Katie Hill: Quel Scandale

Does anyone understand the Katie Hill “scandal”? I had trouble sleeping last night, so I used an article about the scandal as a sleep aid–which worked like a charm–but then I woke up wondering what it was about. So I looked into it. As far as I can tell, this is the whole scandal:

  1. A woman has a three-some with someone plus her husband.
  2. The woman’s marriage goes south, so she ditches her husband and starts up with the someone (or maybe a couple of people).
  3. Somewhere in there, she gets naked, brushes the someone’s hair, and is photographed doing it.
  4. She gets elected to Congress, where some of the preceding breaks some newly-passed rule.

I’m sorry to get all analytic about this, but what’s the scandal-producing property here? Here are some candidates:

  1. You’re not supposed to have three-somes.
  2. You’re not supposed to have three-somes when you’re married.
  3. You’re not supposed to be in a marriage that goes south.
  4. If your marriage goes south, you’re not supposed to split up.
  5. If you do split up, you can’t start up with anyone (or: with the person you had a three-some with).
  6. Women are not supposed to be bisexual.
  7. You should never, ever brush anyone’s hair if you’re naked.
  8. Congressional rules are deontic absolutes such that if you break one, it’s a scandal.

OK, so I’m going to go out on a limb here and rule out candidates (1)-(7), or even any combination of them. So is the issue really (8)?

Apparently it is. Here is Vox, getting all serious about it:

Last year, the House adopted new ethics rules barring members from having sexual relationships with staffers. The rules don’t explicitly apply to campaign staffers like the one involved in a previous relationship with Hill and Heslep, but, Lee reports, the House Ethics Committee has determined it has jurisdiction over “misconduct relating to a successful campaign for election to the House.”

In general, “it is best practice for organizations to prohibit romantic relationships within either a direct or indirect reporting relationship,” said Coll, who co-founded the Purple Campaign after speaking out about her own experience being groped by a senator when she was an 18-year-old intern. A relationship with a boss can put pressure on the subordinate to consent, Coll said, as well as creating an “appearance of impropriety or favoritism” that affects others in the workplace.

And when the employer is a politician, allegations of sexual misconduct — and how they’re handled — matter to voters, Coll said. “Research shows that more than half of voters say that they would not vote for somebody who is accused of sexual harassment, or, more importantly, somebody who did not make addressing sexual harassment a priority,” she explained. “People, myself included, want to see lawmakers lead by example, and I think that starts with taking responsibility for their own offices and their own campaigns.”

So the rule doesn’t quite apply, but the House Ethics Committee is going to stretch things so that it does. Because rules. And I mean, we’re talking “best practices” here, so who’s going to argue with that? And, yeah, the point of the rule was to protect young or vulnerable people from abuse, and there aren’t any involved here, but the point of the rule is really not the point. Plus, the optics are bad. And I forgot to mention that she lied about being in the relationship (because it broke the rule, but she might not have if there hadn’t been one). And then there’s research.

The only thing that’s not just laughter-provoking here is the possibility that if you’re the boss, and you’re sleeping with X, you might show favoritism toward X, which could be bad. So maybe the boss shouldn’t be in a supervisory position over someone she’s sleeping with, and if she is, it’s bad.

That said, no one seems to have a problem with the idea that the President is a boss, and in some sense supervises the First Lady–and may well sleep with her, at least sometimes. She may not literally be an employee of his, but in a pretty literal sense, she serves as a member of his administration. Believe it or not, there have, over the years, occasionally been whisperings of “favoritism” with respect to various First Ladies. And yet the practice of allowing them into the White House continues, and the Republic has endured. So if the problem doesn’t seem incapacitating in that case, why is it such a “scandal” here?

Even if there is some impropriety involved, it doesn’t really seem that deep: it’s based on a series of counter-factual suppositions that may or may not obtain. And the problem is easily (relatively easily) resolved: find the guy Hill is (allegedly) currently dating another job. How hard could that be in a place like Washington, D.C. for people with credentials like these? Maybe there’s a mild practical problem here, but a scandal? Just an FYI: these sorts of romantic entanglements happen all the time at job sites; assuming that all involved are adults, potential problems are acknowledged, and accommodations are reached. Not exactly the stuff of “scandal.”

Oh, but there’s that rule. Yeah. I get why the rule is there, but what I don’t get is why it’s necessary to take so Pharisaical an approach to its application. Couldn’t one just as easily see this case as impugning a rigid application of the rule as take the rule to impugn Hill’s conduct? I mean, coming from a job site where people have no compunction breaking into and entering a supposedly secure room while depositions are being taken, how did this infraction of the rules become the big deal it’s become?

Honestly, I’d be more offended if Katie Hill had gotten a parking ticket. At least with a parking ticket, there’s a clear victim: the person who wanted that spot and was entitled to it, but couldn’t get it. But who is the victim here? The guy Hill was (alleged to be) having sex with doesn’t seem to be complaining. The lady whose hair she was brushing doesn’t seem to be complaining. Maybe her husband is complaining, but then she’s got complaints against him, too. As far as I can tell, the only people complaining are a bunch of freaks at RedState and The Daily Mail. Isn’t the real scandal that we’ve gotten to the point where they matter so much?

5 thoughts on “Katie Hill: Quel Scandale

  1. I clearly had not done enough research in the gutter press when I wrote that post. So I got a bunch of things wrong. So much for relying on the mainstream media.That said, nothing I got wrong really changes my view.

    (1) Katie Hill’s female lover, Morgan Desjardins, was fairly young at the time of their involvement (22). Then again, Katie Hill was herself fairly young and relatively close to Desjardins in age (30). So while I was wrong to say that no one involved was young, I don’t think this goes all that far.

    (2) Heavy.com reports that Morgan Desjardins did complain about her treatment at the hands of Katie Hill and her husband, Kenny Heslop.


    But part of the reason for the complaint was that Hill was breaking up with her, and part of the reason why Hill was breaking up with her was “political,” i.e., had to do with the expected fall-out of a scandal if they were discovered. So it’s not clear that there’d have been anything to complain about if there was less of an expectation of a scandal. On top of this, the text messages seem to have been released by the estranged husband, Heslop, who’s (apparently) released them for strategic reasons related to their upcoming divorce. So we don’t know whether they reflect Desjardins’s considered view.

    (3) Finally, it turns out that there were allegations of financial impropriety/favoritism on Hill’s part.


    But the factual issues here are clouded in a series of claims and counter-claims having to do with the Heslop-Hill divorce.

    My bottom line view on this remains: the case casts at least as much doubt on the propriety of the House rule as it does on Hill’s conduct. People in close proximity to each other often end up in bed. People whose marriages are ending often look for solace in people they’re not married to. This even happens to people at work, believe it or not. And it often involves workmates. There are problems here, but these problems can’t all be “solved” by the passage of rules. Once the rules are passed, they take on a life and authority of their own that renders people incapable of thinking about the unintended consequences that the rules themselves produce. It likewise doesn’t help to pass some draconian rule in the midst of a panic involving highly dubious accusations without thinking about the “fog of conflict” and double standards that will likely arise when it comes to adjudicating real-live cases in the real world.

    So mea culpa on what I got wrong here, but at some level, I’m unapologetic. Like so much that confronts us in our political culture, this scandal is mostly bullshit. It shouldn’t be so hard to imagine a world in which Hill divorces Heslop and openly takes up with Desjardins or anyone else, even as the divorce is in process. Nor should it be that hard to imagine a world in which Desjardins is still on staff and being paid, but the process is out in the open and subject to scrutiny, rather than a matter of cloak and dagger. The real scandal is that we have such trouble imagining such a world, and are willing to create fake scandals in this one for our lack of the capacity to do so.


    • The main lesson that one should derive from the likes of Hill’s scandal and other similar scandals in recent times is really simple:

      “Don’t screw your crew” or put it in a different way “Don’t bang the help”. Also don’t deflect from your own problems by talking about “hypocrisy”, Trump, etc….

      Don’t coerce your subordinates into acting out your sexual fantasies. No exceptions


      • Hill didn’t coerce Desjardins. This is the extent of D’s complaint, taken from her own text messages to Hill and Heslop. The complaint itself underscores the voluntary nature of the relationship.

        Desjardins was devastated by the breakup, telling Heslep in one text in June ‘I’m still a mess over you f***ers.’

        ‘I didn’t realize how much being the dirty little secret bothered me,’ the staffer wrote, adding that the three-way relationship was ‘toxic’.

        ‘It was a dark time and you treated me really poorly but I also stayed which I also have to own,’ she wrote. ‘The relationship was just not healthy.’

        Desjardins texted Hill that the breakup was ‘crushing’. ‘I am not going to be a toy for you on the weekends,’ she wrote to the congresswoman.

        ‘I at least thought you enjoyed that time and that it meant a lot to you. It’s really crushing to find out that it doesn’t.’

        Desjardins told Heslep that she is struggling to get over Hill, who was still paying her for ‘fundraising consulting’ as recently as last month according to FEC records.

        ‘I am still in love with her,’ Desjardins wrote to Heslep. ‘It rips my heart out every time I have to see her or have someone say something nice about her.

        ‘She doesn’t care or really have any concept of how deep the wounds go.’

        Desjardins also confessed she was having nightmares about her ex and boss that caused her to wake up ‘in a sweat’.

        Having an intimate relationship with your subordinates is usually inadvisable, but it’s not always wrong, and it’s not what I take to be the main upshot of this highly confected “scandal.” The husband of my university president serves on our faculty. Every member of the faculty (including him) reports, ultimately, to the president. Those facts are out in the open. No one regards it as scandalous. My Dean’s wife works on the staff of a department within his jurisdiction. Again, completely out in the open. No scandal. When I worked at ETS/NAEP, my significant other was an executive in the same division in which I served as an editor. I didn’t directly report to her, but I was in some sense her subordinate. No one thought it a big deal. As I said in the post, the First Lady serves as a member of the President’s administration. No scandal. The whole idea that you can’t have “sex with the help” is a contextless myth which gets its plausibility from the stereotype of the rich villainous man having coerced sex with his housekeeper or secretary. That happens, but so do other things.

        Since the entire “Katie Hill scandal” strikes me as bullshit, I don’t really see that she’s deflecting when she points out the hypocrisy of the Republicans. They have no problem with a president with a sexual history like Trump’s (Stormy Daniels, etc.), and no problem with a bunch of Republican legislators crashing a secure deposition, but they’re somehow bent out of shape about a bisexual woman, her female lover, and a bong. The same people who cry crocodile tears about the unfairness of the “impeachment process” then turn around and use revenge porn as the basis for an inquisition. I’m not about to link to it, but The Daily Mail has an October 24 expose of Hill, with nude pictures, salacious text messages, and all the rest: obvious, puerile exploitation and the basis for the whole “scandal.” To rely so heavily on it to create a scandal while accusing the mainstream American press of “fake news” is something well beyond “hypocrisy.” But this is what the American Right has come to: the sexual imagination of Larry Flynt married to the political imagination of Leni Riefenstahl.


  2. Pingback: Kevin Vallier on “Cancel Culture” | Policy of Truth

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