Eight years ago, Erin Andrews was the victim of a video scandal. Now she’s the victim of something different
Erin Andrews was young, talented and spending a lot of time on the road. During a weekend work trip in the fall of 2008, the ESPN sideline reporter checked into a Marriott Hotel in Nashville, not knowing that her life was about to change. Unbeknownst to Andrews, a man named Michael David Barrett had requested a room next to hers. He altered a hole in the wall and began filming. What happened next was a whirlwind.
Barrett posted the video to the Internet. By the time Andrews found out, the damage was irreparable; it amassed nearly 17 million views, according to one expert. National newspapers began printing stories and running blacked out pictures of the footage on its front pages. Later on, after an interview that aired on ESPN, people began accusing Andrews of orchestrating a publicity stunt to get more attention. She was humiliated, embarrassed, and angry. She was violated beyond reproach. Worst of all, the whole fiasco was likely preventable.
Andrews was in court this week as part of a $75 million dollar lawsuit against Marriott hotels and its partners, claiming that the hotel staff was aware that Barrett had requested the room next to hers and didn’t inform her. Hotel executives deny that the staff did anything wrong, offering up different accounts of what happened. Marriott’s corporate defense counsel, in a brazen display of shaming, went as far as to say that Andrews has benefited both professionally and financially from the exposure.
The protracted legal battle and the details have only recently come into full view. The sportscaster and her family have given sad accounts of their lives after the fact. It’s been emotional. Andrews’s father said his daughter is no longer the fun-loving person she used to be while Andrews says she’s often “scared to meet people.” Even now, she suffers harassment on social media and elsewhere.
Despite such disheartening testimony, there’s a small faction, including Marriott’s defense team, still wondering whether Andrews is simply being opportunistic. Lead defense counsel Marc Dedman decided to put the onus on Andrews, going as far as to say that the incident helped improve her career prospects and her bank account. He brought up Andrews’ recent endorsements by Reebok, Degree deodorant, and Diet Mountain Dew, essentially framing the event as though it were fortuitous. It’s a backwards argument, as if the endorsements should excuse the crime.
This type of baseless victim shaming isn’t unique to Andrews. I have spent the better part of ten years overseeing cases in which defense attorneys have implicitly tried to blame plaintiffs for what amounts to a certain degree of harassment. This is especially true of crash victims, who are often portrayed as reckless, unprincipled storytellers looking to cash big checks. What you won’t hear from defense attorneys is the devastating loss of a job, the uncontrollable debt as a result of hospital bills, and the unshakeable truth that life will never be the same.
These aren’t grandiose platitudes; these are real situations brought on by real events. It takes a low standard to try to prove otherwise. The irony is that corporate defense teams, like the ones Andrews is facing, are the ones playing with money. They’d rather destroy someone’s character before accepting any responsibility or accountability.