In her last speech on the House floor yesterday afternoon, Representative Katie Hill (D., Calif.) discussed her decision to resign from her seat, claiming she was forced to leave office “because of a double standard” against women. “I’m leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality, and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse,” Hill said.
Her speech barely touched on, and did not explicitly mention, the fact that Hill is actually stepping down after admitting that she took part in a “throuple” relationship with her now-estranged husband and a young woman who was, at the time, a staffer for Hill’s election campaign.
“I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment,” Hill said in a statement admitting to the relationship with her campaign staffer.
The congresswoman is also under pending investigation by the House Ethics Committee related to a second allegation: that she had an affair with her current legislative director, in violation of House rules. Hill has denied this.
Until this story broke, plenty of commentators and public figures on the Left were happy to admit that sexual relationships with one’s subordinates are always inappropriate. But quickly, media outlets began to assist Hill and her Democratic defenders in shifting the story away from her misconduct, crafting a narrative in which she, in fact, was the real victim.
In order to substantiate its story about Hill’s inappropriate relationship, conservative outlet RedState published photos of Hill embracing the young woman, as well as a nude picture of her brushing the staffer’s hair. Almost immediately, mainstream coverage honed in on the photos, insisting that the real story was how Hill had been the victim of revenge porn, as the photos came from her disgruntled, estranged husband.
Regardless of whether sharing such photos is appropriate or right — and in my opinion, it is not — outlets and reporters latched onto the “revenge porn” narrative nearly to the exclusion of covering Hill’s acknowledged misconduct, as well as her alleged unethical relationship with a current congressional staffer.
On his television show, MSNBC host Chris Hayes said of Hill’s scandal, “There’s going to be a generation of politicians where there are thousands of images around. We’re going to have to decide as a society if we’re going to let that be a permanent source of blackmail.”
Washington Post website The Lily published an “analysis” piece with the title: “Revenge porn drove Katie Hill out of Congress. Would that have happened to a man?” (For anyone actually seeking an answer to that question, consult the recent case of former Texas congressman Joe Barton, who resigned his seat after sexually explicit images he sent to a woman were leaked.)
The contributions from Vox on the subject of Hill’s scandal? One piece lamenting that “what happened to Hill could discourage other women — especially younger and LGBTQ women — from seeking careers in the public eye” and another arguing that Hill’s case makes clear how “revenge porn is a tactic of abuse.” Never mind, apparently, the abuse that comes along with engaging in a sexual relationship with a subordinate.
Several reported pieces on Hill’s resignation, meanwhile, were all too happy to frame the story as if the congresswoman had been forced to step down solely because of criticism over the photos — criticism that would never harm a man in the same position. “After revenge porn controversy, Rep. Katie Hill delivers her final speech in Congress,” says Time magazine. Politico’s report ran with the headline, “Rep. Katie Hill delivers fiery farewell speech on the ‘double standard’ facing women in power.” ABC News published a report on “what Rep. Katie Hill’s resignation could mean for the future of LGBTQ and women candidates.”
It is entirely possible both to acknowledge that the photos of Hill ought not to have been published and to acknowledge that the circumstances under which the photos were taken render Hill unfit for office. Even if they had never been made public, she still should have resigned — and likely would have, had she faced anything like the degree of scrutiny for sleeping with a subordinate that conservative politicians rightly would face for doing the same thing.
Hill might be a victim, but she was also the perpetrator of an abuse of ethics, and she and her media allies should not be allowed to brush the latter under the rug.