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The Media Ethics Of Talking About Salacious Allegations Regarding Katie Hill

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 09: Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. House Democrats unveiled new letters to the Attorney General, HHS Secretary, and the White House demanding the production of documents related to Americans health care in the Texas v. United States lawsuit.  Also pictured is House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV).  (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.

In the midst of divorce from her husband, Freshman Representative Katie Hill of California’s 25th District is facing several allegations concerning her personal life.

In the midst of divorce from her husband, Freshman Representative Katie Hill of California’s 25th District is facing several allegations concerning her personal life. 

The allegations were first published in the conservative site RedState.org, which claimed that Hill had a romantic affair with her legislative director, before they were discovered by Hill’s husband. Hill has denied the claims. 

The conservative publication also claimed that Hill and her husband were involved in a three-way relationship with a female campaign staffer and published explicit photos and screenshots of text exchanges. Hill has not commented on these allegations. She has said that her husband has been trying to undermine her. Meanwhile, U.S. Capitol Police are looking into the origins of a nude photo that had been published online. 

These allegations, both denied and unaddressed, present many thorny questions for traditional news media. Should we be covering what is essentially “revenge porn?” Does the public have a right to know about a politician’s private, consensual romantic life? We dive into these questions. 

We reached out to Rep. Katie Hill. She sent us this statement: 



Intimate photos of me and another individual were published by Republican operatives on the internet without my consent.  I have notified Capitol Hill police who are investigating the situation and potential legal violations of those who posted and distributed the photos, and therefore will have no further comment on the digital materials. The fact is I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me.  I am disgusted that my opponents would seek to exploit such a private matter for political gain. This coordinated effort to try to destroy me and people close to me is despicable and will not succeed. I, like many women who have faced attacks like this before, am stronger than those who want me to be afraid. 



 Allegations that I have been involved in a relationship with Mr. Kelly are absolutely false. I am saddened that the deeply personal matter of my divorce has been brought into public view and the vindictive claims of my ex have now involved the lives and reputations of unrelated parties. 



This smear campaign will not get in the way of the work I am doing every day to move our district and our country forward. I am truly grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from colleagues and constituents alike, and I know we will get through this together. 



Onward.

Guests:

John Bresnahan, Congressional bureau chief for Politico; he tweets

Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota 

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