NBC News, Megyn Kelly reach separation agreement
By DAVID BAUDER
AP Media Writer
Saturday, January 12
NEW YORK (AP) — NBC News announced its professional divorce agreement with Megyn Kelly late Friday, ending an association with the former Fox News Channel star whose attempt to become a network morning television star as part of the “Today” show floundered.
Terms were not disclosed. Kelly was in the second of a three-year contract that reportedly paid her more than $20 million a year.
She’s been off the air since October after creating a furor by suggesting that it was OK for white people to wear blackface on Halloween, and exit negotiations had dragged for two months over the holidays. Even before the controversial commentary, her future was considered limited at NBC News.
“The parties have resolved their differences, and Megyn Kelly is no longer an employee of NBC,” the network said in a statement Friday night.
NBC says she’ll be replaced in the third hour of the “Today” show by anchors Craig Melvin, Al Roker, Dylan Dreyer and Sheinelle Jones.
Her tenure was also a failure for NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack, who lured her from Fox News Channel with the type of big-money contract that was once standard in television news but now is less so with financial constrictions and less viewership. In a sense, Kelly was caught in a no-woman’s land: some at NBC were suspicious of her because of the Fox News background, while her former audience at Fox resented her for tough questioning of Donald Trump on the presidential campaign trail.
While at Fox, her accusations of unwanted sexual advances by the network’s late chief executive, Roger Ailes, helped lead to his firing.
She made news at NBC when interviewing women who accused Trump of inappropriate behavior and spoke with accusers of Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Roy Moore and others, as well as women who say they were harassed on Capitol Hill. The episode with Trump accusers had more than 2.9 million viewers, one of her biggest audiences on the network.
Time magazine, which honored “The Silence Breakers” as its Person of the Year in 2017, cited Kelly as the group’s leader in the entertainment field.
But tough segments on accusations against former NBC anchor Matt Lauer didn’t win her friends internally, as did her public call for Lack to appoint outside investigators to look into why the network didn’t air Ronan Farrow’s stories about Harvey Weinstein and allowed Farrow to take his story to The New Yorker.
When those stories began to fade, Kelly had trouble attracting an audience in the soft-focus world of morning television. She also briefly hosted an evening news magazine that didn’t catch on with viewers.
Kelly made a tearful apology to viewers following her blackface comments, but it proved to be her last appearance on NBC News.
“What is racist?” she said on the show. “Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as a character.”
Critics accused her of ignoring the ugly history of minstrel shows and movies in which whites applied blackface to mock blacks.
It’s not immediately clear what’s next for Kelly. NBC would not comment Friday on whether the separation agreement allows her to write about her experiences at the network.
There’s no non-compete clause, meaning Kelly is free to seek other television work if she wants to.
AP Writer Mark Kennedy in New York contributed to this report.
Technology brings images of Holocaust survivors to life
By JAMIE STENGLE
Sunday, January 13
DALLAS (AP) — Max Glauben was 17 and had already lost his mother, father and brother at the hands of the Nazis when U.S. troops rescued him while he was on a death march from one German concentration camp to another.
The recollections of the Dallas resident who as a Jew in Poland survived the Warsaw Ghetto and Nazi concentration camps are now being preserved in a way that will allow generations to come to ask his image questions. Glauben, who turns 91 on Monday, is the latest Holocaust survivor recorded in such a way by the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. The Los Angeles-based foundation has recorded 18 interactive testimonies with Holocaust survivors over the last several years, and executive director Stephen Smith says they’re in a “race against time” as they work to add more, seeking both a diversity in experiences and testimonies in a variety of languages.
“I thought that my knowledge could cure the hatred and the bigotry and the killings in this world if somebody can listen to my story, my testimony, and be educated even after I’m gone,” Glauben said.
Smith says that while the foundation founded in 1994 by film director Steven Spielberg has about 55,000 audiovisual testimonies about genocides in dozens of languages — the majority from the Holocaust — the interactive technology stands out for allowing museum goers to have a dialogue with survivors.
“It’s your questions that are being answered,” Smith said, adding that the replies, especially on weighty issues like forgiveness can be especially poignant. He says, “You actually see sometimes them struggling to know what to answer.”
So far, the foundation has Holocaust survivors speaking in English, Hebrew and Spanish, and the group hopes to get people speaking in even more languages.
“It’s so powerful when it’s in your mother tongue and you’re looking the person in the eye and you are hearing nuanced language coming back that’s your own language,” Smith said.
For more than a year now, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center has featured the survivors’ images in a special theater. Museum CEO Susan Abrams says that when visitors interact with the images , the impact is often obvious: “People get teary; people laugh.”
“Our audience comes to feel that they know these survivors somewhat intimately because they’re having small group conversation, and in that moment, pretty much everything else fades away,” Abrams said.
The Illinois museum is one of four currently featuring the images. Other museums are in Houston, Indiana and New York . The Holocaust museum in Dallas will start showing them starting in September, after it opens in a new location and with a new name — the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.
The Dallas museum currently brings in survivors to talk to students and has found that’s often the most meaningful part of their visit, according to President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins. This technology ensures that can continue, she said.
“Our survivors are aging, and so in 20 years we won’t have any survivors who are still able to do that themselves,” she said.
Smith said the images can appear on a flat screen or be projected in a way that appears to be three-dimensional. Like Illinois, Dallas is building a special theater so the image will appear three-dimensional on a stage.
Smith said the technology involved is simpler than many people think.
“It’s actually video that responds to human voice commands,” he said. “And all that’s happening is rather than you watching a linear testimony, all the bits of the testimony are broken up, and then when you ask it a question it finds that piece of video and plays it for you.”
JT Buzanga, assistant curator at the Holocaust Museum Houston, said the uniqueness of the interactive testimonies gives visitors a reason to return.
“It’s something that makes the connection that people want to remember and want to come back,” Buzanga said.
Glauben, who has made it his mission to tell people about the Holocaust, helped found the Dallas museum. He says that after he lost his family, he told himself he would “do anything possible to educate the people and let them know what kind of tragedy this was.”
Requests to bring in child brides OK’d; legal under US laws
By COLLEEN LONG
Saturday, January 12
WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of requests by men to bring in child and adolescent brides to live in the United States were approved over the past decade, according to government data obtained by The Associated Press. In one case, a 49-year-old man applied for admission for a 15-year-old girl.
The approvals are legal: The Immigration and Nationality Act does not set minimum age requirements for the person making the request or for that person’s spouse or fiancee. By contrast, to bring in a parent from overseas, a petitioner has to be at least 21 years old.
And in weighing petitions, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services goes by whether the marriage is legal in the spouse or fiancee’s home country and then whether the marriage would be legal in the state where the petitioner lives.
The data raises questions about whether the immigration system may be enabling forced marriage and about how U.S. laws may be compounding the problem despite efforts to limit child and forced marriage. Marriage between adults and minors is not uncommon in the U.S., and most states allow children to marry with some restrictions.
There were more than 5,000 cases of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and nearly 3,000 examples of minors seeking to bring in older spouses or fiances, according to the data requested by the Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2017 and compiled into a report. The approval is the first of a two-step visa process, and USCIS said it has taken steps to better flag and vet the petitions.
Some victims of forced marriage say the lure of a U.S. passport combined with lax U.S. marriage laws are partly fueling the petitions.
“My sunshine was snatched from my life,” said Naila Amin, a dual citizen born in Pakistan who grew up in New York City.
She was forcibly married at 13 in Pakistan and later applied for papers for her 26-year-old husband to come to the U.S. at the behest of her family. She was forced for a time to live in Pakistan with him, where, she said, she was sexually assaulted and beaten. She came back to the U.S., and he was to follow.
“People die to come to America,” she said. “I was a passport to him. They all wanted him here, and that was the way to do it.”
Amin, now 29, said she was betrothed when she was just 8 and he was 21. The petition she submitted after her marriage was approved by immigration officials, but he never came to the country, in part because she ran away from home. She said the ordeal cost her a childhood. She was in and out of foster care and group homes, and it took a while to get her life on track.
“I was a child. I want to know: Why weren’t any red flags raised? Whoever was processing this application, they don’t look at it? They don’t think?” Amin asked.
Fraidy Reiss, who campaigns against coerced marriage as head of a group called Unchained at Last, has scores of similar anecdotes: An underage girl was brought to the U.S. as part of an arranged marriage and eventually was dropped at the airport and left there after she miscarried. Another was married at 16 overseas and was forced to bring an abusive husband.
Reiss said immigration status is often held over their heads as a tool to keep them in line.
There is a two-step process for obtaining U.S. immigration visas and green cards. Petitions are first considered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. If granted, they must be approved by the State Department. Overall, there were 3.5 million petitions received from budget years 2007 through 2017.
Over that period, there were 5,556 approvals for those seeking to bring minor spouses or fiancees, and 2,926 approvals by minors seeking to bring in older spouses, according to the data. Additionally, there were 204 for minors by minors. Petitions can be filed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
“It indicates a problem. It indicates a loophole that we need to close,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told the AP.
In nearly all the cases, the girls were the younger person in the relationship. In 149 instances, the adult was older than 40, and in 28 cases the adult was over 50, the committee found. In 2011, immigration officials approved a 14-year-old’s petition for a 48-year-old spouse in Jamaica. A petition from a 71-year-old man was approved in 2013 for his 17-year-old wife in Guatemala.
There are no nationwide statistics on child marriage, but data from a few states suggests it is far from rare. State laws generally set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, yet every state allows exceptions. Most states let 16- and 17-year-olds marry if they have parental consent, and several states — including New York, Virginia and Maryland — allow children under 16 to marry with court permission.
Reiss researched data from her home state, New Jersey. She determined that nearly 4,000 minors, mostly girls, were married in the state from 1995 to 2012, including 178 who were under 15.
“This is a problem both domestically and in terms of immigration,” she said.
Reiss, who says she was forced into an abusive marriage by her Orthodox Jewish family when she was 19, said that often cases of child marriage via parental consent involve coercion, with a girl forced to marry against her will.
“They are subjected to a lifetime of domestic servitude and rape,” she said. “And the government is not only complicit; they’re stamping this and saying: Go ahead.”
The data was requested in 2017 by Johnson and then-Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the committee’s top Democrat. Johnson said it took a year to get the information, showing there needs to be a better system to track and vet the petitions.
“Our immigration system may unintentionally shield the abuse of women and children,” the senators said in the letter requesting the information.
USCIS didn’t know how many of the approvals were granted by the State Department, but overall only about 2.6 percent of spousal or fiance claims are rejected. A State Department representative said the department is committed to protecting the rights of children and combatting forced marriage.
Separately, the data show some 4,749 minor spouses or fiancees received green cards to live in the U.S. over that 10-year period.
The head of USCIS said in a letter to the committee that its request had raised questions and discussion within the agency on what it can do to prevent forced minor marriages.
USCIS created a flagging system when a minor spouse or fiance is detected. After the initial flag, it is sent to a special unit that verifies the age and relationship are correct before the petition is accepted. Another flag requires verification of the birthdate whenever a minor is detected. Officials note an approval doesn’t mean the visa is immediately issued.
“USCIS has taken steps to improve data integrity and has implemented a range of solutions that require the verification of a birthdate whenever a minor spouse or fiance is detected,” USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said. “Ultimately, it is up to Congress to bring more certainty and legal clarity to this process for both petitioners and USCIS officers.”
The country where most requests came from was Mexico, followed by Pakistan, Jordan, the Dominican Republic and Yemen. Middle Eastern nationals had the highest percentage of overall approved petitions.
Follow Colleen Long on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ctlong1
‘Brave new Canadian:’ Runaway Saudi woman reaches new home
By ROB GILLIES
Saturday, January 12
TORONTO (AP) — Tired but smiling, an 18-year-old Saudi runaway who said she feared death if deported back home arrived Saturday in Canada, which had offered her asylum in a case that attracted global attention after she mounted a social media campaign.
“This is Rahaf Alqunun, a very brave new Canadian,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said arm-in-arm with the Saudi woman in Toronto’s airport.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun smiled broadly as she exited an airport arrival door sporting a Canada zipper hoodie and a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees hat, capping a dramatic week that saw her flee her family while visiting Kuwait and before flying to Bangkok. From there, she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and tweeted about her situation.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would accept Alqunun as a refugee. Her situation has highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home.
Freeland said Alqunun preferred not to take questions Saturday.
“It was a pleasure for me this morning to welcome her to her new home,” Freeland said. “She is obviously very tired after a long journey and she preferred to go and get settled. But it was Rahaf’s choice to come out and say hello to Canadians. She wanted Canadians to see that she’s here, that she’s well and that she’s very happy to be in her new home.”
Freeland said Alqunun commented about the cold weather and she responded that it gets warmer in Canada.
Alqunun flew to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, according to Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn. Alqunun tweeted two pictures from her plane seat — one with what appears to be a glass of wine and her passport and another holding her passport while on the plane with the hashtag “I did it” and the emojis showing plane, hearts and wine glass.
Canada’s decision to grant her asylum could further upset the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia.
In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s Foreign Ministry tweeted support for women’s right activists who had been arrested. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.
No country, including the U.S., spoke out publicly in support of Canada in that spat with the Saudis. Freeland didn’t address what Alqunun’s case would mean to Saudi relations.
“Canada believes very strongly in standing up for human rights throughout the world. We believe very strongly that woman’s rights are human rights,” Freeland said.
There was no immediate Saudi government reaction, nor any mention of her arrival in state media.
Freeland said the U.N. refugee agency found she was in dangerous situation in Thailand and that Canada is glad they were able to act quickly to offer her refuge.
Alqunun’s father arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet with him.
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada’s decision.
“The quick actions over the past week of the government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms. Alqunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case,” the agency said in a statement.
Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the U.N.’s refugee agency to accept Alqunun, Surachate said.
“She chose Canada. It’s her personal decision,” he said.
Australian media reported that UNHCR had withdrawn its referral for Alqunon to be resettled in Australia because Canberra was taking too long to decide on her asylum.
“When referring cases with specific vulnerabilities who need immediate resettlement, we attach great importance to the speed at which countries consider and process cases,” a UNHCR spokesperson in Bangkok told The Associated Press in an email reply on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly.
Canada’s ambassador had seen her off at the airport, where Alqunun thanked everyone for helping her. She plans to start learning more English, though she already speaks it more than passably.
Alqunun was stopped Jan. 5 at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport by immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport.
She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room where he social media campaign got enough public and diplomatic support that Thai officials admitted her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials, who granted her refugee status Wednesday.
Surachate said her father — whose name has not been released — denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight. He said Alqunun’s father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision.
“He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes,” Surachate said.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, cited Alqunun’s “courage and perseverance.”
“This is so much a victory for everyone who cares about respecting and promoting women’s rights, valuing the independence of youth to forge their own way, and demanding governments operate in the light and not darkness,” he said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok contributed to this report.