Representative Katie Hill’s brief career in Congress unwound in the same way that Ernest Hemingway described bankruptcy taking place: gradually and then suddenly. On October 18, the right-wing outlet RedState published an article alleging sexual relationships between Hill and two staffers, along with an explicit photograph of Hill. Other right-leaning publications picked up the story, and it began rocketing around Twitter.
Most mainstream publications reported on the situation only after Hill released a statement on October 22, denying the first alleged relationship and decrying the photograph’s release as the work of her “abusive” husband. The next day, Hill released a second statement, acknowledging her “inappropriate” relationship with the second staffer. The House Ethics Committee quickly announced an investigation. On October 24, the Daily Mail released several additional explicit photos. On October 27, Hill resigned.
The Hill scandal has an uncanny feeling. It is both very familiar—the political sex scandal is quite literally a phenomenon as old as this country—and yet placed in a context that makes it appear strange and dreadful. As I wrote in Lawfare before Hill’s resignation, this is the first instance of which I am aware when a politically aligned publication has published an explicit photo of an opposition politician for apparent political gain. It’s both a sign of how ugly the political landscape could become and a reminder of how ugly, for the many ordinary people who have suffered this kind of abuse, the world already is.