Networks Blackout Hassan Scandal

Zero coverage from national media on scandal rocking boarding school, Senate race

lawmaker
Maggie Hassan and husband Tom Hassan / AP

National news networks have ignored the sex scandal that has dominated headlines in the New Hampshire Senate race, a Washington Free Beacon analysis found.

The Boston Globe’s March revelation that Gov. Maggie Hassan’s husband Tom hushed up a sexual misconduct scandal while working as principal of the Phillips Exeter Academy has stirred controversy in the Granite State.

The story, published by the newspaper’s Spotlight division—the subject of an Academy Award-winning film of the same name—led to several other allegations of sexual misconduct against teachers. One teacher has been forced to resign. The story has come to dominate headlines and broadcasts of local media, but has so far failed to capture any attention from national outlets despite its role in a key Senate race.

The story appears to have all of the necessary ingredients for significant media attention. Campus sexual assault controversies have dominated headlines in recent years. Hassan is running against freshman Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte in a race that could determine the Senate majority in November. Still, national outlets have failed to cover the story.

The words "Phillips Exeter Academy" appeared in national media markets just three times since the Globe story broke, and zero times in the news division of the largest networks, according to IQ Media, a television-monitoring database. CNBC mentioned the private boarding school in a rerun of Undercover Boss on April 23, while Oprah’s OWN network mentioned it during broadcasts of Undercover Boss: Canada and Family Feud.

Lois Boynton, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism, said national coverage often plays a vital role in unearthing new information in a scandal at a powerful institution like Phillips Exeter, which counts diplomats, politicians, and business executives among its alumni.

"As the spotlight gets bigger it is much more uncomfortable for the organization," Boynton said in a phone interview. "They may realize that they’re going to have to answer questions because these [national] folks are pushing."

The Washington Free Beacon reached out to CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News to ask whether the news divisions were aware of the scandal or had plans to cover it. None of the networks responded.

The national media blackout belies the explosive response the Spotlight story has provoked at the local level. Reporters from Boston to Concord have hounded the school and Gov. Maggie Hassan about their involvement in the case. Local TV news programs have aired more than 200 segments about the scandal in the month following the revelation that esteemed history teacher Rick Schubart carried on affairs with two students in the 1970s and 1980s.

Hassan denied any knowledge of Schubart’s forced retirement in 2011, even though the disgraced teacher confessed to her husband Tom in November. She named Schubart and his wife to her 2012 gubernatorial steering committees months after his resignation.

Hassan has since apologized for not properly vetting Schubart, and Hassan’s husband has apologized for his handling of the misconduct—the teacher was not barred from campus until a second allegation surfaced in 2015.

Boynton said that she was "surprised" the scandal had not garnered national headlines, but added that it faced stiff competition from the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. She said Senate races do not normally make national news until later in the cycle when the presidential nomination process settles down.

"It has the components that we tend to see in a story at the national stage. I’m guessing it’s more of a competition factor than anything else," Boynton said. "You have to let people know because you don’t want the citizenry to be left in the dark on something that impacts their vote."