Are Governor Chris Christie and his legal team guilty of slut-shaming?
That question has been asked repeatedly since the legal team hired by Christie released its findings last week. The report not only exonerated the Governor but raised questions about the personal sexual relationships and emotional state of Christie's former Chief of Staff, Bridget Kelly.
These and other similar references prompted accusations of what is often called slut-shaming or bashing.
For instance, WNYC's Senior political reporter Andre Bernstein told Brian Lehrer that "it was very high up in the report, that Bridget Anne Kelly had had a sexual relationship with Bill Stepien and that he had broken it off." Bernstein went on to say that people close to Kelly feel this is sexist to the extent "that she is being slut-shamed... she is being discredited because of her relationships and her behavior."
Similarly, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow concluded, "What they've printed throughout the report is gossip about what they heard about their relationship and how it was going. They just gratuitously bring that up as they blame the whole thing on her. In real life, this is called slut-shaming."
Bernstein and Maddow are not alone. The Daily Beast's Olivia Nuzzi offered a similar assessment as have many others including Kelly's attorney Michael Critchley who blasted the report for containing "venomous, gratuitous and inappropriate sexist remarks" intended to discredit his client.
What has been even more interesting than the accusations of sexism, however, has been the response from Christie's team. They have defended their actions and the report against charges of slut-bashing on two basic grounds.
First, that they included all relevant facts. Christie made this case at his late Friday afternoon press conference when he said: "The report laid out the facts as the investigators found them. However anybody wants to interpret them is up to their interpretation."
Randy Mastro, the attorney from Gibson Dunn who led the investigation, expounded on this further. Like Christie Mastro why he chose to include details of Kelly's personal life in the report? Several times he has said that it was necessary because it helped "explain a lack of communication" between Kelly and Stepien. Mastro's answer clarifies Christie's point beautifully. They didn't choose to include all evidence and all facts, but only those that help support the governor's case. If those things are sexist, so be it, that wasn't their intention.
In this case, the suggestion that Kelly and Stepien may not have been speaking help support Christie's claims of ignorance about the entire sordid mess. If Stepien knew than it is harder to imagine Christie didn't. But if Stepien was in the dark, as the report makes it sound, it lends further credence to the Governor's claim he was as well.
Second, they have said the treatment of Kelly doesn't amount to sexism because she wasn't the only one attacked, David Wildstein was as well and he's a guy! This, according to Mastro is proof that instead of being sexist, the treatment was deserved. As Mastro explained on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, the bottom line is, this wasn't sexist because they treated David Wildstein in a similar way. "We treated both David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly exactly the same," Mastro said. "They deserved the assessment that we gave both of them about their personal conduct and about their actions."
I think it is fair to say that Mastro and Christie's entire team have been taken aback by the numerous charges of sexism. They truly didn't expect it because as they keep noting, that wasn't their intention. Their interest wasn't in destroying Kelly or her reputation, they werent interested in her at all. Their goal was to defend the Governor, which after all is what they were hired to do. She is just collateral damage, similar in some ways to that "the portly pepperpot" Monica Lewinsky.
The real question is not whether Christie's team is guilty of slut-shaming, of course they are. The question is whether motives matters when it comes to sexist behavior and whether there is ever an excuse or justification for engaging in it? Clearly Christie's team suggests there is -- in this case defending the Governor.