned the White Supremacist From the Vice Video. Here’s Why That Makes No Sense.
Of the hundreds of white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for a show of power last weekend, Christopher Cantwell has emerged as one of the most recognizable. Since starring in a viral Vice documentary on the weekend’s protests and violence, Cantwell has published a blog post calling Heather Heyer’s murderer a “hero,” posted a video of himself crying over his FBI-issued arrest warrant, and wrote an apology to Donald Trump for wishing for a president who “does not give his daughter to a Jew.”
In the wake of the media coverage of Cantwell’s white nationalist ideology and the violence he perpetrated at the weekend’s demonstrations, OkCupid announced on Thursday that it was banning him from the dating site for life. “Within 10 minutes” of being alerted to his account, the company proudly tweeted, it booted him from the platform. Now, the company wrote, OkCupid is asking people to report other users associated with “hate groups,” because “there is no room for hate in a place where you're looking for love.”
Isn’t there, though? OkCupid asks its users to fill out a lengthy series of questions it uses to match people with potential mates; users can answer as few or as many as they’d like. Among those questions are a few that would look right at home on an entrance exam for the Klan:
“Would you strongly prefer to go out with someone of your own skin color/background?”
“Would you consider dating someone who has vocalized a strong negative bias toward a certain race of people?”
“Is interracial marriage a bad idea?
There’s a term for white people who answer “yes” to these questions: white supremacist. In these questionnaires, OkCupid has basically created a functional database of white supremacists it could have banned at any time. It has not only allowed white supremacists to use the platform, but it also gave them a way to find each other by matching potential lovers based on their answers. Users can make their answers private, so only OkCupid can see them to calculate their match percentages, or public, so all other users can see what they said. OkCupid has given people who are proud of their opposition to interracial marriage and their desire to date someone with a “strong negative bias” toward people of color a friction-free way of finding like-minded (read: racist) mates.
Users can also rate how important a prospective date’s answer to each question is to them, weighting how much each response counts toward their match percentage. Imagine the white person who answers “yes” to all the racial prejudice questions, then ranks them as “mandatory.” He can make it so he mostly or only sees people who want to date a racist. He’s just created his own personal white supremacist dating site.
This isn’t to say that OkCupid should use its own questionnaire to bait white supremacists into revealing themselves, then kick them off the site. No white person who grows up and lives in a racist society, as all white people do, is free from racism; it would be impossible for OkCupid or any other digital service provider to faithfully weed out all racists from its ranks. Even if there were, the idea of a few tech CEOs wielding their power to kick jerks off the internet should cause concern. Some racists are undeniably worse than others—particularly those who advocate violence and affiliate with white nationalist groups—but no company, especially not one that makes it easy for users to self-identify as racists and find others, should be in the business of measuring degrees of racism to determine a user’s eligibility.
OkCupid’s Cantwell ban is effective as a symbolic statement against white supremacy, but its efficacy mostly applies to the company’s public reputation. The site gets to look good for taking a stand against one internet-famous white nationalist, but it can still make money off run-of-the-mill white supremacists who use OkCupid’s question-weighting system to find their people. Users who send messages to black women asking if they “taste like chocolate,” or to Asian women praising their race’s “docile and submissive” nature will still get to search for targets for their racism. Those who use hate language will sometimes get banned if other users report them, but white supremacists can easily benefit from the platform without running afoul of the very vague “conduct” section of the terms of service, which OkCupid says Cantwell violated. (The company hasn’t specified what he did, other than become famous for his white nationalism in a Vice documentary. Cantwell claims he never used his OkCupid account “for anything other than talking to women in pursuit of romance.”)
What if someone reports a guy who posts Nazi propaganda on his Facebook page, but fills his OkCupid profile with banal tributes to Led Zeppelin and Breaking Bad? Is just sharing white supremacist memes on Twitter enough to get someone banned, or does one have to be a card-carrying member of Identity Evropa? More than a few users espouse racist views on OkCupid itself. Data released by OkCupid in 2016 showed that 18 percent of Mississippi users said in their questionnaires that they disapprove of interracial marriage, and those answers helped the site find those people other racists to love.
In one sense, OkCupid’s questions about racial prejudice do a service to people of color: They allow white supremacists to identify themselves. Anyone who doesn’t want to see that kind of scum, provided the scum have answered “yes” to those questions, can filter them out by answering “no” to all three and marking them “mandatory.” According to OkCupid, so many users do this, they’ve made racism the No. 1 “dealbreaker” on the site.
The Mormon Church Condemned White Supremacists, and This Mormon White Supremacist Mom Is Very Mad About It
This past Sunday, the Mormon church released an official statement expressing “sadness and deep concern” over violence surrounding white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville over the weekend. The statement was firm but vague, condemning racism and intolerance in general terms. Two days later, however, the church updated its statement with what one historian at Brigham Young University called “perhaps the most direct official statement condemning racism and white supremacy in the LDS Church's history.”
Bachelor in Paradise’s Cast-Wide Convo About Consent Was a Ridiculously Transparent Bid to Rehab Its Brand
This season of ABC’s Bachelor in Paradise caused controversy before it had even begun. Two months before this week’s premiere, producers suspended taping within the first week of production in Mexico amid allegations of sexual misconduct within the cast. DeMario Jackson and Corinne Olympios had hooked up after a day of drinking, and she alleged that she was too drunk to really remember (or consent to) the encounter. Contestants who gave anonymous accounts to media outlets said they were angry at producers who saw the encounter take place and did nothing to stop it; one producer even sued the production company for allegedly letting an assault occur.
But an internal Warner Bros. investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by any cast members, so the remaining contestants returned to carry on with the season as planned. On Tuesday, the second night of the two-day premiere, they showed up on the beach like they were returning to the scene of a tragic shipwreck, uttering breathless musings like “I don’t think anyone expected to be back here” and “I hope this is a fresh reset on love.” Before they got to work finding love, host Chris Harrison sat the cast members down to have a heart-to-heart about alcohol, racism, consent, and restoring the reputation of the Bachelor franchise.
No reasonable person would expect a reality-show host to be an adequate guidance counselor—Harrison is far better qualified to coax romantic platitudes out of fame-hungry meatheads than to lead a reflection session on sexual propriety. He had to fill that position anyway, no matter how uncomfortably the “very special episode” shoes fit, because the sexual assault allegations had called the very premise of Bachelor in Paradise into question. Unlike the regular Bachelor and Bachelorette, this more gender-balanced iteration keeps a steady supply of fresh bodies coming in as others are eliminated, encouraging contestants to partner-swap and explore new options. With an equally steady stream of alcohol flowing and the pressure to do enough interesting stuff to get airtime and stick around for the next episode, it’s almost surprising that there hasn’t been a public accusation of sexual misconduct on Bachelor in Paradise before.
The main objective of the sit-down chat about the assault, then, was to convince viewers that nothing untoward happened during taping, that the media blew the whole incident out of proportion, that Jackson was a victim of racist stereotyping, and, crucially, that the events depicted on the show are spontaneous reflections of the true selves of the cast. Luckily, Harrison is well-practiced in feeding lines to willing participants. Did the cast trust the conclusion of the WB investigation? Did they think race played a role in the unfair treatment of Jackson in the press? Yes, they all nodded. “Taylor, have you ever had a drink on any of the Bachelor shows?” Harrison asked the one sober contestant, Taylor Nolan, in a back-and-forth on how involved producers are in the show. “I’ve never had a drink on the show,” she replied. Harrison pressed on: “Have you ever been asked to have a drink?” “Nope,” Nolan answered. Those answers may be true, but they’d be a lot more convincing if Harrison didn’t sound like he was direct-examining a witness for the defense.
Drunken hookups happen all the time on the show, but this is the first time both a producer and a cast member have made allegations of a sexual assault against a contestant. That suggests that something out of the ordinary went on: Maybe Olympios looked really out of it during the sexual activity, or was drunk enough to raise questions of consent among viewers, even if investigators saw no reason for concern. Either way, the producers of Bachelor in Paradise recognized that the show looked bad for allowing it to happen in press accounts of the alleged encounter. So they took a page out of the president’s book and started casting doubt on the press. “Journalism is dead, and long gone on every level,” Harrison told Variety in a promotional interview for the show. “What really astounded me was the level of incompetence—things that were said and printed by quote-unquote reputable media, and reputable print, and even TV.” He accused news outlets of printing things that weren’t true; during the cast chit-chat that aired this week, cast members said members of the media shamed Olympios for having sex and calling Jackson a sexual predator when he hadn’t been charged with a crime. “I think there was a lot in the media regarding the producers, as if they’re not our friends, and that they’re just using us to make us do things, like we’re gonna just do whatever they say,” one contestant said. “And maybe you can explain what really does happen,” Harrison urged. Another guy explained that the producers aren’t doing the “puppetmaster thing,” that all the friendships on the show are totally real. “You guys aren’t mindless robots?” Harrison asked with a laugh. It couldn’t have been a better plug for reality TV if they’d planned it.
For all the purported neutrality of the discussion, Olympios’ reputation came away with the bulk of the damage, while Jackson’s got a fair bit of rehabilitation. Nolan noted that the cast members shouldn’t expect to “be babysat by production,” that “the things we say, how much we drink, who we kiss, we’re responsible for all of it.” “Just like the real world,” a contestant named Derek said, shaking his head with a smirk. “If we order a drink, we order that drink. We request that drink.” The implication there is that neither DeMario nor producers should be held responsible for any overintoxication that led to a less-than-consensual sexual encounter—that any alleged harm Olympios suffered was her own fault. Harrison drove the point home: “In Corinne’s statement she referred to herself as a victim. Why do you think she did that?” The cast accused Olympios of trying to “save face” after being promiscuous, then hiding behind a vague “lawyer statement.” No one—not even Harrison, who was supposed to be leading an adult conversation on slut-shaming and consent—challenged that notion.
The most insulting part of the whole ordeal involved race, another complex topic a reality show about finding true love in two weeks is ill-equipped to confront. After Diggy Moreland, a black contestant, said he worried for DeMario’s future job prospects, a white woman, Raven Gates, chimed in with her experience as a Southerner. “We have a stigma where seeing a white woman with a black man is wrong, and that night, what happened wasn’t wrong,” Gates said. “And so I was super empathetic with DeMario, because … not only is consent important, but it’s also to get rid of the stigma that interracial couples can’t be, or blaming African-American men for crimes they didn’t commit.” Yes, there is a long history in the U.S. of black men losing their freedom and, in some cases, their lives because of white women’s false accusations of sexual assault. But invoking it in a case where there’s still a lot of unknowns trivializes a vitally important issue and may lead some viewers to question the truth of that history. Since there’s been no trial or verdict, it’s wrong to say Jackson committed a crime. It’s equally wrong to say Olympios lied, or that she did so to get Jackson in trouble.
By the end, what should have been a quick acknowledgement of the alleged misconduct and a run-through of best practices for sexual consent had turned into a self-exonerating press release for the Bachelor franchise and a thoroughly imbalanced trial of the woman who drew attention to the show’s potential ethical weak spots in the first place. Despite his leading questions, Harrison was unable to cover up one of those spots, leaving viewers with some unanswered questions. The WB investigation found “no evidence of misconduct by cast on the set,” he said at the start, choosing his words carefully. That’s the cast—what about the production team? How are the people who make the show and ultimately shape the experience of the contestants going to move forward? Harrison seemed to show concern for the safety of the contestants, but never contested any of them when they blamed Olympios for drinking too much or accused her of ruining Jackson’s life. Bachelor in Paradise could have made a genuine statement about the importance of consent without taking the side of either Jackson or Olympios. Instead, it used its platform to try and repair its reputation by making a case against the woman who threatened it. What a lesson for its national audience to learn.
“He Looks Like a Dick”: The Transcript of Jurors Explaining Their Biases Toward Martin Shkreli Is a Gift
Self-care can take many forms, and it doesn’t have to involve funneling money toward your bath bomb collection. For instance, today, you can reclaim your time with a quick skim through a random sampling of Americans’ opinions on one Martin Shkreli.
Harper’s has published selections from the June transcript of voir dire in the fraud trial of the famously besmirked pharma bro, wherein prospective jurors were forced to reveal to a judge any biases that might prevent them from making a fair decision in Shkreli’s case. More than 200 people were dismissed from the pile of possible jury members because, it seems, Shkreli’s reputation as a smug jerkoff who price-gouges HIV and cancer patients preceded him. Their in-court explanations are positively healing to read.
“The only thing I’d be impartial about is what prison this guy goes to,” one juror declared. Said another: “I don’t like this person at all. I just can’t understand why he would be so stupid as to take an antibiotic which H.I.V. people need and jack it up five thousand percent. I would honestly, like, seriously like to go over there—” “Sir, thank you,” the judge interrupted, presumably to protect the potential juror from drawing charges of his own for threatening the defendant.
These hero almost-jurors prove that effective shade need not be complicated nor particularly creative. Some of their simplest phrases are their best. “I have total disdain for the man”; “I’m aware of the defendant and I hate him”—if these people weren’t standing before a judge, they would 100 percent be blowing on the tips of their nails, flipping their hair, and flouncing away before their interlocutors could utter another word. Everything they said—“he’s a greedy little man”; “he’s the most hated man in America”—is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but reading the comments as a whole feels even better than truth-telling. It feels like watching that inauguration Nazi-punching GIF over and over again, but without people fighting all over your Facebook wall about whether or not it was okay.
The most honest juror self-disqualifications concern Shkreli’s face, which nine out of 10 faceologists* (*not a real medical specialty) agree is yearning to be knocked around. “I was looking yesterday in the newspaper and I saw the defendant,” one person said. “There was something about him. I can’t be fair. There was something that didn’t look right.” Yes, yes, that sounds right. Another juror explained that “when I walked in here today I looked at him, and in my head, that’s a snake—not knowing who he was—I just walked in and looked right at him and that’s a snake.” Perceptive!
Of course, none of these people made it onto Shkreli’s jury, because judges must strive to get a set of 12 people who know as little about the involved parties as possible, and who have no preconceived notions about their innocence or guilt. That’s great for the justice system, but sad for me, because I would very much like to hear more sharp observations from the mind of juror No. 144. “The question is, have you heard anything that would affect your ability to decide this case with an open mind. Can you do that?” the judge asked the prospective juror. “I don’t think I can,” the juror replied, “because he kind of looks like a dick.” That kind of well-reasoned argument belongs in every good jury deliberation, or at least in the miniseries adaptation.
North Carolina Political Leaders Say They’re Helpless to Remove Confederate Statues. They’re Wrong.
On Monday evening, 22-year-old Taqiyah Thompson climbed a ladder in front of a North Carolina courthouse and looped a length of webbing around the torso of a likeness of a Confederate soldier. Once she came down, protesters pulled the rope, easily toppling the statue from its base. Its head gave way and flattened into its neck as soon as it hit the ground, a poetic coda to a rich symbolic victory.
Thompson’s action came two days after hundreds of white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of monuments to Confederate generals. In response to violence against counterprotesters that ended in one death and 19 people injured, the president applauded the racist mobs for having a permit and called some of them “very fine people.” Monuments lionizing leaders of the Confederate States of America, Donald Trump intimated, are as valid as those erected to honor George Washington.
Durham County law enforcement defended those monuments yesterday, when officers arrested 22-year-old Thompson after she gave a late-afternoon press conference. Thompson faces two felony charges—inciting and participating in a riot with property damage over $1,500—and two misdemeanors. On Wednesday, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office arrested Dante Strobino, Ngoc Loan Tran and Peter Gilbert, and hit them with the same charges.
Thompson defended their actions in her address at the Tuesday press conference. “Everyone who was there, the people did the right thing,” she said. “The people will continue to keep making the right choices until every Confederate statue is gone, until white supremacy is gone. That statue is where it belongs. It needs to be in the garbage.” Tran called for immunity for the protesters, condemning a statement made by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, who said that demonstrators should have waited for government entities to remove the statue—a route toward which Cooper has taken some small steps—instead of pulling it down.
But any state-sanctioned action against Confederate monuments will be a long time coming, if it comes at all. Just two summers ago, the North Carolina legislature, with then–Gov. Pat McCrory’s vocal support, passed a law specifically designed to protect statues and plaques that fetishize the militia that fought to preserve slavery. The law prevents any local governments from taking action to move or remove public “objects of remembrance” without an act approved by the heavily Republican, veto-immune General Assembly. Cooper has called for the repeal of this law, expressed support for continued removal of Confederate statues, and directed a state agency to figure out how much it would cost to move the monuments on state property to museums or historical sites. Without the legislature’s backing, these well-meaning nods to decency mean next to nothing.
That doesn’t mean Cooper or town officials are powerless in the face of this law, as they have suggested they are. For a town to face consequences for removing a Confederate monument, someone would have to sue it. That someone would most likely be Josh Stein, North Carolina’s Democratic attorney general. With enough pressure from the public and the support of the governor, who wrote in a Tuesday Medium post that “we cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery,” Stein could choose to let a principled municipal government tear down its monuments to the Confederacy with no repercussions. If leaders of liberal cities like Durham really wanted to take a stand against white supremacy, they could destroy their Confederate statues and dare the state to take them to court over it. They could appeal the verdict as high as the courts would let them, because if landing a blow against the trappings of white supremacy isn’t worth a court fight, what is?
At Tuesday’s press conference, the leaders of the Durham protest challenged their representatives in state and local government to put their ropes and wrecking balls where their mouths are. “We are tired of waiting on politicians who could have voted to remove the white supremacist statues years ago, but they failed to act. So we acted,” Thompson said. Tran expressed doubt that any official action would ever come: “We know that the only thing that's going to take down these Confederate monuments, as we saw in Durham last night, is organized people's power.” Government officials are rarely willing to engage in civil disobedience, even for the most righteous causes. Where they have failed time and again to reject unjust laws and symbols of oppression, civil rights activists have stepped in.
In today’s civil rights movement, black women are some of the boldest and most visible leaders. A video from Monday evening’s protest shows Thompson standing atop a monument dedicated “to the boys who wore the gray” in a war against black humanity, waving her arms as a crowd cheered. Her movements echoed the actions of Bree Newsome, who scaled a flagpole outside the South Carolina Capitol building in 2015 to take down its Confederate flag. This week, Newsome has been speaking with and tweeting in support of Thompson, responding with unwarranted patience to Twitter users who invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s name in defense of the cops who arrested the Durham protesters. “Pulling down monument 2 racism while harming no one is nonviolent direct action,” she informed one person who claimed the demonstrator “tarnishes” the cause. “Does Boston Tea Party tarnish the American Revolution?” Neither tea nor statues can feel, bleed, or lose their livelihoods and voting rights after a felony conviction. Nonviolent protesters on the right side of history can.
In the Age of “Revenge Porn” and Celebrity Nude Hacks, Paris Hilton’s Sex Tape Looks a Lot Different
In a Marie Claire profile published on Monday, Paris Hilton reflects on how her life might have played out differently if she hadn’t dated Rick Salomon. The professional poker player reportedly made millions of dollars off the couple’s famous 1 Night in Paris sex tape, which Hilton says she didn’t intend for the public to see. She claims she never saw a cent from that tape, but in the years after its release, the tape became widely credited in entertainment-industry media for accelerating her rise to fame.
Hilton tells writer Irin Carmon, whose piece is well worth a read, that she “really looked up to Princess Diana, all these elegant, amazing women,” but Salomon released the tape of the two of them having sex, tarnishing what might have been a more innocent reputation. “Because of that tape, I will always be judged and thought of as whatever they say about me because of a private moment between my boyfriend and me,” Hilton says. “I wish I had never met him. That is actually the one regret in my life.”
Even if you remember the buzz about that sex tape just before The Simple Life aired, Carmon offers, “you probably don't remember that she says she never consented to the tape's being public; that she was only 18 and her then-boyfriend, Rick Salomon, was 33; or that she sued the company distributing it for invasion of privacy.” Carmon is right: At the time, in 2004, there was little public outrage over Hilton’s alleged nonconsent, at least not at the volume we’ve come to expect after celebrities have their naked images aired against their will these days. “Spare us the outrage at how you feel sooooo betrayed, how you have no idea how this could have fallen into the wrong hands,” a Salon writer begged celebrities in 2010. “This whole pretext of ‘I didn’t really make and distribute my own little porno here’ so you can give the public something that appears furtive and dirty and secret while still showing off how weird you look in night vision? Enough. And if you are actually dumb enough to make a sex tape and think it won’t get leaked, you are too dumb to ever have sex again.”
In her 2015 Slate history of the celebrity sex tape, Amanda Hess pointed out that what seemed sexy and exciting in the era of Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s VHS video seemed like a potential violation by 2013, when Kim Kardashian explained to Oprah what devastation the release of her own sex tape wreaked on her self-image. Men hacked into the private photo libraries of Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst, Mila Kunis, Scarlett Johansson, and other celebrities in multiple separate attacks, then shared nude images with the entire internet. Lawrence made a point of calling it “not a scandal…a sex crime,” arguing that her status as a sex symbol did not make her an acceptable target for abuse. Detractors told her she should have never taken the photos if she didn’t want them to get leaked, but Lawrence’s statements were the ones that stuck. By speaking openly about the real psychic injury the hackers caused, Lawrence and other victims of the hackings made themselves more human to people watching from the sidelines who might have previously seen them as spectacles willing to be exploited for fame. The “sex tape leaked by an ex” of yesterday is the “revenge porn” of today.
As Carmon notes in her profile of Hilton, Hilton did say in 2004 that she never intended the private 2001 sex tape to be distributed and sold; she even sued the distributor on that point and settled out of court. In that sense, there’s nothing new in her remarks to Marie Claire. The only thing that’s changed is the public’s tolerance for celebrity sexual humiliation—and the belief that such humiliation is possible, even for a superstar trying to promote a television show.
Fox News Spent $50 Million on Harassment Claims in a Year, Proving That Enabling Sexual Harassers Is a Bad Business Move
It’s been an expensive year to be a company with a sexual-harassment problem. According to regulatory paperwork filed Monday, 21st Century Fox paid out about $50 million in the fiscal year that ended on June 30 to cover costs related to a slew of sexual-harassment and discrimination settlements at Fox News. The New York Times reports that $50 million is $5 million more than what the company said it had paid out as of the end of March, meaning that either the company’s calculations have changed since then or Fox News continued racking up settlement expenses through the end of spring.
The network’s costly tailspin began last July, when former host Gretchen Carlson filed a blistering suit alleging that she’d been subjected to repeated instances of sexual harassment at Fox News, including regular come-ons from then-chairman Roger Ailes. Carlson got a major chunk of the network’s FY2016 settlement costs—$20 million—after Ailes walked the plank onto a $40 million lifeboat. A few months later, the Times revealed that Fox News and former primetime star Bill O’Reilly had paid a cumulative $13 million since 2002 to settle harassment suits brought against him by fellow employees and network contributors. When he got ousted, O’Reilly got about $25 million from Fox News to help ease his pain.
The $50 million figure reported on Monday doesn’t include these payouts to Ailes and O’Reilly; nor does it include the millions of dollars spent before the summer of 2016 to settle with O’Reilly’s accusers. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission form, 21st Century Fox spent $224 million on “management and employee transitions and restructuring” at a group of businesses that includes Fox News, where management shake-ups and extra human-resources burdens have created the need for a significant hiring expenses and severance packages. Monday’s filing also notes that the harassment and discrimination allegations could cause a ripple effect of liabilities and hard-to-quantify losses. In a section titled “Risk Factors,” the form notes that “prospective investors should consider carefully,” among other possibilities, the chance that the misconduct allegations against Fox News could lead to future payouts, expensive litigation from related investigations, and diminished ratings due to the departures of several network personalities. Some of those consequences could materialize in the very near future: More than 20 current and former Fox News employees are currently enmeshed in racial- and gender-discrimination suits against the company, which recently declined to settle them all for a lump sum of $60 million.
If you’re a business leader looking at Fox News right now, you’re probably pretty pleased that you’re not responsible for digging the company out of its self-created trap. (If you are a Fox News executive, thanks for reading, and please accept my best wishes on your future endeavors.) Companies are known to quietly shell out cash to protect their employees from public scrutiny over sexual-harassment claims—and if that doesn’t work, they often give big-time stars-cum-harassers tidy sums to get them to resign. These corporate behaviors are not unique to Fox News. But, in part because the major players in the Fox News sexual-harassment scandals visited millions of Americans in their living rooms each night at the time the allegations arose, the network has become one of the most visible case studies of how much it can cost a business to enable the toxic behavior of its precious stars.
Personnel decisions made around sexual-harassment allegations are all about risks and rewards. Businesses don’t run on good feelings—toxic employees get fired because they pose a risk to a company’s bottom line, whether through litigation costs or reputational damage. For a decade and a half, Fox News executives had to weigh O’Reilly’s worth against the financial damage he caused: How much money does it cost to hush up O’Reilly’s accusers? How much prestige does he bring the Fox News brand? How much money do his advertisers bring in? How famous are his accusers? Would their complaints be enough to cause widespread public condemnation? At the same time, 21st Century Fox and its Murdoch family owners were asking similar questions about Ailes: How many more women will bring suits against him in the next few years? What will the average suit cost to settle? How many more potential harassers would he bring on board and cover for? When do the risks outweigh the benefits?
For the business leaders of Fox News, emboldening famous men to hit on, grab at, and demean women who worked for and with them was cheaper than creating a workplace free from sexual intimidation—until it wasn’t. In O’Reilly’s case, that balance shifted when advertisers, under pressure from consumers, began pulling out of his top-rated show. For Ailes, it shifted when an investigation and reporting hotline revealed an alleged pattern of abuse too entrenched, long-running, and public to squash. Because so many women made their allegations known to the world outside the network, Fox had to do its calculations out in the open. Everyone could read the lawsuits, learn about the payouts, and see companies tweeting their decisions to end their advertising relationships with O’Reilly. Now, thanks to the SEC form, we have a bit of a better idea of how much it’s cost so far.
That makes Fox News an exemplary cautionary tale of the expense that may befall a 21st-century business led by a man who molds his workplace in his own pitiful, lecherous self-image. And it’s not just Fox: Harassment and discrimination claims at Uber helped relieve the company of its CEO, Travis Kalanick, and the company he built is still struggling to overhaul its culture. Women are more likely to share their experiences of sexual harassment today than they’ve ever been, and observers in the general public are more likely to believe them. The dozens of millions of dollars Fox News has spent making amends for and covering up its sexual-harassment problem are not “material” to 21st Century Fox, its SEC form claims. Other business leaders making their own calculations may feel differently.
Texas Is Poised to Ban All Insurance Coverage for Abortions, Forcing Women to Buy “Rape Insurance”
The Texas Legislature is in the home stretch of a special session Gov. Greg Abbott called last month to push through a slew of his legislative priorities, including restrictions on where transgender people can use the bathroom. That bill is losing steam in the less conservative House, but another bill restricting abortion access is headed to the desk of the governor, who has indicated that he’ll sign it into law.
The bill would prohibit all insurance companies from covering abortion care in their standard plans, requiring women to pay extra premiums for coverage if they think they may need abortions at some point in the next year. The ban would apply not only to insurance plans on the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, but also to any plans sponsored by employers or purchased on the private market. A plan would only be allowed to cover an abortion in the case of a pregnant woman’s life-threatening health emergency and not those performed in cases of rape, incest, or extreme fetal abnormalities.
This weekend, the GOP-led Texas Senate approved the bill after it passed the House. (Similar bills were raised and debated during the regular legislative session, which closed in May, but none passed.) Right-wing legislators and advocates in Texas say they are currently forced against their will to help fund abortions simply by taking part in a health insurance system that covers them. Rep. John Smithee, who sponsored the bill in the House, said in floor debate that the bill promotes “economic freedom” for people who oppose abortion rights.
Half the states in the country prevent insurance policies purchased on ACA health exchanges from covering abortion procedures. Ten of those also restrict insurance coverage for abortion in all private insurance plans. Only two of those 10—Utah and Indiana—make exceptions for abortions sought in cases of rape and incest. That’s why Democratic Texas legislators say this bill would necessitate “rape insurance”—no one expects to have an unplanned pregnancy, and no one can predict the likelihood that she’ll be raped in a given year. It is a demeaning form of gender discrimination to ask women to lay down extra money just in case they get pregnant through sexual assault.
According to a national 2014 survey of abortion patients, 53 percent paid for the procedure or pill out of pocket, and another 24 percent paid for their abortion care with Medicaid. (Federal Medicaid dollars cannot go toward abortions in most circumstances, but a handful of states use their own health funding to cover abortion care for women on Medicaid.) Just 15 percent of abortion patients used private insurance to pay for their abortion care, while 61 percent of women with private insurance said they paid out of pocket, due to either high deductibles or a lack of coverage. Without insurance coverage, an abortion can cost between $300 for an early medication abortion in some places and a few thousand dollars for a surgical one later in pregnancy. The later, more expensive ones are often those performed under the most heart-wrenching circumstances, due to fetal anomalies undetectable in early pregnancy or a woman’s inability to access earlier health care because of her age, remote location, financial resources, or immigration status.
By restricting abortion care to those who can either afford an additional monthly health care expense or a hefty one-time payment out of the blue, Texas is ensuring that low- and middle-income women with health insurance will find it significantly more difficult to access a constitutionally protected medical procedure. To satisfy the whims of anti-choice advocates, the Texas Legislature has used one population’s personal beliefs to justify what amounts to a sexual-activity tax on Texas women.
Taylor Swift’s Sexual Assault Testimony Was Sharp, Gutsy, and Satisfying
Taylor Swift took the stand on Thursday in a Denver federal courthouse to describe the moment in 2013 when she says she was “violated” by a then–country radio DJ in a way she “had never experienced before.” David Mueller, who was 51 to Swift’s 23 at the time, “grabbed my ass underneath my skirt,” Swift said in her testimony. He “stayed latched on to my bare ass cheek as I moved away from him, visibly uncomfortable.”
Mueller claims he never touched Swift’s butt, explaining at various points that he only touched her “rib cage” and that a colleague was probably the one who groped her. They were posing for a photo, he said, and their body language was awkward but not inappropriate. On the witness stand, Swift did not suffer that argument, insisting that the grope was intentional and could not have been an accident. “It was horrifying, shocking,” she said, according to a BuzzFeed report. “He had a handful of my ass. I know it was him. I thought what he did was despicable.”
On Wednesday, Swift’s mother, Andrea, testified that the family hadn’t gone to the police after the alleged assault because they didn’t want to cause a public uproar. “I did not want this event to define her life,” she said. “I did not want every interview from this point on to have to talk about it.” Instead, they contacted Mueller’s employer—he was backstage at Swift’s concert on a work assignment when the alleged incident took place—who fired him two days later. Two years after that, Mueller sued Swift for $3 million, alleging that she cost him his job for an assault that never happened. She countersued for $1, determined to prove that she wouldn’t back down from what she says is the truth.
When Swift and her team told Mueller’s radio bosses about the alleged assault, they enclosed a photo that appeared to show Mueller with his hand behind Swift’s butt. In court this week, both parties attempted to use that photo, a sealed document that leaked last year, to prove their respective points. Swift’s side says it shows that she’s edging toward Mueller’s girlfriend and away from him, and that his hand is clearly far below her ribcage. Mueller’s attorney Gabe McFarland asked Swift why the photo shows the front of her skirt in place, not lifted up, if Mueller was reaching underneath to grab her butt. “Because my ass is located in the back of my body,” Swift replied. She offered a similar response when asked whether she saw the grope taking place. When McFarland pointed out that the photo shows Swift closer to Mueller’s girlfriend than Mueller himself, Swift answered, “Yes, she did not have her hand on my ass.”
Swift has said several times that she wouldn’t settle with Mueller or let his claims stand because she wants to be a visible example of strength to other women considering their options after a demoralizing sexual violation. Full of rightful exasperation, her testimony on Thursday was a galvanizing example of a so-called victim testimony in which the victim refused to be victimized. Swift was confident in her version of the story, unintimidated by a cross examination that implied she was a liar and unmistakably incensed when McFarland tried to cast doubt on her behavior during the evening in question. Wasn’t Swift critical of her bodyguard, who didn’t prevent such an obvious assault? “I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass,” she told the attorney. But, McFarland said, Swift could have taken a break in the middle of her meet-and-greet if she was so distraught. “And your client could have taken a normal photo with me,” Swift countered, explaining that a pop star has a responsibility to her fans.
For young fans of Swift’s, hearing a beloved artist speak candidly about the emotional damage of sexual assault and stand up to a courtroom of men trying to prove her wrong could be a formative moment for their developing ideas of gender, sex, and accountability. Swift certainly has advantages most women who endure similar violations will never have: the money and time to mount a strong case against her alleged assailant, the jury-endearing privileges of white skin and a beautiful face, and millions of supporters rallying publicly behind her. And since he’s suing her for money and she’s already one of the biggest superstars in the world, detractors can’t argue, as they so often do in sexual-assault cases, that she’s making up a story for money or fame.
But Swift also faces some of the same obstacles other assault survivors endure if they bring their perpetrators to court. She must relive a distressing moment over and over again to dozens of observers, recounting in detail how her body was allegedly touched without her consent, while lawyers on the other side try their hardest to make her look unreliable, petty, and fake. When McFarland asked her how she felt when Mueller got the boot from his job at the Denver radio station, Swift said she had no response. “I am not going to allow your client to make me feel like it is any way my fault, because it isn’t,” she said. Later, she continued: “I am being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions and not mine.” Women who allege sexual assault are scolded all the time for ruining men’s lives, even if those men are proven guilty. Swift’s sharp testimony is a very visible condemnation of that common turn in cases like these. That’s an important message for women who may find themselves in Swift’s position someday, and maybe even more so for the men who’ll be called on to support or rebuff them.