When Democratic Rep. Katie Hill had sexually explicit photos of her published in a British tabloid alongside reports of a relationship with one of her staffers, she found an unlikely ally in GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Gaetz defended Hill after the House Ethics Committee opened a probe into the lawmaker over the alleged relationship.
“Who among us would look perfect if every ex leaked every photo/text?” Gaetz said in a tweet. “Katie isn’t being investigated by Ethics or maligned because she hurt anyone – it is because she is different.”
“Knowing now that that could’ve been just because he was trying to kind of cover up for whatever his own indiscretions were or be able to use my name and invoke that defense later on,” Hill said. “It’s just gross.”
Los Angeles Judge Yolanda Orozco ruled Wednesday that the photos were a “matter of public concern,” the Orange County Register reported.
“I sued the Daily Mail for their publication of my nonconsensual nude images,” Hill wrote in the tweet on Wednesday. “Today, we lost in court because a judge – not a jury – thinks revenge porn is free speech.”
“This fight has massive implications for any woman who ever wants to run for office, so quitting isn’t an option,” she added.
Hill filed a lawsuit under the “revenge porn law” against the Daily Mail, her ex-husband Kenny Heslep, and Salem Media Group, which owns the conservative blog RedState which published a nude picture of Hill with a campaign aide in 2019.
The ex-Congresswoman was elected as a Democratic representative from California in 2018. In 2019, allegations emerged that Hill had sexual relationships with campaign and congressional staffers, which she initially denied but later confirmed she had a relationship with one campaign staffer. In late October, the Daily Mail published nude photos of her with a campaign aide, which prompted the Hill’s lawsuit against the tabloid. She resigned in light of the nude photos and allegations.
She sued her ex-husband, accusing him of leaking the photos to RedState and the Daily Mail. The media outlets maintained that the publication of the photos was not in violation of the law under the First Amendment.
Legal experts told Insider’s Jacob Shamsian that the lawsuit may not stand in court because of the First Amendment, but the suit against Hill’s ex-husband still has good chances.
The judge ruled that the photos reflected Hill’s “character, judgment and qualifications for her congressional position.”
Hill’s attorney Carrie A. Goldberg tweeted that they intend on appealing the case, saying that she and Hill think an “appellate court will disagree” that the publication of the photos are protected under the First Amendment and that the case was dismissed on anti-SLAPP grounds.
Goldberg added that dismissing the case “sets a dangerous precedent for victims of nonconsensual pornography everywhere.”
“Anybody who dares enter the public eye should now have legitimate concern that old nude and sexual images can be shared widely and published by any person or media purporting to have journalistic intentions,” Goldberg wrote. “This ruling has the exact opposite effect California’s revenge porn intended – which was to reduce and not amplify or promote nude images without consent.”
“Today we have victims of revenge porn who are being frozen out – who are losing access to our judicial system and the freedom to dream big if they have anybody in their past with nude images they can share,” Goldberg continued.
Former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill in a new Vanity Fair op-ed said that GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz should resign from Congress “immediately” if there’s “even a fraction of truth” to allegations he broke federal sex trafficking laws, had a sexual relationship with a minor, and showed colleagues nude photos of women without their permission.
“Let me state it as clearly as possible: If, despite his denials, Matt Gaetz did have sex with a minor, if he did provide girls and young women with drugs and money and gifts in exchange for sex, if he did ask these girls and young women to recruit other women for the same purpose, and if he did show his colleagues images of nude women without their consent, he needs to be held responsible,” Hill wrote on Monday.
“Some of these actions are criminal and some of them should be. All are morally reprehensible and unacceptable for a lawmaker,” she added. “If there is even a fraction of truth to these reports, he should resign immediately.”
The Florida Republican defended Hill in 2019 after tabloids and right-wing media published nude photos of her and a campaign staffer. Hill, who resigned from Congress amid the scandal over the photos, said her ex-husband leaked the photos without her consent.
The scandal Gaetz is embroiled in “involves accusations of the same crime of which I was a victim: the nonconsensual sharing of intimate images,” Hill wrote, noting that the GOP lawmaker “is one of the few colleagues who came to my defense when it happened to me.”
“Matt was the first member of Congress who publicly and unapologetically defended me, saying that while I might have made mistakes, I was a victim in this circumstance,” Hill said. “At one of the darkest moments of my life, when I was feeling more alone than I ever had, Matt stood up for me – and that really mattered.”
In spite of their “unlikely” friendship, Hill underscored that he should resign if there’s even a semblance of truth to the allegations he faces – including reports he showed “at least two lawmakers photos and videos of naked women” who were likely unaware the images were “being passed around and ogled by Republican congressmen.”
“If true, Matt had engaged in the very practice he’d defended me from,” Hill wrote. “Sharing intimate images or videos of someone without their consent should be illegal, plain and simple.”
Since then, a slew of new details have emerged, even as Gaetz continues to deny the allegations against him and claims his family is the victim of an elaborate, multimillion dollar extortion scheme.
In addition to looking into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old in 2019, investigators are examining if he paid for her to travel with him and broke federal sex-trafficking laws by doing so.
According to The Times, the 17-year-old at the heart of the Gaetz probe is the same girl who was involved in a felony sex-trafficking count against Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector Gaetz is associated with. Investigators zeroed in on Gaetz as part of their broader investigation into Greenberg.
The Times reported that the inquiry is focusing on Gaetz and Greenberg’s interactions with “multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments.”
One person familiar with the conversations told The Times that Gaetz told the women to say that he paid for dinners and hotel rooms as part of their dates if anyone asked about the nature of their relationships.
People familiar with the encounters told The Times that some of the men and women, including Gaetz, took MDMA before having sex, and that in some cases the Florida lawmaker asked the women to find others who may want to have sex with him and his friends.
ABC News reported that the sex probe is focusing not just on Gaetz’s conduct in his home state of Florida but in other states as well.
In addition to allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution, Gaetz this week has been accused of showing other lawmakers images of nude women he claimed to have slept with, according to a CNN report. The Florida Republican is said to have shown these photos both in private and on the House floor.
The report also detailed claims she was involved in a polyamorous relationship with her ex-husband and a female campaign staffer during her run for Congress, an allegation she later admitted to and apologized for.
She blamed her estranged husband at the time for the publication of the photos and left Congress vowing to combat revenge porn.
“The last few days I’ve been depressed, anxious, nauseated, and haven’t wanted to leave the house or even talk to people I love,” she said on Twitter on Saturday. “If you’ve been a victim of non-consensual intimate image abuse and are feeling the same way, please reach out to CCRI. You’re not alone.”
Hill and Gaetz struck an unlikely friendship while serving together in Congress.
In 2019, Gaetz defended Hill during her scandal, tweeting at the time: “I serve on Armed Services with Katie and while we frequently disagree on substance, she is always well-prepared, focused, and thoughtful.”
The “revenge porn” lawsuit ex-Congresswoman Katie Hill brought against media outlets for distributing nude photos of her likely won’t stand in court, legal experts say.
Hill was elected as a Democratic representative in a California swing district in 2018 and the photos led to her resignation in 2019. She brought the lawsuit against her ex-husband Kenneth Heslep, who she says leaked the photos of her to the right-wing media outlet RedState and the British tabloid The Daily Mail. The lawsuit also targets RedState, The Daily Mail, and the individual journalists at those publications involved with publishing those photos.
Because Hill alleges that Heslep effectively laundered revenge porn through media outlets, taking advantage of the fact that she’s a public figure, the case has been described as a source of tension between the First Amendment and the California law designed to protect victims of harassment.
A draft court decision obtained by Insider indicates that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco will likely grant a motion to dismiss the case from the media outlets and individual journalists.
The “revenge porn” law Hill brings her lawsuit under, the draft decision says, has a carve-out for “distributed material [that] constitutes a matter of public concern.” Photos of a member of US Congress in an extramarital relationship and using drugs constitutes just that, the draft says.
Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment scholar and a professor at the UCLA School of Law who’s written about the case, told Insider that the California legislature “has considered this very issue” to ensure the law doesn’t come into contradiction with free speech concerns.
“There is specifically an exemption for distributed material that constitutes a matter of public concern,” Volokh said. “That is a rare situation when it comes to nonconsensual distribution of pornography like this, but it sometimes happens. And this seems like a classic example.”
Attorneys representing Hill and Heslep didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
The case against Hill’s ex-husband may still stand
Orozco said in a hearing Wednesday that she would delay her final decision in order to hear a decision from Jennifer Van Laar, the RedState reporter and a former Republican political operative, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
But even if Orozco dismisses Hill’s case against the media outlets, that doesn’t mean she’ll dismiss it against Hill’s ex-husband.
Boesch described the photos of Hill as traveling through a “chain” of responsibility, where media organizations illustrate the photos as being in the public interest, while Heslep likely had different motives. Heslep might deserve less First Amendment protection, Boesch said.
“If he’s doing these things, it’s a malicious act with the intent to hurt,” Boesch said. “And arguably that is what she’s focused on.”
Volokh told Insider that the exemption cited by the judge’s draft order doesn’t draw a distinction between who’s distributing the photos. It only matters that the photos are “a matter of public concern.
“The question is, is the material that’s actually being distributed a matter of public concern? This is an unusual situation where it is,” he said, adding: “It’s not like there’s an exception for publication by a newspaper. It’s an exception for when the distributed material constitutes a matter of public concern.”
Heslep hasn’t responded to the lawsuit, which was first filed in December, according to court records reviewed by Insider. He is also involved in a separate lawsuit with Hill over allegations that he abused her while they were married.
Even if Heslep is ultimately found liable for leaking the photos, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Daily Mail or RedState would be running afoul of the law, according to Hannah Bloch-Wehba, a professor at the Texas A&M School of Law who studies law and technology.
“The rule is typically that the media can’t be liable for just publishing information, even if the information is illegally obtained by the source,” Bloch-Wehba told Insider. “So whoever ultimately leaked the photograph might have done that in violation of the law. But as long as the media outlet didn’t itself violate the law in obtaining the photos, they are probably in the clear as a First Amendment matter.”
Hill has characterized the RedState and The Daily Mail stories as a matter of partisan skullduggery rather than in the public interest. Jennifer Van Laar, who first published the photos on RedState’s website, worked as a Republican political operative before working for RedState, according to the Los Angeles Times.
But Bloch-Wehba said a person’s background wouldn’t matter when it comes to free speech protections.
“The rule is not that you’re entitled to First Amendment protection if you’re a perfectly objective commentator who’s never played a role in politics,” she said.
“It’s going to be a tough case – it’s kind of this intersection of the First Amendment and the right to privacy and where that line is drawn,” she said, adding: “I think it’s important for how we set the standard for the way women are treated as they run for office and are in the public eye, no matter what their circumstance is.”
Boesch told Insider he can imagine the judge wanting to “do justice” in the case even if she removes the media outlets as defendants.
“I look at what happened to her, and you almost think that a judge thinking about this is going to try to find ways to do justice, not just toss out the whole thing,” Boesch said.
Carole Zimmer has been a journalist for 30 years and is the host of an award-winning podcast called Now What? which features curated conversations with well-known people, from Jane Fonda and Katie Hill.
During the pandemic, those conversations have moved online, leading to intimate chats from famous living rooms all around the country and lessons about how to handle adversity during challenging times.
Here, she shares parts of her discussions with Jane Fonda, Julie Taymor, Ken Burns, Ann Patchett, Katie Hill, and Oliver Stone.
The pandemic has turned our lives upside down, bringing many unwanted consequences along with it. It’s limited our travel plans, eliminated our dinner parties, and left us missing a warm hug and a friendly kiss. But there is one positive aspect: Many of us now have more time. This has turned out to be a boon for my award-winning “Now What?” podcast. With less to do, many people I’ve always wanted to talk to now agree to a conversation, especially if all they have to do to connect is walk into their living room and click on a Zoom link .
The downside of that ease is that you always lose something special when you’re not in the same room as the person you’re speaking to. I’m so glad that I got the chance to talk to Norman Lear in 2017 in his spacious Beverly Hills office which is filled with photos from the legendary television shows he created over the last half century. I would also have missed the chance to sit in a comfortable chair in Carl Reiner’s living room, the same chair where Reiner’s best friend Mel Brooks used to sink into when he came over for his nightly dinners. Those experiences unfortunately could never be replicated in cyberspace.
But whatever form it takes, getting the chance to talk with Jane Fonda, Ken Burns, Oliver Stone, and others was a treat I treasure. They have stories to tell about what happens when you follow your dreams, overcome failures, and manage to navigate all the bumps in the road during challenging times. Even though we may not meet back up in person, their advice rings even more true during this uncertain year.
1. Actress and activist Jane Fonda on feeling bad and finding meaning
During her long career, Jane Fonda has emerged as the kind of person who not only talks about the problems we face on the planet, but tries to do something about them too.
Jane’s father Henry was Hollywood royalty, one of the country’s most successful and well-known actors. At 23, Jane made her acting debut on Broadway, and has since appeared in more than 45 movies and won two Academy Awards. Jane was in her 30s when she began protesting the Vietnam War and made a trip to the war-torn Asian country that earned her the name of Hanoi Jane.
Now at 82, Fonda has been leading a movement against the ravages of climate change that have resulted in five arrests for civil disobedience. Her book “What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action” tells the story about her involvement in the social causes that changed the course of her life.
“I spent the first 30 years of my life totally uninvolved, unaware, hedonistic, and miserable. I didn’t know why I was put on earth. My life had no meaning, and I was not very happy,” Fonda said in our October 2020 interview when I asked her why she chooses to speak out publicly about controversial political issues. “Because of the Vietnam War, because of what US soldiers told me about what was really happening in Vietnam, I decided to leave that life of mine and become an activist, and when that happened the depression lifted and I felt that my life had meaning and I’ve been trying to get better at it for 60 years. I’m a work in progress.”
Taymor has also found success on the big screen with films like “Frida” about the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her tempestuous relationship with Diego Rivera. Taymor’s current film, “The Two Glorias,” explores the life of feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
But looming large in Taymor’s career is a controversial Broadway production of “Spiderman: Turn off The Dark. The blockbuster musical has the distinction of being the most expensive show ever mounted on Broadway. In 2011, Taymor was fired from Spiderman after a preview period marked by technical mishaps and negative reviews. Taymor says it was her experience with Spiderman that helped her to come to terms with failure.
“I went to India right after the ‘Spiderman’ debacle, if you want to call it that,” she said, adding the incident caused her to reevaluate where she wanted to go with her career. “It is true that going into dark places makes you see light in a different way… people get proud of scars for a reason; it shows you’ve lived.”
3. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns on the lessons of history in hard times
When I spoke with Ken Burns he was in his New Hampshire home in May 2020, he was thinking about how the pandemic has changed his life. Burns, who is probably the best-known documentary filmmaker in this country, says the global health crisis has made him appreciate every moment he gets to spend with his four daughters. And he’s cooking more, having become a master of the grill with his special recipe for chicken with maple syrup.
Burns is working on multiple projects at one time juggling subject matter that ranges from Ernest Hemingway to the Revolutionary War. One of his best-known documentaries is about the Vietnam War; he also created the documentary series “The Civil War” and traces his own lineage back to Colonial Americans who were Loyalists during the American Revolution.
Burns says he’s always been drawn to history rather than fiction and spent a lot of time reading the encyclopedia when he was growing up.
“It is the ultimate cliché to say that history repeats itself. It has never, ever repeated itself. There has never been an event that was exactly an event from before. Nor are we condemned to repeat what we don’t remember,” he said. “We understand the hopeful impulse of that, but it’s just not true. almost everything is rhyming in the present. I remain kind of optimistic because history gives you a little bit of perspective and perspective in the end is all you really need. Each event provides itself with certain antecedents that provide you with some kind of perspective.”
4. Writer Ann Patchett on getting stuck and powering through
Ann Patchett is the best-selling author of eight novels including “Bel Canto” and “Commonwealth.” Her latest book, “The Dutch House” was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Patchett’s love of writing is rivaled by her love of reading and her support of independent bookstores. She co-owns the famous Parnassus bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee, and says the store continues to do a brisk online business during the pandemic and is “part of our community as never before.”
Throughout the pandemic, Patchett has appeared on the Parnassus Books Instagram account where she offers recommendations about what to read. She often wears a ball gown or a cocktail dress for the occasion because “the alternative was staying in yoga pants for the rest of my life.” Patchett points out that since many us now have more uncluttered time, it’s a great opportunity to take a deep dive into books like “War and Peace” and “David Copperfield.”
Patchett hasn’t decided what her next writing project will be but she knows she’ll have to jump through hoops to see it through. “I spend a long time thinking about a book before I sit down and start to write it,” she said when she spoke to me in April 2020 from a closet in her Nashville home.
“And then when I finally do sit down, which is the most miserable part, so I get the book all worked out in my head and then I sit down. I’ll maybe sit down for 15 minutes a day. It’s like sitting on a hot stove. It’s just miserable. By the time I’m writing the end of the book, I can sit at my desk for 12 or 14 hours a day, so there’s no rhyme or reason… I actually don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe that there are problems that are very hard and maybe some problems that are not solvable, but if you sit down and you can’t write and you say, ‘Well, I’m blocked’ that means that there is something external that’s happening to you. My husband is a doctor and he doesn’t get doctor’s block… he doesn’t ever get to say, ‘Oh, I can’t solve that problem because I’m blocked,’ so I just don’t ever say that.”
5. Former Congresswoman Katie Hill on overcoming scandal and the everlasting exposure of nude photos
Katie Hill was 31 when she was elected to Congress from a district in California that had been Republican for many years. It was the 2018 midterm elections that brought Hill to Washington along with other young women like Lauren Anderson and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Hill was thrilled to be in the company of a revitalized House of Representatives. Hill’s freshman class chose her to represent it at regular meetings with the Democratic leadership and Speaker Nancy Pelosi became a kind of mentor to Hill.
But after just nine months in office, Hill’s Congressional career ended abruptly when nude photos of her began circulating online. They showed Hill and a young woman who had worked on Hill’s campaign in intimate moments together.
Pelosi and Hill’s other friends in Congress urged her to fight on but in November 2019, Hill announced she was stepping down. Faced with the title “disgraced Congresswoman,” Hill said she was a victim of revenge porn from her estranged husband. She wrote a book about the perils of public shaming called “She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality.”
I asked Katie Hill in August 2020 what it was like to live her life in the middle of a scandal that left her exposed in so many ways before the world.
“The physical exposure is something that a lot of people have nightmares about. It’s one of the most recurring nightmares that you’re trapped in the nude, and you’re trying to escape, but for me that was every single day. I felt like such a failure. I felt so much guilt around the situation. I felt like it would be better for me to just go away entirely for so many people,” Hill said. “But then, I was getting closer and closer to that moment of truth, I guess. I thought, ‘You know what? Maybe the worst thing that I could do would be to disappear entirely,’ and I felt like I couldn’t do it to my family. And that I needed to show other people that you can recover from something like this.”
6. Director Oliver Stone on feeling like a failure when he made the film “The Hand”
Oliver Stone gained a reputation as the baddest of Hollywood bad boys, the ultimate risk taker. In his younger years, Stone spent a lot of time in a drug-induced haze. He spouted conspiracy theories and sometimes acted crazy.
Stone also gained a reputation as one of the great directors of his generation who has made films like “Midnight Express” and “Platoon,” a gritty film about the Vietnam War that earned him Academy awards for Best Director and Best Writer. And he went on to make other acclaimed features like “Salvador,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Wall Street. ”
Stone’ book “Chasing the Light” recounts the most tumultuous years of his life including the pain he felt when one of his early films called “The Hand” was torn apart by critics.
Stone told me, “I was a first-time director in Hollywood terms. My failure felt like I was in a magnifying glass and that everybody was seeing it in a fishbowl business. I took it hard. I took it very hard. I was ashamed of myself, and I was shamed by others and I allowed myself to be shamed. You understand that? And it’s easy for a person who had very low self-esteem to begin with. I was just a G.I. and a cab driver; I didn’t have any claims to celebrity.”
“I guess you have to be optimistic. It’s a setback. You lose two years of your life. A project you work on doesn’t happen. I’ve gotten used to it. Plus, on top of it, my sensibilities are divorced from very much of the Hollywood scene as I see things in a world sense. I’ve met many of the leaders and I see things in a different way than the American way. There is an American optics on everything. We see the world from our point of view. Our values dominate.”