Thursday, November 2, 2017

Reactions to Kate Burke/Bill Clinton photos show how we treat sexual harassment allegations

Posted By on Thu, Nov 2, 2017 at 1:02 PM

click to enlarge Two photos of Kate Burke, now a candidate for Spokane City Council District 1, with former President Bill Clinton sparked a wave of sexual harassment jokes from friends — and a city councilman.
Two photos of Kate Burke, now a candidate for Spokane City Council District 1, with former President Bill Clinton sparked a wave of sexual harassment jokes from friends — and a city councilman.

In that room, packed with hundreds of Donald Trump supporters, the joke about the photo of Kate Burke, now a candidate for city council, and former president Bill Clinton got plenty of laughs.

City Councilman Mike Fagan, standing on the stage at Spokane Valley's CenterPlace Regional Event Center with Tim Benn — now Burke's city council District 1 opponent — had projected the photo of Burke and Clinton onto the screen.

"You know, I first looked at that picture, and the first thing that came to mind is, 'Hey, where's Bill's hand?'"

When the Inlander reported the joke in our coverage of the Trump event this past March, it was devastating for Burke.

"It was International Women's Day when it came out," Burke says. "And I cried in my office all day."

In this week's issue, the Inlander gets into some of the context that helps to explain why the joke was so hurtful: Burke had felt sexually harassed, propositioned three times in her home by former City Councilman Richard Rush, a man older than her father.

After all, one of the photos of Burke and Clinton that had sparked these sorts of jokes had been taken by Rush. When the Inlander's initial story describing Fagan's comments was released, it sparked a wave of outrage, including an emotional video from Jac Archer, the vice chair of the Spokane County Democratic Party's Central Committee.

Fagan felt a lot of the criticism of him was unfair. Asked about the controversy last spring, he pulled out a sheet of paper in his office to show that similar jokes had been made on Burke's Facebook page, and she had responded with the "😂" emoji.

He struck a similar theme on Facebook last night, though his comment appears to have since been deleted:

"In anticipation of the exquisitely timed article entitled, "Her Too" from tomorrow's edition of the Inlander, if Kate didn't like to be the butt of a joke, then why has she not scrubbed her FB to remove this offending photo, and why did she contribute and comment to being the butt of a joke with her friends ???" 

His comment sparked another round of outrage and caused the Spokane chapter of the National Organization for Women to call for people to speak out about sexual harassment at the City Council forum on Monday night.

Fagan is right, in that a lot of people made similar jokes. Burke had posted two photos of her and Bill Clinton on her Facebook page — one in March and one in November — and they both resulted in a lot of sleazy jokes about Clinton:

"Nicely done! Did he invite you back to his library?" "He' kinda perving on you there. Haha!"
"Show me where on the saxophone he touched you." "Ooo girl, had his hand on the lower back i see haha. Keep making moves." "Did he grab your ass?" "Slick Willy's givin you the eyes!! 😏"

In response to some of the jokes, Burke hits the like button. In response to others, she posts a laughing emoji.

"I mean look how he is looking at you. I'm jellllllyyyyy," one Facebook friend jokes.

"Haha! i have a way with politicians," Burke responds. "What can I say!?"

Just nine days earlier, Burke had been sexually harassed by a politician, the same person who had taken the photo. So why was she laughing at these jokes?

Because she felt obligated, she says.

"What else are you supposed to do when somebody else makes a joke like that, right?" Burke writes. "When your friends are trying to make a joke about something, you almost have to follow along. Or you become That Bitch. The raging person on your period. And you don't want to be that person," she says. "We shouldn't have to be treated like we're bitchy because we don't think something's funny."

One of her friends, however, objected to all the punch lines.

"Ya know, I'm not a fan of all the off-color jokes here (this has nothing to do with whether or not I like Bill)," her friend Sheena Enslow wrote. "I love this picture because I'm proud of you and all that you are accomplishing."

After reading that, Burke says, she deleted most of her laughing comments.

"She reminded me that it's not funny," Burke says. 

But there was another issue at play: Bill Clinton himself.

There's a reason why so many people joke about Bill Clinton.  As with Donald Trump, multiple women have accused Clinton of sexual assault

Juanita Broaddrick accused him of rape. Paula Jones accused him of exposing himself in a hotel room. Kathleen Willey accused hm of groping her without her consent. And that's not even counting his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

But Burke says she wasn't thinking about that. She was starstruck.

"I feel like even if a staunch liberal sees Trump, they'd be like, 'Oh my God, there's Trump!," Burke says. "That's what we do when it comes to famous people. That's what I was doing. I met a famous person, oh my God!"

But Tara Lee, a 53-year-old Kootenai County nurse who's long been involved in Democratic politics, was disturbed to see Burke pick a picture of her and Bill Clinton as her profile picture.

"I messaged her privately, can you please take this down?" Lee recalls saying. "I can’t tell you how offensive this was for me."

She, too, had experienced sexual harassment.

"My very first real job out of college, I was sexually harassed," Lee says. "I left my job because of that, and never told anybody."

It had happened at a mental health counseling center, staffed by very progressive, liberal people. And that's why the scandals surrounding Bill Clinton bothered her so much.

"I was the same age Monica was. He was a frickin’ President of the United States. She was 22 years old," Lee says. "That is abuse of power to the extreme to me. Not only should he have known better, the rest of the country should have known better."

She had a cousin who worked for Clinton.

"After the whole thing came out about Monica Lewinsky, I was so disappointed in my family, and liberals in general, for defending him,"  Lee says.

Like Burke, Lee had also had an uncomfortable experience with Rush — he'd asked to kiss her when he was still married, Lee says. She and Burke talked about it. 

"It’s worse for me when a 'progressive' "nice guy' does it," Lee says about sexual harassment. "Donald Trump knows he’s a pig. How easy is it to call out Donald Trump? I feel much more sympathy for women who have been more subtly abused by supposed 'nice guys.' It’s much harder for them to say anything."

Burke recalls Lee pushing her to change her profile picture with Clinton.

"'You should change your profile picture. I'm offended. This guy is a sexual harasser,'" Burke remembers Lee saying. "I had this weird, 'Oh my God — shit, she's calling me on this. Oh my God."

She changed her profile picture.

"I didn't take into consideration how horrible of a person he's been to his wife, you know?" Burke says.

For Burke, the jokes and zingers sparked by the picture with Clinton weren't the most painful part of dealing with the aftermath of sexual harassment. To her, the feeling that City Council President Ben Stuckart had been dismissive of her experiences hurt more.

But that doesn't mean the Clinton picture jokes didn't bug her.

"It's never fun to be the butt end of the sexual harassment joke. And it's happened to me multiple times because of that picture," Burke says. "There's a guy on Facebook that's calling me a 'whore' because of that picture.

"So I'm the bad person because I got a f—-ing picture with Bill Clinton? He committed those [acts]. I am not a whore."

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...