At the Fox News Site, a Sudden Focus on Women as Sex Offenders
Posted March 14, 2018 5:07 p.m. EDT
In November, there was the story of a 22-year-old science teacher arrested in Oklahoma for her “sex romp” with a male student. In September, an article told of a 38-year-old teacher who kissed a student and let him “touch her breasts behind Culver’s,” a burger joint in Kerrville, Texas. And in July there was a report on a 54-year-old music teacher in Georgia who, a headline announced, “blames male student, 17, for tricking her into having sex ‘like a used-car salesman.'”
Instances of female teachers sexually abusing male students are rare. But stories on the subject have lately taken up a lot of space at FoxNews.com.
Through the first half of 2017, the site posted fewer than 20 stories on women accused of sex offenses. The new focus started on June 30, when FoxNews.com published an article on “the apparently increasing frequency of female teachers having sex with their young male students.” Over the next six months, the site posted some 98 articles on instances of sexual abuse allegedly committed by women, most of them teachers.
Tales of the unusual suit the tabloid aesthetic of much of the site’s content. What was noteworthy was the spike in coverage of the subject, which began a few weeks after Noah Kotch, a former producer at NBC’s “Today” show, became the site’s editor-in-chief. It also came in the aftermath of numerous sexual harassment scandals at Fox News.
Kotch, 43, said the articles were “of extremely high interest to readers.”
Sex crimes committed by women make up a small share of sexual offenses in the United States, according to the available evidence. But FoxNews.com readers could have been excused for holding the impression that the nation was in the middle of an epidemic of female teachers sexually abusing male pupils.
Kotch, who is also a vice president of digital operations at Fox News, said the coverage was not meant to be proportionate to national crime statistics. “I don’t come into work every day saying it’s important that we place a focus on female sex crimes,” he said. “We don’t cover sex crimes like statisticians. We cover what’s interesting to the reader.”
Nearly 30 percent of the articles posted under FoxNews.com’s “Sex Crimes” category between July and December were focused on female teachers, with many of them promoted near the top of the site’s home page.
Leilah Gilligan of the Center for Sex Offender Management — a project organized by the Department of Justice that was cited in FoxNews.com’s alarm-sounding article in June — said she was not aware of any data showing that the sexual abuse of male students by female teachers was on the rise.
Fewer than 9 percent of reported episodes of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by women, according to the Child Maltreatment Report, an annual survey of crimes against minors produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, when it last released such data in 2013. Franca Cortoni, a professor at the University of Montreal who researches female sexual offenders, said, “There is no evidence whatsoever that suddenly more women teachers are having sex with their male students.”
Much of the FoxNews.com coverage coincided with the rise of the #MeToo movement, which prompted a wave of women to disclose past episodes of sexual harassment. Kotch said the number of posts on the subject since his arrival was small compared with the volume of articles the site has published on sexual misbehavior by men, including film mogul Harvey Weinstein.
“We aren’t shying away from focusing on sexual harassment in the workplace,” Kotch said.
FoxNews.com’s increased coverage of sex crimes allegedly committed by women began two months after the network ousted one of its prime-time anchors, Bill O’Reilly — a move made in the wake of a New York Times report that O’Reilly and the Fox News parent company, 21st Century Fox, had paid $13 million in confidential settlements to women who had complained about his behavior. (A subsequent Times investigation showed that the settlements involving O’Reilly totaled $45 million. O’Reilly has denied the allegations.)
Kotch said the uptick in stories on the subject was not related to Fox News’s own sexual harassment issues, which burst into the open in 2016 with the forced departure of Fox News chairman and chief executive Roger Ailes.
Ailes, who died in May, left the network he had helped create after Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor, sued him for sexual harassment. The anchor Megyn Kelly was another prominent Fox News figure to make an exit, when she went to NBC last year. In her memoir, “Settle for More,” Kelly accused Ailes of making “offers of professional advancement in exchange for sexual favors.”
Weeks after cutting ties with O’Reilly, the network said goodbye to its co-president, Bill Shine, who was accused of having dismissed complaints made by women about Ailes. Kotch, the website editor, was reportedly recruited personally by Rupert Murdoch, who has been the acting chief executive officer of Fox News since Ailes’ dismissal. Before joining Fox, Kotch served as the publisher of Heat Street, a site owned by News Corp. that was absorbed into Dow Jones’ MarketWatch last summer.
The size of the FoxNews.com staff has approximately doubled since Kotch started his new job, according to a Fox News spokeswoman. In January, digital operations moved into new quarters built on the site of Ailes’ old office. Recently, Kotch sent a celebratory memo to his staff noting that FoxNews.com’s January web traffic had for the first time surpassed that of CNN.com.
Many of the Fox News site’s articles on sex abuse involving female teachers have been republished by The New York Post, the Murdoch-controlled tabloid. The Post published at least 90 stories on the subject last year, 30 of them sourced to Fox News. Its main tabloid rival, The New York Daily News, has also covered the topic heavily.
The Times could find no reporting on sexual abuse by female teachers on the sites of Fox News’ television competitors MSNBC, CNN, NBC or ABC. CBS has run a few stories on the issue, including a 61-page slideshow published in July featuring “notorious teacher sex scandals,” as has The Washington Post.
After FoxNews.com published 10 more articles on the subject in early January, there was a drought. But the site returned to the subject with the Feb. 28 story of a female science teacher in Florida who, according to police, “sent nudes” to and “had sex romps” with a 14-year-old boy. It continued the next day, with a story on a female teacher who was arrested in North Carolina and charged with having sex with a “teen boy.”