Sexual Harassment Hits the 4th Estate
By Alexis McKenna
Many of our nation’s largest and most respected news organizations are no longer just breaking huge stories about workplace sexual harassment — powerful journalists are now the focus of these new stories. Some of the best-known members of the media have fallen from grace following sexual harassment claims. The most recent star reporter to lose his job is political journalist Ryan Lizza who wrote for The New Yorker. He joins NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer, CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose, prominent New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, among many others.
The revelations that these celebrated journalists have been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior towards colleagues is jarring and comes as a shock for many of us who’ve admired their work and trusted their judgment. While the public comes to terms with an avalanche of accusations, many journalists have come forward to say they have experienced workplace sexual harassment and discrimination and it’s about time the predators are exposed.
In the case of Matt Lauer, his squeaky clean “American Dad” TV persona apparently didn’t match his behind-the camera behavior, according to fellow staffers who shared their stories with other media outlets. According to Variety, Lauer made lewd sexual remarks about female colleagues; he once invited a female employee to his secluded office, then showed her his penis; he gave one female colleague a sex toy with “an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her,” Variety reported. Lauer also apparently had a button on his desk which allowed him to lock the door remotely and “welcome female employees and initiate inappropriate contact while knowing nobody could walk in on him,” wrote Variety.
NBC fired Lauer one day after an anonymous NBC employee met with representatives from the network’s human resources and legal departments to report a complaint against Lauer. The ax fell fast following the employee’s credible allegations and executives’ knowledge that several in-depth articles about Lauer’s lewd workplace behavior were about to publish. While NBC executives claim they never received any prior complaints against the superstar co-host, there’s widespread doubt within the news operation that senior management was clueless about Lauer’s tendency to target and harass young staffers. Lauer’s reputation as a womanizer who engaged in workplace romances was an open secret. It’s an all too familiar pattern of a powerful, idolized man manipulating vulnerable, subordinate staffers who are left emotionally and psychologically traumatized.
Like other media organizations, caught flat-footed in the midst of a high profile sexual harassment scandal involving one of their own, NBCUniversal says it will work to remedy the situation by expanding its training for managers and developing more mechanisms for employees to report complaints.
Newsrooms are just as susceptible to workplace sexual harassment as any other industry, and according to a survey conducted by the Columbia Journalism Review, media organizations have a long way to go toward resolving ongoing discrimination and harassment.
A recent survey found that 41 percent of staff journalists said they’d personally experienced sexual harassment in a newsroom (67 percent of which did not report the incident to HR), and 28 percent said they’d witnessed another journalist being harassed (82 percent of which didn’t report the incident to HR). Among freelance reporters, the numbers were 47 percent and 33 percent, respectively. These numbers—which are a small slice of the national and international media community—illustrate the prevalence of sexual harassment.
Many of the journalists who have bravely come forward to report sexual misconduct want to remain anonymous because they fear repercussions from colleagues and employers. If you think you are a victim of sexual harassment here are some important steps to take: Document any incidents of the harassing behavior. Save copies of any evidence, like text messages or emails, that show comments and unfair treatment you’ve experienced. Keep your notes in a safe place. Report the harassment at work and file a complaint with the EEOC. Seek legal advice. It’s also important to remember you are likely not the only one who has been mistreated by the same person. By speaking out, you may be preventing someone else from suffering in silence.
If you have any questions regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, contact our sexual harassment lawyers in California for a free consultation.