By Heidi Hutchinson
Thank you for the reminder in your story Albany Times Union Was Instrumental in Demise of NXIVM; Took Path Opposite of Local Law Enforcement, that so many were dissuaded from ever joining NXIVM and, especially, that Daniella “escaped” as a result of the 2012 TU expose’ that I participated in on behalf of my deceased sister, in the hope that other victims would be spared a similar fate as she.
There have been so many close calls and catastrophic disappointments in that regard ever since those days — from Pam Cafritz’s and Barb Jeske’s torturous deaths, to near mass food poisonings, to John Tighe’s wrongful imprisonment following a food poisoning murder attempt, to Joe O’Hara’s rigged and equally wrongful sentencing, to unlawful surveillance, blackmailing, harassment, hackings, vindictive lawsuits, false criminal charges, further suicidings, psychotic breakdowns, sex trafficking, rapes, money launderings, ISIS (etc.) backed attempts at revolutions [in Libya with Sara Bronfman’s husband, Basit Igtet] … not to mention branding – that it’s difficult not to dwell on the notion that one’s original pure intentions [of being a whistleblower] may have (clearly) had the entirely opposite effect.
It begs the question: Why wasn’t I drunk (instead of making the phone call) on the day I called Jim Odato to give him the lead that Keith Raniere had a history of statutory rape, which included my late sister?
In hindsight and in view of the details of her ‘escape’ – and considering all who were involved – Daniella is, however, lucky she survived. In fact, I’d put Daniela, and also her sister, Camila, more in the “barely lived to testify” category than the ‘escapee’ one.
But, yes, so many countless others were likely spared by the fair and relentless reporting that Times Union publisher George Hearst and his newspaper undertook against these NXIVM fiends who were abetted by corrupt law enforcement and powerful political allies right in his own backyard.
Frank, please note that TU reporter Jennifer Gish also worked alongside Jim Odato – a gentleman and journalist I can’t begin to praise enough – and her other male colleagues at the TU you’ve named.
Editor’s note: It is duly noted here that Jennifer Gish shared a byline with James Odato on the landmark TU series, Secrets of NXIVM, and is credited along with Odato, Dennis Yusko, Brenden Lyons, Rob Gavin, and others at the TU whose work in writing and investigating NXIVM and Keith Raniere had a significant impact on the final result of Raniere being arrested and NXIVM being essentially destroyed.
Very important to be reminded of all this. If there is more effort put into those supporting Nxivm because they are following their one true calling, etc., they will generate many many more articles which obviously then get published. Then those hugely larger number of anti-Nxivm people and the public narrative then changes unfortunately or maybe it doesn’t matter as KR is jailed so, in effect, it’s over anyway.
Why did the Washington Post ban a sexual assault survivor from reporting on rape?
The newspaper wouldn’t let Felicia Sonmez cover stories about sexual misconduct. That policy was to the Post’s detriment
‘The Post’s decision to interpret a reporter’s personal history as necessitating an artificial limit to her professional opportunities echoes several broader questions facing national news organizations.’
Tue 30 Mar 2021 11.23 BST
Felicia Sonmez had to flee her home. In early 2020, after the death of the basketball player Kobe Bryant, Sonmez, a longtime breaking news reporter at the Washington Post, tweeted a link to a Daily Beast story about the 2003 rape allegation against Bryant. The tweet had no commentary and no editorializing by Sonmez, and yet on the day it appeared online, it was a lonely acknowledgment of Bryant’s compromised legacy amid a sea of uncritical praise for the dead athlete. In response, the reporter received a deluge of abuse from Bryant’s fans. They were angry at what they saw as Sonmez besmirching Bryant’s memory by acknowledging the accusation that he had been sexually violent towards a Colorado woman; they were willing to avenge this disrespect, or so they claimed, with more violence against women. The name-calling escalated into threats, and some of those threats seemed credible. Her home address was published online. For her own safety, Sonmez went briefly into hiding.
The story is sadly familiar to female journalists, who face harassment, threats, stalking, and other digital hostility as a strange and uncompensated condition of their jobs. But in many cases, these female journalists are defended by their employers. Such was the case for Taylor Lorenz, a New York Times reporter on digital culture who was targeted by Tucker Carlson and other rightwing instigators last month: the Times issued a statement standing by their reporter, and condemning the attacks against her.
Not so for Sonmez at the Post. If anything, the paper’s leadership seemed to be echoing the complaints of her harassers. “A real lack of judgment to tweet this,” Marty Baron, the Post’s executive editor, wrote to Sonmez in an email, which contained a screenshot of Sonmez’ tweet. “Please stop. You’re hurting the institution by doing this.” Shortly thereafter, Barron suspended Sonmez from the Post as punishment for the tweet. She was not reinstated until a groundswell of support from hundreds of other reporters embarrassed the Post into retracting their decision. In the end, she was cleared to go back to work, but not until Sonmez had been put through a needless and cruel ordeal, one in which she not only feared for her life, but was also made to fear for her job – all for the offense of acknowledging sexual violence.
As awful as it was, the incident in the aftermath of the Bryant tweet was not the first time Sonmez had been subjected to a gendered indignity by the Washington Post. In reporting that was published on Sunday night, Politico confirmed what has long been an open secret in media circles: under Baron, the Post implemented a policy whereby Sonmez, because she has publicly disclosed a past experience of sexual abuse, is prohibited from working on stories that contain a sexual misconduct component.
Sonmez first came forward as a survivor of sexual violence in the spring of 2018, when she wrote of being attacked by a colleague she had had worked alongside in China. Her descriptions of the man’s conduct mirrored allegations made by other women. But the exposure of coming forward subjected Sonmez to a new ordeal: public scrutiny, some of it hostile. A libertarian magazine published a long piece arguing that the fate of Sonmez’ attacker, who resigned from his job after an investigation, was an example of #MeToo gone too far – the piece was amplified by conservative media personalities. Then, at the Post, Sonmez was informed that because of her past history, and her public statements about it, she would not be permitted to cover stories that pertained to sexual violence.
And so Sonmez found herself proscribed from writing about a topic that, as a breaking news reporter, has been a core component of many of the stories for which she would have been a natural fit. She was not permitted to write about Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. She was not able to write about AOC’s livestream in the wake of the 6 January Capitol insurrection. She has not been able to write about the harassment allegations against the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo. Sonmez has repeatedly petitioned the Post to rescind the prohibition on what she is allowed to cover. “It is humiliating to again and again have to tell my colleagues and editors that I am not allowed to do my job fully because I was assaulted,” she wrote in one such request, last May. The Post has refused.
According to Sonmez’s Twitter, the Post has posited a curious rationale for the ban, claiming that they do not feel that Sonmez’ personal history would make her biased in her coverage of sexual violence – and indeed there seem to be no complaints about the quality of her work – but that other people would perceive her as biased. Indeed, the Post’s decisions about Sonmez seem to have been motivated largely by social media pressures and the fear of bad press. According to someone with knowledge of the ban, Sonmez was initially banned from covering stories with a sexual violence component in the late summer of 2018, after her alleged attacker made a series of public complaints about her. The ban was lifted for a time, but then reinstated in 2019 after the article in the libertarian magazine garnered Sonmez negative attention from rightwing media. When Twitter users didn’t like her reference to sexual assault allegations against Kobe Bryant, she was suspended. When other journalists didn’t like her suspension, her suspension was lifted. This week, after news of the ban broke on Politico, journalists expressed their support of Sonmez and their opposition to the policy online. The ban was lifted in response, and the Post says that Sonmez is now allowed to report on sexual abuse stories, if she wishes. That’s for now. But how long until pressures from misogynists and rape apologists – from Sonmez’ attacker, or from the rightwing media, or from those who would excuse sexual violence – persuade them to curtail her career yet again?
The Post’s policy is almost certainly shielding other abusers by keeping other women on staff silent about their experiences
If we can take the Post at their word that they are worried not about Sonmez’ capacities, but about the perceptions of others, this is a very strange choice. In effect, this rationale is misogyny by proxy, with the Post outsourcing the moral responsibility for a sexist outcome on to their readers. They have to do a sexist thing not because they are sexist, but because other people are sexist, and those other people might be mad if the Post does not enforce a sexist outcome. The Post’s account of their own choices regarding Sonmez’ work, then, is that in personnel decisions, they defer to what they imagine are their readers worst impulses, and therefore are obligated to reproduces the bigotries of the public.
The Post’s decision to interpret Sonmez’ personal history as necessitating an artificial limit to her professional opportunities echoes several broader questions facing national news organizations. To what extent is objectivity possible, and what should it look like in an era when accurate reporting undermines any attempt at partisan balance? To what extent can reporters express themselves online without compromising the perceived objectivity of their news organizations? How can the news media grapple with the asymmetric aggression of rightwing internet trolls, whose attacks on female journalists, in particular, can impose intolerable working conditions and skew coverage from other outlets? These are serious questions facing news organizations, ones that there are no simple answers for.
But these questions are not asked with the same seriousness or skepticism of every reporter, and the subject matter that Sonmez is allegedly not equipped to cover is not subject to the same standards of scrutiny as other subjects. Instead, the Post’s policy forbidding a sexual violence survivor from covering any stories that pertain to sexual violence can be understood as part of a long cultural legacy that seeks to depict women who come forward with sexual abuse claims as delusional, untrustworthy or incompetent.
This legacy has been reproduced in culture and in law. In criminal cases, sexual violence has been subjected to a higher standard of evidence than other violent crimes, and a woman’s testimony regarding her own experiences of sexual violence has been treated with particular skepticism. Until recently, laws in most states dictated that such testimony from women was inadmissible unless it could be corroborated by another witness – something not required for other crimes – and judges were required to issue special instructions to juries directing them to treat an accusing woman’s account as less credible than other kinds of testimony.
These laws have been eradicated thanks to the hard work of feminist lawyers and activists, but the cultural attitudes they reflected still persist: women who have been sexually assaulted are still frequently deemed unable to testify to their own experience, either because they are presumed to be lying, or, more insidiously, because they are deemed too sensitive, too traumatized, or too damaged to fairly and accurately assess the world around them. This seems to be what has happened to Sonmez at the Post: since she seems so confident that what happened to her was wrong, the paper does not trust her judgment on other matters.
The Post policy on Sonmez’ work raises questions for media, but it also raises questions for our hierarchies of knowledge. Who do we deem too damaged by the world to accurately interpret it? Whose experience do we count as a virtue, and whose do we count as a contaminant? What kinds of experience – and by extension, what kinds of knowledge – are considered is dangerous to have? The idea that having experienced sexual violence renders someone incapable of reporting on it fairly is only possible to hold if you have a very particular understanding of what that experience does to a woman’s intellect.
Part of the reason why Sonmez’ story resonates so deeply with the women who have learned about what happened to her at the Post is that her experience confirms their worst fears about how those around them would respond if they were honest about their own experiences of sexual violence: that they would be thought of as damaged, unreliable, too fragile or too fraught to be seen for their full capacities. In reality, women contain multitudes – they can contain the sadness and anger over what happened to them in the past, alongside an intellect, a sense of judgment, and a keen responsibility towards other aspects of their lives. This balance is not superhuman or even uncommon; it is one that adults strike every day. The Post’s policy seems to preclude it, at least for sexual violence survivors, and that is to the paper’s detriment.
In addition to curtailing what would likely be more nuanced and sensitive reporting from Sonmez on these stories, the Post’s policy is almost certainly shielding other abusers by keeping other women on the Post’s staff silent about their experiences – having seen the example that was made of Sonmez, they can understand quite clearly that they have a choice between telling the truth or fulfilling their professional ambitions. This is a loss for sexual misconduct stories, since women who are survivors have a particular insight into the issue that others do not. But if anything, the experience of sexual violence makes women who have gone through it not biased, but informed. It grants them a real and hard-won awareness of how sexual violence really works – not as it is depicted in movies and myths, but as it is experienced by those involved. It grants them a sense of the complexities of sexual violence, and it drives home the impact of the assaults themselves, and of coming forward. The idea that experience would equal bias is contradicted by the reality of how writers and reporters learn. It’s hard to imagine that anyone, let alone the editors of the Washington Post, would be confused about this if it were any other subject besides sexual violence in question. After all, when men have personal experience with a subject, we do not call that bias. We call it expertise.
Frank and Heidi, I’m appalled by the repulsive Nicki Clyne going to Scott Adams with her lies, and now she has him going around Twitter and who knows where else towing her party line down to the absurd tampering argument their own lawyer wouldn’t bring. Scott Adams has a following (the guy who did the Dilbert cartoons, now a youtube podcaster guy) and he is promoting that NXIVM being a cult is a hoax. It is infuriating and dangerous. Anything you have that will dispel the garbage he is peddling is helpful. https://youtu.be/0IuzPI-Nx14 Link to her interview if you can stomach it, from months ago yet he is still interacting with her and she is on Twitter blasting out BS nonstop. Sorry if you have covered this and I missed it, but it has come across my radar again and is making me sick. Gabe Hoffman, hedge funder and the producer of An Open Secret documentary, has challenged Adams to a debate which he surely will decline. https://twitter.com/AnOpenSecret/status/1376214093288325120?s=20
I’ve pointed to the Albany Times-Union, Frank Report, and the court transcripts for the unknowing who seem to feel that knowing nothing about NXIVM other than what Nicki has told them is a good basis for calling the whole thing a hoax. So many people put their own necks on the chopping block to get this story out, some went to prison, had their lives destroyed, you two being front and center…I can’t just stand by while the ignorant pronounce it a hoax created by HBO and Mark Vicente.
Thank you, Brigid. I’ve tried to steer clear of Nicki’s Clyne’s tragic decline AND the seedy underworld of QANON’s NXIVM conspiracies for health reasons – especially now that the youth preserving Virgin blood is in such high demand and short supply – but someone really needs to remind these jokers that there can be personal and far-reaching consequences to their ludicrous assertions.
There’s a reason QANON has been designated as an International terrorist group over even Proud Boys, Antifa, all the “domestic” extremists and that element – rooted in false PROPAGANDA – is what these fools are playing into.
These public appeals are going nowhere. As sickening as they are, they will not change the public’s perception of Raniere or NXIVM, and they certainly will not result in Raniere’s freedom.
When you look at Nicki’s feed, check out how many likes and comments she gets on her Dossier posts or any NXIVM related posts. Considering the thousands of followers she has, she almost never gets double digits. And, it is the same culties who like or comment, every time. Nicki quickly blocks any dissenting voice despite her claims to value free speech. But even with this, her feed is pitiful. Your average person, non-cultie, is not interested in what she is selling. For them, visiting her feed is akin to slowing down to watch a traffic accident.
Nicki has no legitimate audience. She reeks of desperation, and even recently asked if she could come back to Hollywood yet. However, I am not optimistic that she realizes the enormous mistake she made in quitting BSG to hang around Raniere. In fact, she lies to her followers that they let her go, probably in fear that the majority of them are BSG fans and would unfollow her if they knew the truth.
So, let her cry and act like the victim she claims to loathe. She will never get mass support for DOS or Raniere because most people see NXIVM for what it truly was, a criminal enterprise and a cult where many people were harmed. If anything, it is sad that she continues to waste her life on such an unworthy cause.
None of NXIVM’s Reign of Terror could have occurred without Raniere’s willing helpers like the Bronfmans, the Salzmans, Allison Mack and numerous other Flying Monkeys.
Nor could that Reign of Terror have occurred without corrupt public officials.
By way of contrast, dedicated officials in Palm Beach Florida relentlessly pursued the Epstein-Maxwell sex trafficking ring until Epstein is dead and Maxwell was hit with a superseding indictment charging her with child sex trafficking.
I’ll never forget reading that article for the first time. I was so impressed with Heidi and what she was doing to help get the word out about Keith.
Thank you, Nutjob. I admire and respect your efforts as well.