Our View | Katie Hill, Sex and Politics Bring Out the Worst of ‘Us’

Our View

By The Signal Editorial Board

Where to begin?

The running saga of Rep. Katie Hill’s sex life, the media coverage and fallout, the House Ethics Committee opening an investigation, the leaked photos and text messages…

It all adds up to a case study in so much that’s wrong with society, with Us, capital U.

It’s shown the worst of the media, the worst of the Republicans, the worst of the Democrats, the worst of social media, the worst of ex-spouses, and, yes, because her own behavior led to her own problems, the worst of Katie Hill.

Let’s start with Hill, because that’s where it all started.

Rep. Hill, by her own admission of this past week, engaged in a relationship with a paid staffer on her political campaign who, at 22, was about nine years her junior. The young woman, whose name is a matter of public record but not being used here out of respect for her, was involved in a three-way relationship with Hill and the congresswoman’s now-estranged husband, Kenny Heslep. 

Private photos were taken. The kinds of photos you allow someone you trust to take, probably comfortable in the knowledge that they will never be shared beyond the confines of the relationship, triangular as it may be. 

All involved were consenting adults. But the younger woman was not the one holding the power in the relationship. She was on Katie Hill’s campaign payroll, making approximately $4,200 a month. Not a bad salary for someone right out of college. 

But anyone who works as a human relations director in a professional environment can tell you what an epically horrible idea it was for Hill to engage in that relationship. It’s just common sense these days.

It was, at best, an egregious lapse of judgment on Hill’s part and, for that matter, Heslep’s, too. Hill, as a rising star in the Democratic Party, had everything to lose.

Such a relationship, we’ve all now learned, is called a “throuple.”  

The “throuple” went south after Hill was elected to Congress and went off to her new adventures in Washington, D.C. By July, Heslep was filing for divorce — a news story that we at The Signal decided not to carry because, at the time, we considered it a private matter between Hill and Heslep. We wanted to stay on the high road and respect the couple as they split.

At the time, we didn’t know about the “throuple.”

Fast forward to October and the divorce started getting nasty. Next thing you know, someone — we don’t officially know who — leaked previously private photos and text messages detailing the throuple’s journey and ultimate breakup. The leaked materials came into the hands of Hill’s political opponents, who smelled opportunity. 

This is the part where we actually feel bad for Katie Hill. Not to excuse her behavior — it was ill-advised, to put it kindly — but because that trust she had shared was, at some point, broken. And those photos that were never supposed to leave the relationship ended up all over the internet. 

Does she feel violated? Obviously. Any of us would.

That damn internet. A marvel of our technology, and our greatest curse.

The leaked information on that relationship led to a leaked allegation that not only had Katie Hill engaged in the throuple, but also that she had carried on another relationship with her current legislative director, Graham Kelly, who’s on the congressional payroll. Hill denies having a relationship with Kelly and has vowed to pursue prosecution of those who participated in distributing the private photos of her with the campaign staffer.

If she indeed had a sexual relationship with Kelly, that would constitute a violation of House ethics rules — hence, the House Ethics Committee has decided to investigate. Hello, 24-hour news cycle.

Here at The Signal, we balked at doing a story on the text messages and photos alone. Our reasons were explained in an editorial published online Tuesday and in Wednesday’s print edition. To summarize, we were uncomfortable with A) the leaked intimate photos, which were supposed to be private and have been characterized by some as “revenge porn,” which is a crime in California; and B) the unconfirmed nature of the text messages that had become a focal point of the coverage for, at first, mostly politically motivated blogs.

That’s where we saw some of the worst of the media, in today’s landscape. Today, many media outlets are perfectly comfortable repeating unconfirmed reports of a salacious nature, without determining their authenticity or accuracy. It propagates like a fast-moving virus.

Then, Tuesday afternoon, Katie Hill released a statement denying the affair with Graham Kelly. That’s when it really hit the fan, and we can’t help wondering if, in some ultimate debriefing meeting, her communications people will see that as a misstep.

Thanks to the denial, the story all of a sudden had legs, and it got picked up by all the major media outlets, from those with left-leaning persuasions to those with right-leaning persuasions. That distinction, in and of itself, is part of the problem with today’s national media environment: Much of our national media disguises commentary as “news,” blurring the lines between reporting the facts and injecting a slant into a story. It’s not just the left or the right. It’s both. It’s not just “new media” and “legacy media.” It’s everywhere.

The line between news and commentary isn’t merely blurred. It’s obliterated.

We published the aforementioned editorial on Tuesday, explaining why we hadn’t joined the media “frenzy” over the leaked photos and text messages, but assuring readers we would be monitoring any new developments. 

The next day, the House Ethics Committee announced its investigation and Hill sent an email to her supporters acknowledging the relationship with the campaign staffer, but repeating her denial of any relationship with Kelly. We carried the news story.

We’re still not going to publish those photos. And the private text messages, which other outlets have chosen to publish, have not been verified as authentic. Do they look authentic? Sure. But in this business we are supposed to confirm such things.

Social media over the whole thing has been crazy, and while there are some exceptions, there’s generally been hypocrisy on both sides. If you are a die-hard supporter of Hill, you leap to your own conclusions and defend her. If you are a die-hard opponent of Hill, you leap to your own conclusions and attack her. It’s all predetermined, really. 

And, those roles would flip if the official in question were a Republican. Need evidence? Does the name Brett Kavanaugh ring a bell?

When he was being considered for the Supreme Court, the reactions about the evidence against him, or lack thereof, were as predictable as they have been in the Hill matter. If it’s your opponent, due process be damned. If it’s your darling, defend, defend, defend.

Katie Hill, when running for Congress last year, herself presumed Kavanaugh’s guilt without it having been proven, when she tweeted: “We’re talking about putting a serial predator up for a lifetime appointment in the highest seat we have in the U.S.”

So maybe there’s some karma coming home to roost now. 

Regardless, Katie Hill deserves the same presumption of innocence and clear-headed reasoning that Brett Kavanaugh did not get. 

But apparently there’s no room for a clear-headed examination of the facts in politics. What we get instead are politically motivated, often vulgar, hot takes.

It’s demonstrated the worst in Us, America. We wish the collective “We” could be better. But it appears that genie is out of the bottle.  

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