Political media engulfed by sexual harassment crisis

A wave of sexual harassment allegations is ripping through the White House press corps and broadcast networks, forcing a reckoning on sexism and power dynamics inside newsrooms at a time when the media’s credibility is already under attack.

The list of men in political media accused of sexual misconduct is long and growing by the day.

Glenn Thrush of The New York Times, Charlie Rose of CBS, author Mark Halperin, NBC’s Matthew Zimmerman, NPR’s Michael Oreskes, Vox’s Lockhart Steele, The New Republic’s Hamilton Fish and The Atlantic’s Leon Wieseltier have all been suspended or fired in the last month over varying degrees of alleged harassment or assault.

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New allegations are coming out at a furious pace, in part because of the newfound willingness of news organizations to pursue and publish allegations from women who now feel emboldened to tell their stories, many of them on the record.

Media outlets are devoting tremendous resources to investigating their colleagues and competitors. Lists are circulating in journalism circles of men suspected of misconduct. The flood of allegations about top editors, reporters and executives is expected to continue.

The cascade of claims of misconduct has opened the media to charges of hypocrisy as it covers allegations of sexual harassment and assault from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.

“The news media is supposed to be a surrogate for the public, and most Americans don't like the thought that our surrogates are living in and endorsing workplace environments in which sexual harassment now seems to be too common,” said Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University.

“Further complicating the media's image in all of this is the sanctimonious manner in which the media has covered sexual harassment in other corners of society,” McCall said. “It is difficult for the news media to parade around as haughty overseers of right and wrong in broader contexts of society when they clearly have in-house confusion about first principles of decency.”

Bombshell stories from The New York Times and The New Yorker on producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual assault and harassment of the women who worked for him set off a spate of investigations into men in political media who have long been rumored to have engaged in misconduct.

Halperin, who co-wrote best-selling books on the 2008 and 2012 presidential races and covered the 2016 race on a popular reality show on Showtime, was the first major media figure to go down in the wake of the Weinstein allegations, although Fox News had made headlines before the Weinstein revelations with the ousters of chairman Roger Ailes and anchor Bill O’Reilly.    

On Monday, the stories about top media figures hit alarming new heights with allegations against well-known newsmen at The New York Times and CBS.

Thrush, 50, was suspended by the Times after a first-person account ran on Vox about his boorish behavior toward young women journalists who sought his professional counsel. Thrush rose to prominence for his aggressive reporting on the Trump administration, which earned him a contributing spot on MSNBC and a portrayal on “Saturday Night Live.”

Rose, the anchor of CBS’s hit morning news program “CBS This Morning” and longtime host of an eponymous interview show broadcast on PBS, was fired from both gigs after The Washington Post detailed the accounts of eight women who have accused him of misconduct ranging from groping and improper touching to undressing in front of them.

Thrush and Rose held leading roles in political print media and broadcast news respectively, giving Monday the feel of a watershed moment for an industry that has prided itself on exposing allegations of inappropriate behavior by President Trump and other prominent figures.

CBS acknowledged in a statement that its reputation is on the line.

“CBS News has reported on extraordinary revelations at other media companies this last year,” the network said. “Our credibility in that reporting requires managing basic standards of behavior. That is why we have taken these actions.”

On "CBS This Morning,” fellow anchors Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell grappled with the fallout.

“Charlie does not get a pass here,” King said. “He doesn’t get a pass from anyone in this room. We are all deeply affected, we are all rocked by this.”
Both developments shook Washington and dominated discourse on Twitter, which featured shocked reactions from political journalists as each new round of accusations broke. Many female reporters described top male journalists’ treatment of women as an institutional problem that has long existed as an open secret among industry professionals.


The allegations have sparked debate over the breadth of the problem and why the industry as a whole has been prone to abuse.

Many female reporters said they’d become accustomed to poor treatment. But now, though, in the wake of cascading allegations across industries, they feel that their careers wouldn’t be damaged by speaking out about their experiences.

Journalism is a competitive, male-dominated industry where the right contacts can make or break a career — a fact that could have helped drive and cover up the misconduct, said Steven Livingston, a media studies professor at George Washington University.

“These institutions where upward mobility is a challenge and you have a lot of males in legacy positions of power, it sure looks like they’ve been using those factors to extract payment for passing through the gates,” Livingston said. 

“It’s shocking,” he continued. “The idea that it’s this widespread is mindboggling but totally affirming of what women have been saying for a long time. It’s only now they feel they have the social space or opportunity to speak out about it.”