Sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct has become all too familiar of a story in modern day politics. High profile allegations of sexual misconduct have straddled political lines. Just in recent memory, high profile accusations have been leveled at Al Franken, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Joe Biden, and Matt Gaetz. And, most recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced he will step down effective August 24th after multiple women came forward alleging sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior by the governor. He has denied all allegations.
So why do these misconduct allegations against high power political figures impact some but not others? And what can we do as a society to eliminate this behavior? On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, host Craig Williams is joined by professor Rebecca Ortiz, PhD, as they take a look at sexual harassment and the resignation of Governor Cuomo. Craig and Rebecca will discuss sexual harassment in politics, holding perpetrators accountable over these claims, and what is being done to combat sexual misconduct.
Rebecca Ortiz: I think within the Democratic Party, there is some uncertainty about should we — we say we call out these people that this is important to us. But when it’s one of our own, it’s a little bit more of a struggle because that person is still moving forward some of the progressive policies of the party. The Republican Party doesn’t have that problem, though. They don’t have this kind of hypocritical notions of having to call out the powerful man in the party because they’re not advocating for those things to begin with.
Intro: Welcome to the award-winning podcast Lawyer to Lawyer, with J. Craig Williams bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Craig Williams: Welcome to Lawyer to Lawyer on Legal Talk Network. I’m Craig Williams coming to you from Southern California. I read a blog name, may it please the court and have two books out titled, “How to Get Sued and the Sled.” While sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct has become all too familiar of a story in modern day politics, in recent years, allegations against politicians have straddled party lines with sexual misconduct claims made against political giants. In just the last few years, high profile accusations have been leveled at Al Franken, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Jill Biden and Matt Gaetz. And most recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has announced to step down effective August 24 after multiple women came forward alleging sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior by the governor. He has denied all allegations.
So what do these misconduct allegations against high power political figures have impact on some, but not others? And what can we do as a society to eliminate this behavior? Well, today on Lawyer to Lawyer, we’ll take a look at sexual harassment and the resignation of Governor Coumo. We’ll discuss sexual harassment in politics, where the pendulum falls when it comes to sexual harassment, holding perpetrators accountable over these claims and what’s being done to combat sexual misconduct. And to do that, we have Professor Rebecca Ortiz, Ph.D. from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
Dr Ortiz conducts research in health communication, social marketing, and entertainment media effects. She has managed and consulted on a number of health communication campaigns and projects focused primarily on sexual health issues such as sexual assault prevention, HPV vaccination, and teen pregnancy prevention. She recently blogged about sexual harassment and politics in a blog post titled, “New Research: How Political Bias Impacts Believing Sexual Assault Victims.” Welcome to the show Dr. Ortiz.
Rebecca Ortiz: Thank you so much for having me.
Craig Williams: Well, this is kind of a very fine point on a big subject, but can you kind of describe a little bit about your research as we get started as a kind of framework for our discussion?
Rebecca Ortiz: Sure. I’m going to give a little bit of background information. So what I will talk about when I talk about my research makes a little more sense. First, we have to understand this concept of social identity and how our identity is made up and influenced by our membership in social groups. And I’ll explain why this is all relevant here in just a second, but just kind of lay this foundation. What we find is that our identities are made up of our membership and social groups. It can be things like gender, race, age and it could even be things like our fanship for sports teams or the college that we went to.
And one of the identities that we see really being emphasized and of great importance right now is one’s political identity. And so whether we belong to or we identify with a particular political a party can influence how we see things that happen to people from our parties. The META Movement started about four or five years ago now. And around that time period, we saw a lot of conversation around sexual assault and sexual harassment, and many powerful men were being called out for the assault and harassment, allegations against them.
We saw at the time, probably one of the biggest ones was then candidate Donald Trump being accused of sexual assault. And so I’ve been looking at sexual consent and sexual assault and how people make sense of this, particularly in terms of how they see it represented in news and entertainment media. And so I was really interested in at the time was – and I noticed this kind of anecdotally first was how people were perceiving sexual assault allegations based on who was accused and what political party they aligned with and whether that political party aligned with somebody’s own party or the opposing party.
And what we see is with social identity, when somebody is accused of bad behaviors, that is part of our group, our social group, so somebody like us, we can become defensive, and we can engage in what’s called the social identity threat, where we could feel like our own identities are threatened when somebody like us is accused of bad behavior.
Craig Williams: Is that internalization?
Rebecca Ortiz: Yeah. So what we can do is we’ll often find that people will become defensive when somebody’s similar to them is accused of these bad behaviors in this case, sexual assault and so we will be less likely to believe these allegations and more likely to place blame on the victim. And so that’s what I was really looking at.
Craig Williams: Let me interrupt for a second and talk about Trump’s situation. There has been some speculation that the Republicans were willing to overlook his infidelities and other issues because they had an agenda that he was willing to follow.
Rebecca Ortiz: That’s right. And what’s interesting from my research is that we actually see some of this willingness to place responsibility and blame on a victim regardless of whether it’s Republicans or Democrats. It just depends on who the candidate is or the political leader is that’s being accused. With that said, Democrats are much more likely to call out their powerful men in these cases than Republicans are. And I found this to be consistent in my research that this victim blaming, this willingness to place responsibility or partial responsibility on the victim is much higher among Republicans than it is Democrats and much higher among men than it is women. But that when you start to take into the strength of somebody’s political identity, you can actually see that both Democrats and Republicans do have the ability to engage in this victim blaming when it’s a candidate of their own party.
Craig Williams: How is it that they justify ignoring it?
Rebecca Ortiz: I think that’s a great question. The short answer here, and I want to say there’s still a lot to be explored in this area. Part of it is really just protecting one’s ego. So like I said before, if somebody like me or like yourself is accused of bad behavior, it can feel like a reflection on yourself. And so you don’t want to believe that you could do a behavior like that. So it’s what’s called an implicit and often unconscious bias where we will blame external factors in this case, the victim more than we will blame the person that’s like us, because really we’re protecting our own ego.
Craig Williams: How do you explain the kind of, I’m going to call it a predilection? I’m not really sure what else to call it, but we had Al Franken resign after a little bit of guff, and then we had Andrew Cuomo recently resigned after he made some initial denials. But yet, Trump had very similar allegations, Kavanaugh had similar, as did Matt Gaetz. So how is it that where powerful Democratic men more willing to resign than powerful Republican men?
Rebecca Ortiz: Again, probably the easiest answer here, though, and I think it is a bit more complex, the easier answer here is that the Democratic Party has really stood behind victim’s rights and advocating for sexual assault victims. It’s the party that is known to., and I’m going to put these in quotes, to be progressive around, “women’s issues.” Sexual assault is not just a women’s issue, but it is something that is largely considered violence against women. So we see that the Democratic Party is already advocating for a lot of progressive ideas around advocating for victims. The Republicans are not doing that. So I think the Democrats feel much more of a need to not stand in that hypocritical space. So they feel like they feel the need to call out when powerful men are accused of this, whereas the Republican or the conservative side of the aisle, they’re not advocating for those same things. So there’s not as much of a hypocrisy to not call out the men in the party.
Craig Williams: And how is it that the Republicans just can simply listen to other Republicans instead of listening to the Democrat criticism of them?
Rebecca Ortiz: Well, that’s where you can get into — I think some of it is where we start to see some of the masculinity that exists within the Republican Party is this idea of not backing down. And when you are accused of something that you stand your ground, and so in a way, calling out powerful men is something that Democrats do. And so when we see this us versus them mentality and political affiliation in the United States, the Republicans may feel even less wanting to call out their men, because that’s how they see something that the opposite party does.
Craig Williams: It’s that simple. Do you think they have — where does the shame emotion if that’s an emotion? Where does shame play into this?
Rebecca Ortiz: Do you mean shame —
Craig Williams: You know like Andrew Cuomo resigned and I have the sense that some of that was because he was ashamed of his behavior. I mean, from a lawyer standpoint, I look at this and say to myself, wait a second. These people are resigning without due process. There’s been no hearing. There’s been no termination. There’s been just these allegations. Not to say that the allegations aren’t right, but from a legal standpoint, that’s what done without due process.
Rebecca Ortiz: Well, that’s true. That’s absolutely true. But I think in Cuomo’s case, I don’t feel that there was much shame this was in terms of internally at least. I don’t think that when he came out with his video, and I think some people might have called it an apology video, but it clearly wasn’t an apology video. It was (00:10:44) video.
Craig Williams: I’m Italian.
Rebecca Ortiz: Right. I’m Italian.
Craig Williams: I’m Italian, this is how we are.
Rebecca Ortiz: Well, and he engaged in a lot of the common Mr. X that we often see, which is if you notice he mentioned his daughters a couple of times, as if having daughters means that you couldn’t possibly engage in sexual harassment. We saw him trying to call out him trying to help the one woman who had disclosed that she had a sexual assault. He was really not trying to engage in any true apologies. I think what ended up happening is there was so much pressure for him to resign that he, regardless of due process or legalities, it was not in his best interest to stay in the role because his party was calling him out for that.
Craig Williams: Is it that democrats will acknowledge the fact that it’s better for politics and for the state in this instance to just get on with the governance of the state rather than be embroiled in these allegations and his data? What does that play in the resignation process?
Rebecca Ortiz: That’s a great question. And I think it’s one that the Democratic Party has really struggled with. That’s a party that says we stand with sexual assault victims, that we advocate for victim’s rights, but that also has — when Democratic politicians are accused of this, this is somebody of their party that’s also moving other progressive things within the party forward. So I don’t know if you saw, but there was a poll that came out and one poll should not be everything, but at least was a bit indicative is we saw that Democratic, registered Democrats were polled and we saw an almost 50/50 split and whether about 52% said that he should resign, and it was something like 7% were unsure within the rest. So 47% felt that he shouldn’t resign.
So I think within the Democratic Party, there is some uncertainty about should we — we say we call out these people that this is important to us, but when it’s one of our own, it’s a little bit more of a struggle because that person is still moving forward some of the progressive policies of the party. The Republican Party doesn’t have that problem, though. They don’t have this kind of hypocritical notions of having to call out the powerful men in their party because they’re not advocating for those things to begin with.
Craig Williams: Let’s look at it from the women’s perspective, particularly the victim, what is the victim going through and how does this victim blaming affect the people that are making these allocations, as well as the people surrounding them, and then the broader society of women who think, should I report or should I not?
Rebecca Ortiz: Yeah. Well, this is probably the thing that should be talked about the most, really, which is what kind of effect does news coverage of this? Does the response to this, even responses on social media have on people who are victims? And let’s be clear, this is an issue that we see as violence against women, but there are male victims as well, and the same the same conversations around victim blaming can influence male victims as well. But we can focus specifically on female victims, since that as the case here. Absolutely when we see that there’s this sort of back and forth about should he resign, shouldn’t he resign, or should we call this candidate out or these politicians out or not? It will obviously be internalized by those who have been victimized to question whether they want to come forward with their story, because the public discourse is always around what she did or what she shouldn’t have done or —
Craig Williams: Or why she takes so long?
Rebecca Ortiz: Exactly. Or why didn’t she come forward? And, of course, the answer should be, well, look at the response. This is why she took so long to come forward or didn’t come forward at all. But there’s always this discourse of victim blaming that happens that makes it difficult for victims to come forward.
Craig Williams: You know, I wanted to talk about your research. You mentioned it as you gave the background facts when we started with the conversation, but you have in your research, found that the stronger the partisan identity of Republicans or Democrats, the more likely they were to engage in victim blaming attitudes.
And you surmise that that’s somewhat true to the ego and the protection of the self, but — how do we engage in any kind of self-discovery or society shaming of the perpetrator? How do we flip this on its head?
Rebecca Ortiz: That’s the big question. I mean, that’s one of the questions. Sometimes in scientific discovery, you answer a question and you go, what the heck do I do with this information? What exactly is the next step? Because it’s fine to stay in sort of theory space, which academics we often do is we like to answer these questions. But then there’s an application of what do we do with this information? And I think this is actually something that’s happening that’s beyond sexual assault allegations, which is there’s a whole literature that’s really discovering how bias, implicit and unconscious bias plays a role in how we perceive a variety of issues. And in any situation where there is some sort of victim or somebody that has been that has experienced something out of their control. And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have the answer. But I think the more we understand human psychology around how we perceive things like allegations, the better we can be to figure out how do we have conversations with others to try to mitigate some of those biases? So I don’t have the answer for you immediately, but I think we’re moving in the right direction by trying to understand these things.
Craig Williams: It’s an ongoing discussion.
Rebecca Ortiz: Yeah.
Craig Williams: Let’s talk about Bill Cosby.
Rebecca Ortiz: Okay.
Craig Williams: Here we have a man who is alleged to have committed sexual harassment in some of the worst ways, criminal punishment and now is out and people are supporting him. How does that play into this conversation?
Rebecca Ortiz: I think it’s the exact same conversation. There’s some reason why some people are still supporting him, and I would argue that that reason is internal in some way. Some either it might be related for men fear of being accused of sexual assault and not wanting to support victims because of that fear of being accused of it. Or, it might be some connection that you had with Bill Cosby as a youth. Or, it might be race related that you see, there was this black man who rose to prominence and gave visibility to the black community. So I believe that there’s something happening in all of us that makes us not want to believe certain things. And so it really does still come down to that defensive attribution where we don’t want it to be true. And so therefore, we convince ourselves that not to be true, though I think at this point you’re going to find a much smaller percentage of people who do not believe those allegations against Bill Cosby true, especially when they were so horrific.
Craig Williams: You know, I think I consider myself to be somewhat well read. And I think one of the surprising revelations to me over time has been the very wide variety of views that are expressed on the internet news sources and some claiming to be news sources that we would traditionally not consider to be news sources. What role does news coverage play in victim blaming as well as this, the sexual harassment arena with politics? And then how do these extremes play into it? Because obviously, we have some we have in (00:18:40) on one side that are expressing complete and disdain for complete misogynist. And then we have the MeToo Movement on the other side that is propounding another set of news and perspective and coverage. How do we marry all this together and understand what’s really happening?
Rebecca Ortiz: I’m so glad you asked that question, because I just conducted a study that looks a little bit at what you’re getting at in terms of source. It’s not going to answer all of your questions, but it’s going to give a little bit of a direction. So what I did is I ran an experiment looking to see are we more willing to blame somebody from the opposing party than our party? So, again, this is about political party in this case. And so I created a fictitious new story, and people were either assigned to read this news story, which was about an hour allegation made against a fictitious political candidate, and the candidate was either Republican or Democrat, and that either aligned or didn’t align with your own political party. And then I manipulated what the source was. So the source then aligned was of your own political party or was of the opposing party. And what I wanted to look at is to see, in which case do you find the information and the source least credible, least believable.
And what I found is that when the story was reporting on the allegations of a political candidate accused of sexual assault from your own party and the source was of the opposing party, that was the only time that people were less likely to believe that the source was credible. The opposite was not true, meaning that if the source of your own party reporting on the opposing party, you didn’t see that as least credible. So in a nutshell, let me explain that a little bit easier. You believe that the other side could not possibly accurately unbiasedly report on a sexual assault allegation when it’s somebody from your party, but you believe your party can report on the allegation of the opposing party.
So, again, back to this. We believe the sources that we trust and that we think can report things based upon what our initial beliefs and our initial identities are. I hope that makes sense.
Craig Williams: Right. Because we choose those sources based on our own beliefs, because they align with our beliefs. Absolutely. I mean, it’s the classic confirmation bias. It’s an amazing process to kind of analyze and think about. Is there any way around this?
Rebecca Ortiz: There’s a lot of people doing a lot of work around this, because that is obviously the big issue in the big topic, which is misinformation, which is the sort of echo chambers that we see, which there’s some research to suggest that echo chambers are not always as deep as we think. But I think we’ve all been on YouTube where we’ve clicked on some random video that wasn’t necessarily something that we typically watch. And then all of a sudden it is suggesting to us all this kind of extreme ideas, and we’re like, hey, I just wanted to learn about this one thing, and now you’re exposing me to this really outlandish extreme information. So we know that that is happening. And the best recourse we have right now is to try to diversify the news. But there’s the challenge. Do we force it on the consumer to do or do we force it on the algorithms, the news organizations to diversify for us? I think that’s the ongoing discussion right now.
Craig Williams: And one of the surprising things that perhaps not too surprising. I think if you’re cynical about it, as we’ve covered several times on this podcast, there are obviously organizations out there who see the media with perspective stories and opinions in order to influence how the discussion turns.
Rebecca Ortiz: Yeah. It’s really easy to make people believe things they already believe and as they already kind of have a hunch or a feeling for. So all you have to do is really kind of tap into those beliefs, and then you can pull people deeper down the rabbit hole into other beliefs. And there’s a lot of monetary value in that. There’s a lot of potential for extremist thinking, people being pulled into more extremist views. And we’re seeing that obviously we’re seeing that there are people who for whatever, depending on the group, are feeling disenfranchised, feeling marginalized. And so they’re looking for back to kind of full circle, looking for identity, looking for connection. And so when they can find connection through some of these initial beliefs, it can lead to harmful effects because they start to believe things that are very extreme.
Craig Williams: And it almost seems in a way that the extreme perspectives have taken over this interest.
Rebecca Ortiz: You know, it can seem like that. And whether it’s true, I think the problem that we have in terms of studying this is that it can be really hard to study this on the individual level because algorithms are what they are on YouTube or Apple News or whatever it is that you’re using to get your information, it’s hard to see what each individual person is seeing and what they’re reading and what they’re experiencing, because we don’t have centralized places for news anymore. At least we don’t have the big three networks and that kind of thing that are exposing most of the population to information. So it can be hard to research this.
Craig Williams: And it kind of reminds me of a very short clip that I saw on the news where a gentleman was lamenting the fact that he hadn’t gotten a vaccine and I was a little off topic here. But basically, his response was, we’re a good conservative family, so we didn’t get the vaccine. More confirmation bias.
Rebecca Ortiz: Right. And to that person that is in alignment with their beliefs. Whereas what I always think is kind of interesting is people on the extreme ends have so much more in common than they realize, because they’re both and even people who are sort of mid center, but kind of still aligning to one side or the other. If we’re thinking about it in terms of conservative and liberal, we actually have way more in common and that we think we’re right.
We think that our beliefs are the right way, and those people over there are crazy. So if we can start to understand from the individual’s perspective why they think they’re right, then I think we can have a deeper conversation than just defensiveness and defensive biases, where we just assume that whatever they think is wrong because we haven’t taken time to really understand why they think the way they do.
Craig Williams: There’s also been expressed a bias against people like you and me who have a little bit more education that we become liberal over time with the perspectives that are offered in universities. What role does education in particular, critical thinking and formative years play into this? How does that fit all under?
Rebecca Ortiz: Well, majorly, definitely, definitely influences it and we can see that at least demographically. We can see that the differences in Liberals being more educated, conservatives having less formal education, at least. So we see some of that. What’s interesting is I actually can think back to a study. I did, and we didn’t actually publish this. We presented it at a conference, though. We found that we were doing a survey with college students about their understanding of Obamacare AND whether — and we actually manipulated whether they saw it listed as Obamacare or as the Patient Protection Act, the official label. We found that depending on what their affiliation was, they actually saw Obamacare as much worse. They were Republican. They found Obamacare much worse than even though they’re the exact same thing. They’re just labeled differently. And then we also looked and we found that what was the most influential factor on why they identified as Republican or Democrat, and what we were able to discover it was that what are their parent’s affiliation? What is the party that their parents aligned with? And it was a huge number. There was I can’t remember the numbers now, but it was much more likely a college student who identifies Republican. Their parents also identified.
Craig Williams: Almost the direct correlation.
Rebecca Ortiz: It was very strong. It was very strong, actually. We had a number of things that we measured, and it was the most significant indicator of what that party affiliation was.
Craig Williams: I kind of feel like we’re talking about Jimmy Kimmel’s lie TV, where he interviews the person on the street and creates a lie and then people start espousing their beliefs about the lie.
Rebecca Ortiz: Yeah. And that’s also called the illusory truth effect. I think I’m saying that right. Or the truth by repetition effects, they think of what it is that — and this is where false news becomes problematic is that, the more you say a lie, the more people start to believe it to be true. Not necessarily because they actually believe it to be true, because they’ve heard it so many times, and it’s stuck in our head. So we have to be careful about the lives that we spread because they can become, “truth to us.”
Craig Williams: Well, to go off topic even a little bit further, it reminds me of the quality of political advertising that we see around election time. All we get are people’s names. We don’t get position papers or any kind of understanding. You drive down the street and you’re assaulted with nothing but someone’s name running for this position.
Rebecca Ortiz: And then the party that they’re affiliated with, right? So there’s really, I would argue two things that influence what bubble or depending on how you’re voting, but let’s just say what bubble you’re filling out in the ballot box. It’s what’s your party and then what’s the name that you recognize? And that name is usually the name that is Ben, right. Like you said, has been advertised the most has been seen the most. Donald Trump, I think, a huge well, we know this a huge reason why he was elected. Or I should say one of the reasons is because of brand recognition.
Craig Williams: Yeah. I told the story before about voting in Iowa in a one room schoolhouse when I lived there going to law school. The poll takers there handed me my ballot. And so we got it all filled out for you. You were going to vote Republican, weren’t you? I said no, give me a blank one. Dr. Ortiz, it looks like we just about reached the end of our program. So I’d like to take this opportunity now to invite you to share your final thoughts as well as your contact information for our listeners.
Rebecca Ortiz: Absolutely. Final thoughts here is for any listeners that are struggling whenever they hear these sexual assault allegations is to really consider the full context of why you might be feeling the way you’re feeling. So if you immediately start to think, well, maybe this person should have been wearing this or drinking this or that kind of stuff, think a little bit deeply about why do I feel that way? What is it that might be making me feel defensive and feel threatened and so that I’m not actually giving these allegations the true consideration that they deserve? Because we are all biased, we are all looking to protect our egos, and we’re human for that. So we just got to be careful and be more conscious of it.
I’m continuing to do some of this research. This is really actually pretty exploratory research at this point, so if anyone is interested in reaching out to me, they’re more than welcome to. You can reach me on my email, which is [email protected] and you can also just pop my name is to Google, Rebecca Ortiz, Syracuse University and you’ll find a bunch of other information about me.
Craig Williams: Great! Well, to wrap up, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our guest, Professor Rebecca Ortiz, Ph.D., for joining us today. It was a pleasure having you on the show.
Rebecca Ortiz: Great! Thank you so much.
Craig Williams: And for our listeners, if you like what you heard today, please rate us on Apple Podcasts, your favorite podcasting app. You can also visit us at Legaltalknetwork.com, where you can sign up for our newsletter. I’m Craig Williams. Thanks for listening. Please join us next time for another great legal topic. Remember when you want legal, think Lawyer to Lawyer.
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