How reality TV is changing the way we consume fashion

BBC Image copyright MissPap
Image caption Queen of the Island Amber Gill

There were two big winners of ITV2’s Love Island this year. Amber Gill, the contestant who won the show, and Boohoo, the online fast fashion retailer who signed her.

In June, while the Islanders were flirting their way to celebrity in the Mediterranean sun, Boohoo overtook its long-term rival Asos to become the most valuable seller of clothing for the UK’s youth. It is now worth £3.1bn to Asos’s £2bn.

And it’s widely thought that brand collaborations with popular ex-Love Island stars are believed to be largely responsible for this success.

The first collection of Love Island winner Amber Gill with Boohoo-owned label MissPap, which dropped today, has reportedly helped drive annual sales to £1bn for the first time.

Boohoo acquired MissPap in March before announcing Amber as the official face of its relaunch, in a deal worth a reported £1m.

Even before the collection was revealed. Amber had been promoting the brand on her social media channels to her 2.8m followers. Since the announcement in September, her posts have generated a buzz around Amber’s “inclusive” collection which has attracted early shoppers to the website.

Boohoo chief executive officer John Lyttle commented in a press release: “Amber is a perfect fit for the MissPap brand and we are delighted to have her on board.”


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Maisie Alice, 20, is a Birmingham university student who cites social media and reality television as two of the main motivators for buying from fast fashion companies.

“A lot of my outfit inspiration has come from social media,” she says. “What motivates me most to shop with particular brands is the price, and TV shows like Love Island which collaborate with them.”

Maisie has already bought clothes from a collection from the Boohoo brand PrettyLittleThing, endorsed by the second-placed Love Island contestant, Molly-Mae Hague. It was “a great use of marketing because I probably wouldn’t have bought a lot of the collection if I’d only seen it [on the website],” she says.

“Knowing her name is attached to it definitely makes me feel more inclined to buy it.”

Celebrity editor of Grazia Magazine, Guy Pewsey argues that the appeal of using ex-Islanders over more notable celebrities, is that they are more relatable to their target demographic.

“I think consumers have woken up to the fact that when they see Gigi Hadid endorse a dress it will not look as good on us as it will on her,” he says. “Amber is a real woman, she feels authentic. Consumers want the girls next door, not a goddess we worship but we know we can never be.”

news Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Gigi Hadid models for Lavin at Paris Fashion Week

“Saint Laurent won’t sign Amber, but young consumers want to see someone like Amber Gill endorse affordable clothes,” he says.

“Amber would buy a Boohoo dress and wear it on a Friday night. You can pay Kate Moss £1m but no one is going to believe she is buying those clothes.”

Boohoo is not the only fashion company to try to surf the Love Island wave. This summer Asos launched a collection with Islander Ovie Soko, and Manchester-based retailer Isawitfirst launched an official fashion collaboration with the show, including providing outfits for contestants to wear.

BBC Image copyright ASOS
Image caption Popular Love Island star Ovie Soko also launched a collaboration with Asos this summer

Mr Pewsey believes that fast fashion companies are choosing to sign Love Island stars due to their marketing appeal after they first leave the Island, but believes their marketability has a time limit.

“From a marketing standpoint, it’s smart to launch MissPap with Amber. You don’t have long to sign people like Amber or Molly.”

“Love Island is now coming back in January [for its first ever winter series, filmed in South Africa], which means as a company you do not have long to get someone from the series on board and then make the most of their marketability,” he says.

“In January, Amber will find other endorsements if she’s smart and has a good team behind her, but it’s unlikely she’ll remain the face of MissPap for very long when the new winner comes out of South Africa.”

This is certainly reflected through Boohoo’s sales which were reportedly strongest at Boohoo-owned NastyGal and PrettyLittleThing. Both brands are renowned for their collaborations with popular social media personalities such as Paris Hilton, Jordyn Woods and Kourtney Kardashian.

Stella Claxton, a senior lecturer in fashion and sustainability at Nottingham Trent University, believes there is a psychological reason why influencer-backed marketing strategies have become a success.

“Young people are very social media conscious. Their desire is visually influenced by images shared on social media,” she says.

“Consumers believe if you look like the people from Love Island, you feel cool or influential. There is a tribal nature to it.”

BBC Image copyright PrettyLittleThing
Image caption Items from Molly-Mae Hague’s PrettyLittleThing collaboration sold out instantly prompting a second drop in October

Although fast fashion brands have found financial success through this strategy, Ms Claxton argues it is not an environmentally conscious way of producing clothing.

“Fast fashion brands are able to be successful as they can try a style and mass produce it,” she said. “They focus on trends and are able to meet the customers needs for ‘newness’.

“If Kim Kardashian wears something on Instagram today, they can mass produce it tomorrow.”

“We have a market where these garments are aimed at young women who gain pleasure from buying clothing,” Ms Claxton adds.

The outfits sell for prices which their target customers can afford to buy multiple times a month. They consume significant resources to make and distribute, but are not designed to last.

“The actual value of the item is very low in quality terms and in emotional terms to them. Brands want customers to consume more to keep up with trends – which generates a big waste problem.”

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Progressives Are Divided On How To Approach The Impeachment Process

Algorithmia AI Generated Summary

When House Speaker support for an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump last week, some of the most pointed criticism of her leadership evaporated in an instant.

Need to Impeach, the nonprofit funded by billionaire Tom Steyer that had been a thorn in Pelosi’s side for the better part of two years, only had good things to say.

“People will look back at this moment as the day Congress stood up for democracy, American values, and our constitution and fought back against the corrupt, criminal president, Donald Trump,” Nathaly Arriola, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Need to Impeach has now turned its attention to vulnerable Senate Republicans, whom it announced on Tuesday it will be pressing to back impeachment with over $3 million in television and digital advertisements. 

But beneath the praise and comity, there is some disagreement among progressive groups as to how to proceed.

At one end of the debate is a smaller group of progressive activists and experts worried that the impeachment inquiry risks at once dragging on too long and covering too few of the president’s infractions.

And on the other side of the spectrum are groups like Need to Impeach, as well as officials, activists and strategists who see no need, for the time being, to exert additional public pressure on congressional Democrats.

“We’re getting it right here,” said Greg Pinelo, a veteran Democratic media strategist who helped develop advertisements for both Obama campaigns. “You can argue about whether we should have got here sooner. But facts on the ground change ― and the facts on the ground right now suggest a really focused effort.”

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Speaker Pelosi, right, addressed reporters alongside Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Her support for an impeachment inquiry has largely quieted critics.

Not everyone is content though. Heidi Hess, who runs the progressive phone company Credo’s issue campaigns at Credo Action, expressed disappointment in Speaker Pelosi’s press conference on Tuesday. 

Hess is calling for a timeline for completing the investigation and a deadline to vote on articles of impeachment that are reported out. She fears that allowing the process to drag on could give Trump an opportunity to sow more chaos and diminish public support for the process.

“Unless we have deadlines, then for us, that is still them telegraphing that what [Democrats] want is to stall,” she said.

Credo Action, the nonpartisan, pro-democracy nonprofit Free Speech for People and several other groups have called for the House Judiciary Committee to report out articles of impeachment against Trump by Nov. 1 and a vote on those articles by Nov. 15. They are also demanding an immediate end to the current congressional recess in the interest of expediting the process.

Another priority for these liberal critics is impeaching Trump on the broadest possible grounds, which they worry Democratic leadership is not adequately interested in. Credo Action is part of a coalition of liberal groups and legal experts, under the intellectual leadership of Free Speech for People, calling for Trump to be impeached for at least 12 different reasons. The reasons, which the groups outlined in a July 30 letter to the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York, fall under the broad categories of abuse of power, corruption of the electoral process, promotion of racial hostility, and corruption and self-enrichment.

“We remain deeply concerned that Congress is not addressing this constitutional crisis with the urgency that’s required at the moment,” said John Bonifaz, an attorney and co-founder of Free Speech for People. 

Bonifaz helped develop the coalition’s list of impeachable offenses and advised Democratic Reps. Al Green of Texas and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan on their earlier efforts to initiate impeachment inquiries. He worries that failure to hold Trump accountable for the full scope of his misconduct could again set an “extremely dangerous precedent” for presidential impunity.

Hess cited the possibility of a repeat of the articles of impeachment against then-President Richard Nixon. Congress chose not to issue articles of impeachment related to Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia, which Hess and other left-leaning activists regard as a mistake that helped future presidents prosecute foreign interventions illegally.

Pelosi has not set any explicit deadlines for the House Judiciary Committee to report out articles of impeachment. But at a press conference on Wednesday, the speaker warned that refusals by the Trump administration to cooperate with the House’s investigation into Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter would be regarded as obstruction of justice. 

“We do not want this to drag on for months and months, which appears to be the [White House’s] strategy,” Pelosi said. 

A lot of the work on the other misconduct has already been done. I think [impeachment] will be broad and fast. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)

Pelosi has also said that House committees investigating other elements of Trump’s potential misconduct will report their findings to the Judiciary Committee, leaving open the possibility that impeachment will cover a broader range of matters.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, stood out among his colleagues with a public appeal last week for Congress to postpone its two-week recess in order to work on the impeachment inquiry. He predicted that focusing on a broad range of Trump’s misdeeds is compatible with a rapid process. 

“A lot of the work on the other misconduct has already been done,” Khanna told HuffPost. “I think [impeachment] will be broad and fast.” 

But assurances like those are not enough for Hess, Bonifaz and some other outspoken progressives who worry that the absence of firmer commitments from Pelosi right now, when the pressure to placate the grassroots is perhaps greatest, raises the risk of a looser approach going forward. 

The trouble for these Pelosi critics is that many of their normally allied organizations and activists are thus far unwilling to publicly criticize the speaker’s management of the process. 

Spokespeople for the Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Indivisible all expressed support for an impeachment process that is both prompt and broad in scope without joining in criticism of Pelosi.

Meagan Hatcher-Mays, who runs Indivisible’s democracy program, shared Hess’ commitment to a rapid process, as well as a wide-ranging inquiry. “Every day that he’s in office is a new threat to our election security,” she said. But Indivisible is not setting out a hard deadline; Hatcher-Mays said the group hopes it nears completion before Thanksgiving. 

Similarly, PCCC spokeswoman Maria Langholz called Pelosi’s approach of having committees of jurisdiction submit to the Judiciary Committee the results of their investigations into Trump “smart.”

And Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, which rivals Credo Action and PCCC in online organizing heft, suggested a middle path in terms of the scope of the impeachment articles ― something shy of 12, but more than just one about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine.

Chamberlain said he is “not really concerned” with the speed of the process so far, but he would like to see the House move on it quickly so it can proceed to the Senate. The sooner it gets there, he argued, the sooner it can be used against Republicans senators up for reelection in swing states.

“The Senate has the most to lose here,” he said.

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Giuliani: I Provided Documents State Department Watchdog Gave To Congress

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani told CNN on Wednesday night that some of the documents in a packet the State Department inspector general handed to Congress just hours earlier had come from him. The revelation was the latest twist in the ongoing turmoil over Trump’s call with the leader of Ukraine in July. 

CNN’s report came the same day the State Department’s watchdog, Steve Linick, sent an urgent message to Congress saying he needed to meet and give them copies of documents related to the Ukraine call. Democrats were reportedly prepared for some kind of a bombshell but instead were handed a 40-page packet of documents that included conspiracy theories and news clippings. The pages also referenced a slew of names related to the scandal: Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, Hunter Biden and George Soros.

The packet had a return address that matched that of the Manhattan office of Giuliani, who later confirmed that he was responsible for their production, telling The New York Times they came from a “professional investigator who works for my company.”

The documents prompted consternation from top Democrats, who issued public calls that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explain how such misinformation made it to the top levels of government. Lawmakers also said the packet only provided more evidence that the White House had “sought to use the machinery of the State Department to further the President’s personal political interests.”

“We are now in possession of this packet of propaganda and disinformation,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told Reuters on Wednesday. “The real question is where did it come from and how did it end up in our lap?”

The chairs of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees released a joint statement earlier Wednesday expressing concerns about the “urgent” briefing. 

The statement said the meeting with Linick raised “troubling questions” about alleged efforts by the Trump administration to target former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden and Yovanovitch, who was removed from her ambassadorship in May after Trump allies accused her of participating in an alleged Ukrainian attempt to support Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“The documents provided by the Inspector General included a package of disinformation, debunked conspiracy theories, and baseless allegations in an envelope marked ‘White House’ and containing folders labeled ‘Trump Hotel,‘” the chairs’ statement read. 

Giuliani told CNN that he had “routed” what he said was an “outline” of allegations against Biden and Yovanovitch to Pompeo’s office in March. He also reportedly sent details about his talks from earlier this year with top Ukrainian prosecutors who helped give him information for his outline.

“They told me they were going to investigate it,” Giuliani told CNN.

The attorney and former New York mayor has become one of the central figures in the political whirlwind over Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, on July 25. During the conversation, Trump repeatedly pressed his counterpart to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company for five years. Before the call, the Trump administration had been withholding military aid from Ukraine.

A whistleblower complaint about the call mentioned Giuliani multiple times, and Trump’s lawyer has said in television interviews that he met with Ukrainian operatives. But in recent days he’s moved to minimize his role in the scandal, saying he got involved only at the behest of the State Department.

House Democrats have been moving quickly to investigate the Ukraine call as part of their impeachment inquiry while Trump has raged about the effort. This week the president called the inquiry a “coup” and has been refusing to answer some reporters’ questions about the information that’s come out of transcripts of the call.

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How Fossil Fuel Companies Are Killing Plastic Recycling

So many things we buy come packaged in plastic containers or wrappers that are meant to be used once, thrown away and forgotten ― but they don’t break down and can linger in the environment long after we’re gone. It’s tempting to think that we can recycle this problem away, that if we’re more diligent about placing discarded bottles and bags into the curbside bin, we’ll somehow make up for all the trash overflowing landfills, choking waterways and killing marine life.

For decades, big petrochemical companies responsible for extracting and processing the fossil fuels that make plastics have egged on consumers, reassuring them that recycling was the answer to our trash crisis. Just last month, Royal Dutch Shell executive Hilary Mercer told The New York Times that the production of new plastics was not the problem contributing to millions of tons of plastic waste piling up in landfills and drifting in oceans. Instead, she suggested, the problem is one of improper waste disposal. Better recycling, she implied, is the solution.

“We passionately believe in recycling,” Mercer told the Times.

But plastic recycling is in trouble. Too much of the indestructible material exists in the world, more than our current recycling networks can handle. And the very same companies that say recycling is the answer are about to unleash a tidal wave of fresh plastics that will drown recyclers struggling to stay afloat.   

“We’ve been trained [to think] that we can purchase endlessly and recycle everything,” said Genevieve Abedon, a policy advocate at the environmental nonprofit Californians Against Waste. “There is no way that recycling can keep up.” 

Big oil, natural gas and chemical companies have poured an estimated $200 billion into more than 300 petrochemical expansion projects across America from 2010 to 2018, according to the American Chemistry Council. Fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil and Shell, as well as plastic makers like SABIC and Formosa Plastics, are building and expanding at least five ethane cracker plants in Appalachia and along the Gulf of Mexico. The facilities will turn ethane, a byproduct of natural gas fracking, into polyethylene pellets, which can be made into a variety of products, including milk jugs, shampoo bottles, food packaging and the air pillows that protect your Amazon orders.

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Many consumer goods companies would rather purchase newly made plastic resin pellets than those made from recycled materials.

Already, over 350 million metric tons of new plastics are produced worldwide annually. In the next decade, production will jump 40%, spurred in part by the new manufacturing plants, according to an analysis by The Guardian. 

Current rates of recycling are dismal. In Europe, about 30% of plastics are recycled, but the U.S. recycles only 9.1%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about all our networks can manage without significant improvements and investments in recycling technologies and infrastructure.

Recycling will suffer when the new manufacturing plants begin pumping out more virgin plastic, said Ted Siegler, a resource economist at waste management company DSM Environmental Services Inc., based in Vermont. 

“They will hurt recycling,” he said.

The Making Of A Recycling Emergency

In theory, more plastics should be good for recyclers. But the industry is already in the midst of a crisis.

America has grown accustomed to shipping low-value trash overseas for recycling. This practice began on a large scale in the early 2000s. Last year, that system fell apart, leaving recyclers scrambling and consumers confused.

The country never developed recycling networks that would handle all kinds of plastics, according to Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the nonprofit National Stewardship Action Council. Instead, local recyclers process only the stuff they can make money off of. Most high-value plastics, like soda bottles (which come stamped with a “1” symbol) and milk cartons or shampoo bottles (which bear a “2” stamp), are pulled out and recycled domestically. Everything else ― that’s anything stamped with the numbers 3 through 7 ― remains unsorted and gets shipped as “mixed plastics” to other countries, where they can still turn a profit. (Things like potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers are practically worthless and aren’t considered recyclable. People still try to mix them in with their household paper and plastic, much to the consternation of recyclers.) 

“We did the world a disservice by not doing our due diligence and saying it’s worth paying American citizens to do the work and keep the jobs and the recycling infrastructure solid at home,” Sanborn said.

Plenty of other countries export their recyclables as well. Until recently, China had been the world’s largest buyer of recyclables, taking 40% of America’s scrap paper and plastic. At the end of 2017, however, China blocked shipments of foreign recyclables, causing mixed plastics (numbers 3 to 7) and paper to pile up at ports around the world. Prices for these scrap materials tanked, wiping out what little value the plastics had to begin with.

In the wake of China’s ban, with no place for mixed paper and plastics to go, curbside collection programs from Maine to Michigan to Florida were suspended. Reports have emerged from cities and towns across the country about collected recyclables ending up in landfills and incinerators.

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Recyclers across America have had to cancel service or scale back after China’s clampdown on imports of contaminated foreign waste. Some have had to send recyclables to landfills. 

The latest big blow to recycling came in early August with the closure of rePlanet, California’s largest chain of recycling centers where consumers could return empty containers and redeem bottle deposits. Even though plastic bottles still have some value in the States, it’s not what it was before the China ban.

“The scrap value of recycled materials has dropped across the board for every material, some much worse than others,” explained Martin Bourque, who heads up the Berkeley, California-based Ecology Center, home to one of the country’s oldest curbside recycling programs. 

For recyclers like rePlanet, which made money only on the materials it sold, low scrap prices make it difficult to cover operating costs. In rePlanet’s case, there were other factors at play: For one, a state-run mechanism designed to help recyclers ride out hard times didn’t adapt quickly enough to save the company. 

But there was another problem, too: Consumer goods companies don’t necessarily want to source recycled plastics for their products, not when they can save money by purchasing freshly made plastic.  

“It’s so much cheaper to buy new, virgin resin,” Bourque said. 

A Glut Of Virgin Plastics

Since oil and natural gas are the raw materials for making plastic, the price of virgin plastic is tied to oil and natural gas prices, which are currently low. Natural gas, in particular, is now very cheap due to the fracking boom in the U.S. Remember the ethane crackers getting built in Appalachia and the Gulf of Mexico? They will only make virgin plastic cheaper, according to Siegler. 

“All the new plants that are coming online are just going to continue to drive the price of virgin plastics down, which will encourage consumption on new plastic and discourage recycling,” Siegler told HuffPost.

Some contend that virgin plastic prices are already artificially low. 

“The government has intervened and subsidized virgin materials extraction and made it impossible for recycling to compete,” said Sanborn. 

Companies that are building new plastic manufacturing plants are getting help from the government, too. Oil and gas giant Shell is building a massive complex in Pennsylvania that will open in 2020 and produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene every year. The plant will also receive $1.65 billion in tax breaks over 25 years. A Shell official told the Northeast U.S. & Canada Petrochemical Construction Conference in 2016 that without this fiscal package, the company may not have gone ahead with the project. (The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

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Part of a petrochemical plant being built on the Ohio River in Monaca, Pennsylvania, for the Royal Dutch Shell company. The plant, which is capable of producing 1.6 million tons of raw plastic annually, is expected to begin operations by 2021.

Recycling efforts, from collection to sorting to reprocessing, have not received comparable subsidies, Sanborn said.

Some of the big fossil fuel and chemical corporations are funneling money into projects meant to improve recycling ― though not nearly as much cash is going toward this effort. In January, 28 oil and gas, chemical and plastics companies, including Exxon, Shell, SABIC and Formosa, formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and collectively pledged $1.5 billion over five years for improving recycling infrastructure. That amount is far short of what’s needed to see real change start to ripple across the recycling industry, Siegler says. 

Petrochemical companies, if they wanted to, would need to make investments of up to $20 billion every year for a decade to make sure that 50% of global plastics get recycled or reused, according to a McKinsey analysis. The Alliance said in a statement to HuffPost that it hopes its initial investment will encourage governments, banks and other big corporations to spend more on recycling. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Conservationists still believe that recycling is a worthwhile endeavor, just not a silver bullet to fixing our plastic waste crisis.

Recycling definitely has to be a part of the solution,” Genevieve Abedon, of Californians Against Waste, told HuffPost.

Siegler years ago proposed a plastic tax to pay for much-needed recycling infrastructure. Charging plastic producers just a penny a pound ― roughly a 1% tax, since most resins cost a dollar a pound ― would raise $4 billion to $5 billion per year, Siegler estimated. 

“The price of plastic is too low,” he told HuffPost. “It doesn’t reflect the environmental damage associated with plastic.” 

His idea has not caught on.

A landmark pair of bills in the California Legislature would help recyclers compete with virgin plastic producers by boosting demand for recycled plastic. The measures seek to force manufacturers to use more recycled materials in their plastic products.

“If we can increase the demand for recycled plastic, investment will then flow through the whole recycling chain,” said Kara Pochiro, of the Association of Plastic Recyclers.

Though the bills failed to pass before the end of the legislative session, they’ll be eligible for a vote again next year. 

Consumer goods companies could make a big difference by signing long-term contracts with recyclers for material, Pochiro says. This would help insulate recycling companies from fluctuations in the commodity market and potentially stop more collapses like that of rePlanet. 

Last November, beverage maker Nestle Waters North America signed a multiyear contract with CarbonLITE, a company that recycles and produces food-grade PET plastic. With this guaranteed demand, CarbonLITE is now building a new facility in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, that is expected to recycle more than 2 billion used bottles every year. 

There are things that shoppers can do, too. 

“Buy recycled,” Pochiro recommended. 

Sanborn said that consumers who don’t like the plastic packaging they receive with their products should lay it all out on the floor, take a photo of the plastic, upload it to social media, tag the company that sent it to them and complain. 

“Be really loud and squeaky. The squeaky wheels get greased,” she said. 

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‘The Fast And The Furious’ Director Rob Cohen Accused Of Sexual Assault

Four years ago, Hollywood director Rob Cohen invited 28-year-old Jane to a business meeting in Manhattan to discuss collaborating on a TV pilot. Cohen chose the cigar lounge where they met and ordered her a drink, even though she didn’t ask for one, Jane would later recall. He then moved the meeting to a restaurant that happened to be situated right by the hotel where he was staying, ordered a carafe of wine and encouraged her to drink some more, she said. 

By the night’s end, Jane said she found herself regaining consciousness in Cohen’s hotel room, naked, while the director sexually assaulted her. She jolted out of bed and threw up.

Medical records reviewed by HuffPost show that Jane sought treatment for sexual assault after meeting with Cohen. Two people close to Jane confirmed that she told them about the assault both immediately after it happened and again about a year later.

HuffPost also reviewed text messages between Jane and Cohen, sent about two-and-a-half years after the alleged assault, in which she told him, “The night we met, you really hurt me and fucked me up.” At the time, Cohen wrote back that he was “so sorry to hear this.” He later told HuffPost, through a lawyer, that he was apologizing for what he believed was a dispute over compensation for her work on the TV pilot. 

In response to a detailed list of questions from HuffPost, Cohen’s lawyer Martin Singer sent a 13-page letter denying any wrongdoing.

“The proposed Story is an outrageous defamatory hit piece, making extraordinarily offensive assertions that my client engaged in heinous sexual misconduct, criminal wrongdoing, and other inappropriate behavior, which are vehemently disputed and denied by my client,” wrote Singer, who is well-known in Hollywood for representing Bill Cosby and other men accused of sexual misconduct in that cutthroat industry. Singer cautioned HuffPost against “publishing this Story in an effort to feed the ‘Me Too’ media frenzy with this salacious Story.”

Cohen is best known for directing the first “Fast and the Furious” film back in 2001, which spawned a $5.8 billion global franchise with seven subsequent installments and two more planned. He directed “xXx,” released in 2002, and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” released in 2008, along with a number of other frenetic films packed with handguns and high-speed car chases. 

In February, his daughter, 32-year-old Valkyrie Weather, publicly accused him of molesting her when she was a toddler. Weather, who is transgender, also recalled trips with Cohen to visit sex workers in overseas shooting locations when she was a teen and still presenting as a boy. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, the director described his daughter’s allegations as “categorically untrue.” 

The molestation allegation was not new to Cohen — Weather’s mother brought it up in divorce proceedings more than two decades ago. Cohen, through his lawyer, told HuffPost that his being awarded sole custody of Weather in the divorce proceedings demonstrated that the allegations were not valid. At the time, evaluators could not determine whether abuse took place, according to documents reviewed by HuffPost. 

Jane contacted Weather this year shortly after reading Weather’s public statement. Jane wasn’t interested at the time in making her story public, but the two women had worked together, and Jane wanted Weather to know she wasn’t alone. She agreed to talk to HuffPost as a way of supporting Weather and has now decided to go public with her experience.

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Cohen met Jane, who requested anonymity to protect her privacy, in early 2015 to discuss her role consulting on that TV pilot with his daughter Weather. The director had offered to use the industry contacts he’d accumulated in his four-decade-long career to shop the pilot around to the networks. Emails reviewed by HuffPost confirm that Cohen collaborated with Jane and Weather on the television project, although it never came to fruition. A major network representative also confirmed to HuffPost that she had discussed the project with Cohen.

Jane felt weird about the meeting with Cohen almost immediately. Cohen flirted with her and volunteered details about his sex life, she recalled. But she needed the money and was excited about the career opportunity, so she tried to ignore his comments.

Although Jane’s memory of the later parts of the evening is incomplete, there are details she remembers vividly. She remembers feeling suddenly alone with Cohen in the large restaurant after the other diners had trickled out. She remembers starting to feel “fuzzy.” She remembers him leaning over to kiss her cheek and thinking that was strange. She remembers being at another bar with Cohen — she distinctly remembers the checkerboard-patterned floor. 

The next thing she remembers is waking up naked, she said. She remembers Cohen’s face in her crotch and his fingers inside her. She had not consented to any of this.

She made her way to the bathroom to vomit and stumbled back to the bed. Cohen tried to penetrate her, but he stopped when she told him to, she said.

Meanwhile, Jane’s boyfriend at the time was starting to worry, he said in an interview with HuffPost. Jane had told him about the meeting with Cohen and said she expected to be home around 10 p.m. By that time, he hadn’t received any text messages from her in a while. He thought it was strange for an older man (Cohen was then in his mid-60s) to turn a business meeting with a 28-year-old woman into a late night of drinking, but he knew the show was a good opportunity for his girlfriend — who was struggling to find work — so he tried to be supportive. 

Jane finally arrived at her boyfriend’s house in a taxi around 1:30 a.m. He wanted to know what had happened that night, but they were both tired and just went to bed. When they woke up in the morning, Jane was distant. Her boyfriend still remembers her “thousand-mile stare.” 

At first, Jane didn’t know what to make of her experience with Cohen, she told HuffPost. She had a vague uneasy feeling about the night before but her memory of the encounter was hazy. 

The night after the alleged assault, Jane went out to dinner with her boyfriend. Once they were seated, Jane’s gaze settled on the checkerboard floor. She panicked as memories of the previous night flooded into focus. Unable to conceal her anxiety, she told her boyfriend what had happened after her meeting with Cohen. 

The fact that Jane says she vividly remembers being assaulted but has a hazy recollection of other parts of the evening is not unusual, Patricia Resick, a psychiatry professor at Duke University, said in an interview. Jane would not have been able to form any memories during the time she was unconscious, Resick noted. And even when she was conscious, she would have no reason to remember parts of the evening that did not seem unusual or dangerous.

Jane told HuffPost that she was a social drinker at the time and does not recall consuming enough alcohol to black out or lose consciousness. “It did not feel like being very drunk,” she said.

Within a matter of weeks, Jane went to a health clinic to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Medical records reviewed by HuffPost show she sought treatment as a victim of sexual assault. Jane told the medical professional who treated her that she continued to work on show development and communicate with her alleged assailant, medical records show. 

Cohen recalls meeting Jane at a bar in 2015 to discuss the television project, but he denies being in a hotel room with her or sexually assaulting her, Singer wrote. According to his lawyer, Cohen also denies that Jane was unconscious in his presence and claims that Jane left immediately after their meeting ended. 

After the health clinic visit, Jane tried to move on. She still wanted the TV project to work out. And she hoped that what Cohen did to her was a one-time mistake by a man of an older generation, rather than part of a pattern of predatory behavior. Maybe he felt deep regret, she thought. Maybe no one had told him about the importance of confirming consent. But the assault continued to weigh on her, she said. 

In 2016, more than a year after the incident, Jane’s current boyfriend — who didn’t yet know about her experience with Cohen — made a joke about one of the “Fast and the Furious” movies while they were waiting for a train. Jane winced at the joke and her boyfriend could tell he’d said something wrong, he recalled in an interview. Jane told him that she had been raped by Cohen but that she didn’t like talking about it. She asked him not to tell anyone.

hearing all this shit about harvey is really hard and i can’t stop thinking about what you did. i keep wondering if you even know or care how much you hurt me. im guessing no. Jane, in a text message to Rob Cohen after the Harvey Weinstein story broke

Then, in October 2017, The New York Times and The New Yorker exposed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decadeslong pattern of sexual misconduct. The news made it even harder to put Cohen out of her mind. She was frustrated that she was still affected by him, even years after the assault, she said. The next month, she decided to confront him. 

“The night we met, you really hurt me and fucked me up. hearing all this shit about harvey is really hard and i can’t stop thinking about what you did. i keep wondering if you even know or care how much you hurt me. im guessing no,” Jane texted Cohen, whose number HuffPost confirmed. “Anyway, im not tryina be in the news or anything, i don’t want anything from you, but an apology would be nice.” 

Cohen texted her back about an hour later. “I’m so sorry to hear this,” he wrote, according to texts reviewed by HuffPost. He asked if he could call her the following day and she agreed. 

When he called, Cohen apologized for causing her pain but framed the incident as a misunderstanding between two people who had drunk too much, Jane said. At the time, she wanted to believe that was true.

Shortly after the phone call, Jane recounted the conversation with Cohen in text messages to her former boyfriend — the one who had been waiting for her to return home the night of the alleged assault. Jane told her ex-boyfriend that Cohen didn’t “challenge [her] account” and “seemed to understand that he needs to be careful about consent especially when drunk in the future,” according to the contemporaneous messages reviewed by HuffPost. 

She felt a little better after the call, she told her ex. She felt like she had passed the guilt on to Cohen. She didn’t want her name in the news and she didn’t think “canceling” him would help her. She just wanted him to understand what he had done to her so that he wouldn’t hurt anyone else. 

Asked by HuffPost about his apologetic text to Jane, Cohen claimed he’d thought she was talking about money. “My client recalls receiving an odd text or email from [Jane] inferring that she had been taken advantage of, which my client understood to be a complaint that she had never gotten paid for consulting on the defunct project,” Cohen’s lawyer Singer wrote. “Significantly, my client categorically disputes that [Jane] said anything to him during that call about any alleged sexual assault.” 

Presented with a screenshot of the text conversation between Jane and Cohen — in which Jane referenced “the night we met” and Harvey Weinstein — Singer said that “nothing in the alleged text exchange you provided is inconsistent” with Cohen’s explanation of events.

Earlier this year, Jane learned she wasn’t the only person with sexual assault allegations against Cohen. On Feb. 21, Cohen’s daughter Weather accused him of having used her body “for his own sexual gratification” when she was 2 years old. Weather posted her statement on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit ― where Jane eventually found it. 

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Valkyrie Weather in a recent photo. 

She always had the sense that she had been sexually abused as a young child, Weather told HuffPost, and it was a feeling that confused her since she couldn’t recall a specific incident of abuse. That feeling grew more acute as she got older, particularly after she came out as transgender and started working with a therapist. In April 2017, when Weather was 30, she decided she needed to ask her mother directly. She wasn’t comfortable discussing it over the phone, so she reached out to her mom on Facebook Messenger. 

“Was I raped?” she asked her mother, Dianna Mitzner. 

“When you were a toddler,” Mitzner wrote back, “I walked into the bathroom you were in the bathtub with him he was usu g [sic] your body to masturbate.”

Cohen denied the allegations when Weather confronted him via email days later. “NONE OF THAT WAS TRUE,” he wrote in an email, which HuffPost has reviewed. “It was SHE who had you on top of her naked body in the bath tub when I came home unannounced.” 

Cohen offered a more measured statement when Weather went public with her story this year. “I hope and pray that one day, my child will come into the realization that no matter what anyone says or tries to convince her was the case when she was a child, it is both untrue and unimaginable,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in February. 

When Mitzner brought up the alleged bathtub incident during her divorce from Cohen in the early 2000s, he denied the allegations but did not accuse Mitzner of being the abuser. He also made no mention of abuse by Mitzner in his communication with HuffPost. 

After a yearslong custody battle, Weather was sent to live with Cohen in Los Angeles, which had more schooling options than the rural area where her mother resided. Weather chose to move back in with her mother less than a year later, she told HuffPost. 

Through his attorney, Cohen pointed to the custody outcome of the divorce proceedings as vindication. Because there were no other witnesses, HuffPost could not independently corroborate Mitzner’s version of events. But to Weather, her mother’s description of the abuse rang true. It felt like the answer to a question she had been struggling with for most of her life. And it resonated with her memories of her father thrusting his pelvis in front of her face when she was a child and taking her to see sex workers in Thailand and the Czech Republic when she was a teenager.

The “narrative that I was somehow tricked into believing he abused me, that I was too young to remember my experiences at that age, falls short when talking about a barely adolescent child in Prague and Bangkok,” she told HuffPost.

Weather felt it was important to come forward because she suspected her father had mistreated others. “My greatest hope is that others who have been hurt by Rob Cohen feel that they are able to come forward as well,” she wrote in her statement earlier this year. 

When Jane saw Weather’s post on Reddit, she was angry that she had convinced herself that her experience with Cohen was an anomaly. 

Oh, what the fuck, she thought.

By then, the television project had fizzled. Jane and Weather were no longer in regular contact but they still occasionally swapped podcast recommendations or movie trailers. Jane had never told Weather about being assaulted by Cohen because she didn’t want to damage Weather’s relationship with her father. And she still didn’t want to go public with her story. But she did want Weather to know she wasn’t alone.

“Hey,” Jane wrote on Facebook Messenger.

“I kinda never wanted to tell u cause i thought it’d be super awkward for u and i couldn’t imagine how it’d be helpful, but, uh me, as well.”

Do you have information you want to share with HuffPost? Here’s how.

Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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At Least 2 Movie Theater Chains Ban Masks At ‘Joker’ Screenings

DENVER, Sept 26 (Reuters) – The Landmark Theaters chain will ban costumes and masks for moviegoers during screenings of the film “Joker,” it said on Thursday, following concerns expressed by families involved in a 2012 mass shooting during a Batman film in Colorado.

The Los Angeles-based chain, which runs 52 theaters in 27 markets, said it wanted customers to enjoy the film as a “cinematic achievement.”

“But no masks, painted faces or costumes will be permitted into our theaters,” it said in a statement to Reuters.

The film opens in theaters on Oct. 4.

Landmark joins the nation’s largest movie chain, Kansas-based AMC Theatres, which has banned masks in theaters since the Colorado massacre that killed a dozen and wounded scores, and re-affirmed that ban.

AMC, which runs more than 650 cinemas, reminded customers this week that while it allowed costumes, it did not allow masks.

“Guests are welcome to come dressed in costume, but we do not permit masks, face paint or any object that conceals the face,” it said in a statement widely reported in the media, including Variety.

Landmark did not give a reason for its ban.

But it follows a letter from the families of some victims of the shooting at a 2012 showing of the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, to Warner Bros., the studio behind the “Joker,” expressing concern.

Some of those at the midnight screening in the packed Aurora theater had been wearing costumes. The mass shooting at the Century 16 Theater multiplex owned by Cinemark USA Inc killed 12 and wounded 70.

The gunman, James Holmes, is serving multiple life sentences after being convicted of mass murder, despite pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

The new film depicts the mental breakdown of the Joker character, the nemesis of Batman in various movie, television and comic book adaptations, that leads to violence.

The families’ letter also urged Warner Bros. to end political contributions to candidates who take money from theNational Rifle Association and to fund gun violence intervention programs.

In response, Warner Bros. issued a statement of sympathy for the victims and their families, Entertainment Weekly said.

“Our company has a long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora, and in recent weeks, our parent company joined other business leaders to call on policymakers to enact bipartisan legislation to address this epidemic,” WarnerBros. said, media reported.

But the movie does not endorse real-world violence and does not hold up the Batman villain as a hero, it added.

Los Angeles police aim to step up visibility during the film’s opening weekend.

“The Los Angeles Police Department is aware of public concerns and the historical significance associated with the premiere of the Joker,” it said in a statement to Reuters.

“While there are no credible threats in the Los Angeles area, the department will maintain high visibility around movie theaters when it opens.”

Aurora police have said Cinemark will not screen “Joker” at the Colorado multiplex, where they continue to provide enhanced security.

“We recognize this release may cause concern for the families, friends, first responders and beyond,” police said in a statement on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, and additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Christian Schmollinger)

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Controversial As It May Be, ‘Screen Time’ Makes Me A Better Mom

Before I became a parent, I vowed to do (and not do) a lot of things. My daughter was going to be breastfed until she was 1, and she’d eat all-natural, organic, homemade meals. She would never use a binkie and would rarely touch a bottle. Screen time? She would be limited to 30 minutes a day. 

Of course, my plan seemed fail-proof. I was 29 when I conceived my daughter: a work-from-home, stay-at-home mom. And my husband supported me. We agreed today’s kids were too distant and distracted. We were “those people,” the ones who judged the parents who broke out the iPads at dinner. Plus, we had read all the studies. Childless me knew best — or so I thought. Or so I believed. Until we had kids and “dinner dates” and things to do on our own.

You see, it is easy to live in a disillusioned little bubble. Before children, I was smug. Scratch that: I was stupid and naive. And while I felt guilty, at least in the “early days” — the first time I used the television to distract my daughter, I felt like a bad parent; I convinced myself I was a “bad” mom — these days I believe the opposite to be true.

Screen time makes me a better mom. 

The first time I used the television to distract my daughter, I felt like a bad parent; I convinced myself I was a ‘bad’ mom — these days I believe the opposite to be true.

Now I know what some of you might be thinking: That’s ridiculous. That’s absurd. Only crappy parents rely on Netflix and cable to care for their kids. Plus, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly suggests parents limit media use. Kids under 5 should watch no more than 60 minutes each day, and those under 2 should watch no TV … at all. And while I do not dispute or refute the experts — these guidelines are in place for good reason — there are things science and studies fail to consider.

My daughter is a Type A personality. She is high-strung, high-stressed and always on the go. She attends school every morning, dances almost every evening, and her weekends are spent running, both miles and errands. Some days I need to help her destress and decompress.

Like most 6-year-olds, she gets worked up and “amped up” and watching a cartoon (or two) gives her a chance to shut off her mind.

But there are other reasons — more selfish reasons — I let her watch TV. I am a stay-at-home and work-from-home mom. I have virtual meetings to attend and deadlines to meet, and giving her screen time gives me “me” time. I am able to write while she catches up on ”She-Ra,” “Sesame Street” and ”DC Super Hero Girls.” And while this may sound bad, at least on paper, I believe I am teaching my daughter responsibility. Through my actions, she knows women work. Hard. I am helping my daughter become more independent. When Mommy works, she gets her own snacks, drinks and toys, and I am teaching my daughter about balance. When the episodes are over, I’m done. I put my phone down and laptop away and we play.

I am active, engaged and fully present.

I am also calmer. News writing can be a fast-paced, demanding industry but setting boundaries — for her and me — has helped me unwind.

I believe I am teaching my daughter responsibility. Through my actions, she knows women work. Hard. I am helping my daughter become more independent.

There are other benefits, too. Television helps me talk to my child on her level. “Sesame Street” has spurred conversations about race, anxiety, diversity and disability. I’ve used Oscar the Grouch to explain that we cannot change another’s attitude but can love them in spite of it. He is also a key example of why you cannot (and should not) judge a book by their cover, and countless “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” songs have worked their way into my home. I’ve found Daniel’s “When You Feel So Mad” song particularly useful.

In short, television has opened dialogues between me and my daughter. Cartoons have helped me be more engaged with my kids.

The TV has taught my daughter. Thanks to “Super Why,” she knew her alphabet at 2, and thanks (again) to “Sesame Street,” she was able to count to 20 by age 3. And I use the screen as a motivator. My daughter earns episodes or “tablet time” when she completes chores, e.g., making her bed earns 15 minutes while doing her homework gets her 30.

TV time also gives us a chance to cuddle — something I fully appreciate as the mom of a high-energy kid — and to make memories. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a Halloween tradition, and we always spend Christmas week watching “Rudolph,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “The Grinch.”

Television has opened dialogues between me and my daughter. Cartoons have helped me be more engaged with my kids.

That said, I have a few “rules.” During meals, the TV is off. The dinner table is a screen-free zone. All programming must be supervised. I will not let my daughter watch a new series unless I can watch an episode with her first, and on weekdays, she is limited to two hours max, and that’s what works for me and my family.

To each their own because I know better. I know not to judge other parents and how they parent. 

So at the end of the day remember: It doesn’t matter what our kids watch or eat, it matters what they do, what they say, what they feel and how they act, and only you know what is best for them. Only you can decide what works for your family, your child and you.

Have a compelling first-person story or experience you want to share? Send your story description to pitch@huffpost.com.

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The Problem With ‘Bachelor’ Stars Dating Real Celebrities | Betches

I’ve been a loyal member of Bachelor Nation for longer than is psychologically recommended (according to my therapist). In fact, I’m so invested in them that I spend almost seven months out of every year chained to my TV for two hours on Monday nights, just to watch these people find love while simultaneously bringing dishonor to their family name. I then meticulously record this aesthetically-pleasing car crash in a weekly recap so that we can all remember that one time Chris Harrison had to explain to Colton which hole to put it in for posterity purposes. One could even argue that watching The Bachelor has been my longest relationship to date. 

And, like any other toxic relationship in my life, I’ve put up with my fair share of bullsh*t. Getting rid of Jorge The Bartender on Bachelor in Paradise in favor of Wells, who is about as much a mixologist as I am a person with good credit? Fine. Letting Chris Harrison negotiate a new contract that allows him to speak seven words or less per episode, despite the fact that he is the glue that holds that insane asylum together? Also fine. Giving Nick Viall not one, not two, not three, but FOUR separate seasons to con the American public into thinking he could ever be a catch? Fine, fine, fine. But what I won’t stand for—what I absolutely refuse to allow—is Bachelor Nation infiltrating the lives of real celebs. 

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, recently there has been a number of former Bachelor contestants vying for the hearts of actual celebrities, like Tyler C and Gigi Hadid, Demi Lovato and Mike Johnson, and as of last week, potentially Nick Viall and Rachel Bilson. And these are just the most recent couplings! 

When I first found out about Tyler C hooking up with Gigi Hadid, I was disappointed and a little upset. My friends, on the other hand, were ecstatic. “Good for Tyler!” They’d say. “He deserves only good things!” Look, I’m not going to pretend that watching 30 hours of TV footage of the man makes me an apt judge of his character, but I was inclined to agree. Good things? Sure. But going from dating a girl who names her zits and regularly butchers the English language to dating one of the highest-paid models in the world, who also happens to be an international superstar? Are you f*cking kidding me, Tyler?

Are

Bottom line? I felt lied to. I had just spent weeks this summer watching Tyler profess his love for Hannah B, a girl who is the definition of “hot mess” in Urban Dictionary, only to find out that what he was really searching for in a partner was 108 pounds of hairspray and coconut water. Part of those feelings of betrayal came from the fact that these guys are supposed to be somewhat attainable. These are supposed to be guys who would theoretically be into us, the viewer (assuming we are under a size 4, have at least 10K followers on Instagram, and look professionally airbrushed at all times). AND GIGI F*CKING HADID IS NOT LIKE US, THE VIEWER, IS SHE TYLER C?!

Furthermore, I’ve always considered the stars of Bachelor Nation to be their own sad, demented sorority/fraternity, that real stars—people with certifiable talents and ambition that goes beyond which Instagram sponsorship will pay for their Revolve credit card—would look down upon. Bachelor contestants are willing to debase themselves on national television, wear chicken suits and cry about being seagulls instead of pigeons. Why would a person who has won Emmys for acting or hit the Billboard Hot 100 want to date a person whose bio can be summed up as “social media participant” or “former high school athlete”?

Take Mike Johnson and Demi Lovato, for instance. Do I love them both? Yes. Do I want both of them to be happy? Also, yes. But Demi is a rockstar, a huge advocate for mental health, and has a world-wide fanbase, while Mike… has a really great smile? Calls women “queens”? Seriously, what does this guy do for a living and is he really good enough for MY queen Demi? Their budding relationship feels mismatched and off-kilter. That’s not to say some relationships can’t be mismatched, but this feels like something more than that.

And for the most part, it’s the men of BachelorNation who are sliding into the DMs of A-list stars. You don’t see Bibiana hitting up Michael B. Jordan’s IG comments section with flirty emojis or Kristina Schulman going on dinner dates with Chace Crawford. Which brings me to the real reason I’m so offended by these recent couplings: why is this phenomenon so one-sided?

We’ve talked at length about how The Bachelor men dating A-listers won’t be great for the franchise. It already felt like a real suspension of reality that these conventionally attractive, mildly successful men weren’t able to find love in real life and that’s why they came on the show. Over the years, it’s felt like less of the contestants are actually there to find love with the lead and more of them are there to find fame and careers on Instagram. And now the female leads must contend with the likes of Demi Lovato and Gigi Hadid potentially sliding into the guys’ DMs post-production, apparently. 

Hannah

Aside from Lauren Bushnell’s recent engagement to country music singer Chris Lane, the majority of the ladies in Bachelor Nation are single or are dating in the Bachelor pool of potential suitors, but the men aren’t playing that game anymore. While Nick Viall serenades Summer Roberts on his podcast, Caelynn felt so desperate for a happy ending that she settled for a man who lives in his van.

More and more I watch this show and think, “man, she’s settling” and I’ve realized that’s not the kind of reality TV I want to watch anymore. This used to be a show about real people looking for love. Over time, that’s shifted into cosmetically enhanced, famous-adjacent people looking for love, and I was fine with that too. But I can’t stand for this new turn of events. I don’t watch The Bachelorette or Bachelor in Paradise to find out how a good looking dude from Florida somehow managed to bag a supermodel. I watch this show to root for the women, for them to find themselves and maybe find love too.

Hannah B set a new precedent  for Bachelorettes: that we can be funny and messy and say the wrong things and STILL be desirable—still be wife material. But watching her men declare that’s what they want in a wife and then go out and date international superstars in the next breath is enraging and upsetting. If this is what the next generation of Bachelor looks like, then count me out. 

Images: ABC; Giphy (2)

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NYT Publisher Details Troubling Moment U.S. Refused To Help Reporter In Danger

The publisher of The New York Times said Monday that the Trump administration would not help one of its reporters who was about to be arrested in Egypt two years ago, saying the episode was just one of many instances of the U.S. retreating from its “historical role as a defender of the free press.”

In a scathing op-ed about the growing threat to journalism around the globe, Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger wrote that in 2017 one of the paper’s reporters, Declan Walsh, was facing “imminent arrest” by government officials in Egypt. While such calls are alarming, Sulzberger said they’re standard for the paper, which has hundreds of reporters working in more than 160 countries. Under President Donald Trump, however, things took a shocking turn when an unnamed diplomat called Times leadership.

“This particular call took a surprising and distressing turn,” Sulzberger wrote. “We learned the official was passing along this warning without the knowledge or permission of the Trump administration. Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out. The official feared being punished for even alerting us to the danger.”

Read the full editorial over at The New York Times.

The publisher continued to note that rather than counting on the U.S. government to help protect Walsh from arrest, the Times instead reached out to Irish diplomats, who were at the reporter’s home within an hour and escorted him onto a flight before he could be detained (Walsh is Irish).

“Those of us leading The Times find it hard not to worry, knowing we have colleagues on the ground where war is raging, disease is spreading and conditions deteriorating,” Sulzberger continued. “But we’ve long taken comfort in knowing that in addition to all our own preparations and all our own safeguards, there has always been another, critical safety net: the United States government, the world’s greatest champion of the free press. Over the last few years, however, something has dramatically changed.”

After the editorial was published, many in the media called it “stunning” and “chilling.”

The Trump administration has for years waged an information war against the American media, moving to cast the free press as “fake news” as soon as a newspaper or television network releases a story critical of the president. The Times notes Trump has used the phrase “fake news” more than 600 times on Twitter and said many other countries with far fewer protections for the press have since taken up the slogan.

“My colleagues and I recently researched the spread of the phrase ‘fake news,’ and what we found is deeply alarming: In the past few years, more than 50 prime ministers, presidents and other government leaders across five continents have used the term ‘fake news’ to justify varying levels of anti-press activity,” Sulzberger wrote.

The shift in terminology has already had real-world consequences, including the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the directive of the Saudi government. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 252 reporters were imprisoned last year for doing their jobs. And 16 have already been killed in 2019.

Sulzberger said Turmp’s disregard for the First Amendment has effectively “given foreign leaders permission to do the same.” But he issued a call for Americans and those abroad to work to protect journalism at a time when it’s needed most.

“The true power of a free press is an informed, engaged citizenry. I believe in independent journalism and want it to thrive. I believe in this country and its values, and I want us to live up to them and offer them as a model for a freer and more just world,” he wrote. “The United States has done more than any other country to popularize the idea of free expression and to champion the rights of the free press. The time has come for us to fight for those ideals again.”

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Downton Abbey, like plantation houses, delivers fantasy over brute reality | Michael Henry Adams

The American south may seem a long way from the estates of England, but in both places a veil of caprice covers harsh truths

culture

The son of a Scottish immigrant who worked as a servant, Donald Trump could hardly wait for his banquet at Buckingham Palace. A seat next to Elizabeth II conferred a sense of accomplishment little else could.

To many, such behavior from an American president appeared downright unseemly. But how could we scoff? How else have so many of us been eagerly awaiting the return of Downton Abbey?

TV and film can be transporting, giving us glimpses of lives we can only imagine imperfectly. Decades before Julian Fellowes creation came forth to conquer America, PBS offered a steady diet of British clotted cream. Royals, aristocrats, castles, servants, sex. Such is the stuff of which Downton daydreams are made.

We make our own fantasies too. As a boy, watching Gone With the Wind, I saw plantation houses for which I thought I could sell my soul. It seemed such an alluring way of life.

No wonder people complain of being lectured about slavery when they visit Savannah or Charleston. They, like me, have imagined themselves in the masters place. No work to be done, fanned on white-pillared porches, sipping cooling drinks, pondering pleasures to come. Is it surprising so many, confronted by the nightmare behind the reverie, recoil in unacknowledged shame?

I came to this crossroads early, no longer able to overlook the anguish of my ancestors. I saw exquisite architecture and ideas of gracious hospitality but knew both to be built on the worst criminality.

Fortunately, thanks to green England, I was able to transfer my affections. The Forsyte Saga, Upstairs Downstairs, Brideshead Revisited, The Admirable Crichton. The Shooting Party, The Remains of the Day, Gosford Park. They became my refuge and taught me much. Entranced by an elegant aesthetic, reading countless books, even attending the Attingham Summer School to study famous country houses, I sought an elusive loveliness, untroubled by oppression.

I know I never escaped. I had only embraced a new quagmire of contradictory caprice.

At the very lightest level, all this means I know that Downton the whole phenomenon, the TV series, the film, the traveling exhibition, the merchandising is a ludicrous and ahistorical fancy.

I know, for example, that contrary to what we see on Fellowes screen, non-royal butlers did not wear white waistcoats and that waiters did not wear dinner jackets at all. I know ladies were never gloved while drinking or eating, candles were never used on a luncheon table and candle shades, now found only in royal residences, were in fact universal. For enthusiasts like me, its such esoterica which makes Downton so enjoyable.

But as in my love affair with the plantations of the American south, there was a wriggling worm in the bud.

How alike our ruling classes are. How nefarious the sources of their vast wealth, on which such beautiful homes were built.

In the UK, to take just one example, a house as sublime as Harewood, near Leeds, altered by Robert Adam, was funded by the infamous triangular trade. Even English currency came to be defined by slavery. With abolition by Britain in 1833 came compensation to 46,000 slave owners for 800,000 liberated Africans, until the banks were rescued in 2009 the largest government bailout in history.

There were other sources of income. Indian opium, imposed on China. Farms in Ireland. The wealth behind many of the estates of England was no less tainted than that which built plantations in Virginia, Alabama and Georgia.

Fellowes was careful to give his great house a more benign foundation. The Earl of Grantham, we are told, derives his affluence straight from his Yorkshire estates.

Hit hard by agricultural depressions, he takes an option not available to his tenants: he marries the daughter of an American millionaire. That said millionaire is an untitled Jew, a dry goods merchant from Cincinnati, is among storylines meant to show us what a good egg the earl really is, an unlikely egalitarian in tweeds. But hes an imprudent one too: by investing his wifes millions in a Canadian railway that goes bankrupt, Grantham places all his loved ones in peril.

Worse occurred in real life, of course. Much worse. Take the brutal, polluting mills and mines, like so many plantation fields, that often lay just outside the gates.

Of course, Downton isnt real. So, to stay in the realm of art, consider Shipley, the neo-Palladian masterpiece DH Lawrence invented for Lady Chatterleys Lover. There, Squire Leslie Winter talks of the miners who work his pits with all the condescension a planter might have for his slaves.

Chatting with the Prince of Wales, Winter quips: The miners are perhaps not so ornamental as deer, but they are far more profitable.

HRH replies: If there were coal under Sandringham, I would open a mine on the lawns and think it first-rate landscape gardening. Oh, I am quite willing to exchange roe-deer for colliers, at the price.

In the real world, many fine homes have been lost. Their deaths, like their lives, are all about the money.

In Lawrences book, the squire dies and his heirs tear down his hall to build semi-detached villas for workers. Lady Chatterley is shocked to learn such people are as capable of love as she is. One suspects Fellowes, the author of a novel called Snobs, no less, might feel a similar shock if told us ordinary people who love Downton, his facile but beautiful and seductive creation, are capable of sincere feeling too.

We are. And while we are equipped to daydream of such luxury for ourselves, or to pick nits with Fellowes staging while we swoon at his stars in their gorgeous firmament, we are also the heirs to those who did all the work, those who built the Downtons and the plantations.

We know a profound truth behind all their costly beauty and misery. Every stately home, in every land, belongs to us too.

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