Fortune Magazine's Most Powerful Women Summit 2019 is down three high-profile speakers due to the continued presence at the event of former Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, whose involvement in implementing President Donald Trump's family separation policy triggered calls for attendees to boycott the forum.
"She should be shunned," tweeted Florida Democratic activist Pam Keith of Nielsen.
Filmmaker dream hampton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile all dropped out of the event in recent days, with hampton and Carlile specifically citing Nielsen's presence as the motivating factor for dropping out. Clinton spokesperson Nick Merill told HuffPost Clinton had a conflict, though an unnamed source claimed the decision was because of Nielsen.
With respect and gratitude. pic.twitter.com/rhKpRYf6gF— Brandi Carlile (@brandicarlile) October 21, 2019
As Common Dreams reported on October 11, news that Nielsen was speaking at the event triggered a boycott movement by Credo Action and other progressive groups.
"Fortune Magazine doesn't seem to get it," Credo Action campaign manager Jelani Drew-Davi said in a statement. "If they had listened to the more than 50,000 grassroots activists who signed a petition calling on them to disinvite Nielsen, they would still have powerful women leaders like Hillary Clinton, dream hampton, and Brandi Carlile attending their event. Instead, Fortune is left with a woman who put children in cages and self-inflicted damage to their reputation."
According to the event schedule, Nielsen is slated to be questioned on her time at Homeland Security by PBS NewsHour journalist Amna Nawaz at 2:35pm on Tuesday. During Nielsen's tenure, she presided over the administration's child separation policy, which the Health and Human Services department revealed Friday ripped 1,250 more children from their parents than was previously reported. That number is expected to be confirmed this week.
The Trump administration is expected to confirm this number in court this upcoming week ... the same week that @FortuneMPW will feature former DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen as a summit headliner.— Gabe Ortíz (@TUSK81) October 20, 2019
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In a statement, Fortune spokesperson Alison Klooster defended the inclusion of Nielsen and said that because powerful women have "strong views about how the U.S. administration has handled its immigration policy," the forum provided the opportunity to confront one of those "effectively responsible" for the policy.
"We brought in Amna Nawaz from PBS NewsHour to do the interview with the clear understanding that this would be a no-holds-barred interview, and that there would be an opportunity for our MPW members to ask questions, as well," said Klooster. "That's how we practice live journalism."
But that reasoning didn't please Credo's Drew-Davi, who called the justification insufficient to provide Nielsen with a platform.
"Fortune needs to see the writing on the wall, stop hiding their bad decision behind the First Amendment, and show real journalistic integrity by canceling the Nielsen session immediately," said Drew-Davi.
Remaining attendees Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), lawyer Anita Hill, former ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, and actress Eva Longoria were under pressure Monday on social media to join hampton, Carlile, and Clinton in dropping out of the event.
.@TulsiGabbard, as someone who strongly supports the #KeepFamiliesTogether Act, why are you helping Kirstjen Nielsen, the person who implemented the family separation policy, normalize what she did to immigrant families at #FortuneMPW? #NoSoftLandings https://t.co/ACzvlhGRZN— Define American (@DefineAmerican) October 21, 2019
In a tweet, lawyer Scott Hechinger expressed his dismay that Nielsen was being honored as a "powerful woman."
"How could they not just normalize her, but lionize her?" Hechinger wondered.