It took four days to get a response from Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., on allegations reported by RedState that she was having an extramarital affair with a congressional staffer, and had been in a “throuple” relationship with her husband and a young campaign staffer in her 20s.
After RedState published the allegations on Friday, the silence from the Twitter-media mafia was deafening. There was no meltdown over possible, unseemly House ethics violations. No calls for her resignation. No questions to Democratic colleagues.
The only response from Hill on Tuesday was a quiet FYI to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., denying the allegations, according to Politico. Hill, who is also vice chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, claimed the allegations are a “smear campaign” by her opponents.
Hill, who identifies as bisexual, is married to her now-estranged husband Kenny Heslep. RedState reported that Hill and Heslep were in a long-term, three-way sexual relationship with a young woman who worked on Hill’s campaign. RedState published text messages between Hill and the unnamed staffer, as well as photos of them kissing, and a nude photo of Hill brushing a woman’s hair.
Hill said Capitol Police are now investigating the source of the nude photos and how they got published. “Intimate photos of me and another individual were published by Republican operatives on the internet without my consent,” she said.
RedState reported an additional extramarital affair that Hill was allegedly having with her former finance director and now legislative director, Graham Kelly. Hill denied the allegations, claiming they came from her “abusive husband.”
“Allegations that I have been involved in a relationship with Mr. Kelly are absolutely false. I am saddened that the deeply personal matter of my divorce has been brought into public view and the vindictive claims of my ex have now involved the lives and reputations of unrelated parties,” she told Politico.
Of course if true, the Kelly allegation would violate the House rule that members “may not engage in a sexual relationship with any employee of the House who works under the supervision of the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner, or who is an employee of a committee on which the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner serves.”
And although the alleged relationship with the young campaign staffer would not fall under House rules, sexual employer-employee relationships are legal and ethical gray areas. RedState reports that the staffer was 22 and a new college graduate when the relationship started, while Hill and her husband were in their 30s. More text messages revealed in a post on Tuesday by RedState show the staffer’s relationship with Hill may have been a case of power imbalance, keeping the staffer in the relationship for fear of losing her job.
Ironically, in a live taping of Pod Save America, when Hill was asked what she thought the debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh says about politics, she lamented that the Republican Party is run by old, white men, and questioned their innocence. “When you see reactions like Lindsey Graham’s, or some of the other Senators, you can’t help but wonder, what are you afraid of? What’s in your past?”
There is no partisan divide over which congressmen or women are involved in more scandalous affairs or ethics violations — Republicans and Democrats alike have their share of controversies. But as for when elected officials are actually forced to step down because of those controversies? Well, that depends more on the media-mediated court of public opinion.
Sometimes, the public’s ruling is just. Both Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner and Republican Rep. Joe Barton eventually resigned or chose not to seek reelection after they sent nude selfies of themselves to women who were not their wives. But more often than not, the media, you could say the gatekeepers of this public court, sway the rulings according to partisan lines.
Mainstream media journalists, on social media and with the power of their bylines, light up Republicans or conservatives for their controversies, both big and small, while ignoring or sometimes even praising Democrats for their resolve amid misconduct. Novels could be filled with examples of this double standard. The names of scandal-clad Ralph Northam and Justin Fairfax, two Virginia state officials who are still in office, come to mind. But even as recent as last week, we saw more coverage “yas kween”ing Democratic Speaker Pelosi for pointing her finger at Trump (an act the media claimed was racist when a Republican did it) than we did of Hill’s double affair allegation.
A search for “Katie Hill” on the websites of CNN, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and even the local Los Angeles Times turn up zero results related to the RedState reporting. So far only local California talk radio has discussed the real, potential ethical violations at play here.
Local news outlets continue to pick up on @RedState @JenVanLaar's story about Democrat @KatieHill4CA while national media carries water for her.@KatieHill4CA "used her position of power to sleep with her female assistant … It's going to be an employment issue." pic.twitter.com/MKaMh4xahA
— Brian Anderson (@AZBrianAnderson) October 22, 2019
Perhaps one could argue the media has no reason to weigh in on Hill’s unorthodox sexual preferences or marriage arrangements, but it’s very unlike our mainstream press to give a pass to a sex scandal when victims are involved. Especially if we were discussing an official having an affair with a campaign employee, nearly a decade younger than her, who was a Republican.
Of course this double standard exists, and of course it’s nothing new, but as the Me Too movement claims to embolden victims, no matter how powerful their assailant, the media should not be able to pass on stories according to partisan lines. As power slowly moves from the top to the bottom, maybe, just maybe, the “D” next to a person in power’s name will not be so easy to hide behind.