Newseum Summit On Sexual Harassment In The Media

Jim Warren’s column for Poynter this morning (below) summarizes the Newseum summit on sexual harassment in the media. The meeting was led by Jill Geisler, an executive with deep Wisconsin roots.


A bracing dose of candor

Near the end of a “Power Shift Summit” on sex harassment in the media, it was left to Politico’s editor to best summarize matters after hours of top executives, rank and file journalists, harassment victims, consultants and academics opining with frequent rhetorical elegance and strategic acumen.

Essential to all, said Carrie Budoff Brown, is “hiring people who aren’t assholes. I will not hire assholes, and if you are a bully, you won’t survive here. Nobody wants to be around assholes.”

This reduction to basics Tuesday was a refreshing moment at the Newseum, which is situated on Pennsylvania Avenue halfway between the Congress and the White House. And since there are so many in both of those buildings — both men and women and probably led by President Trump — who use the A-word about the press, it was at least atypical to hear the press use it about themselves.

“We said asshole more than ever in this room,” concluded Jill Geisler, Loyola University Chicago’s Bill Plante Chair of Leadership and Media Integrity and the event’s very skilled ringmaster. She had that right.

The event’s biggest surprise came from one of the few men in the room, namely Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi. He responded with open skepticism to comments by Carolyn Ryan, assistant managing editor of The New York Times, after she recounted the internal investigation into, and ultimate suspension, of high-profile reporter Glenn Thrush (played by Bobby Moynihan on “Saturday Night Live” before Thrush’s fall from grace).

In the event’s one moment of vague tension, as Poynter chronicled, he questioned whether The Times was as transparent as Ryan intimated in its handling of the whole matter. Ryan conceded that Farhi had raised a good question but noted some understandable issues involving privacy and the confidential nature of some interviews conducted in a seemingly comprehensive probe of Thrush.

There was irony in The Times, of all places, being so chided since it’s been in the forefront of reporting on sexual harassment. It is generally rather more transparent on most matters than most organizations. But it is fallible — and its esteem surely prompts disproportionate scrutiny (and envy).

By comparison, Madhulika Sikka, a media consultant and the public editor at PBS, scoffed at NBC News for its handling of the Matt Lauer debacle. That came during a session in which Charlie RoseGarrison Keillor and Mark Halperin were among the other prominent names alluded to with implicit scorn.

Loren Mayor, NPR’s chief operating officer, didn’t explicitly cite its most prominent bad actor, former top news executive Michael Oreskes. But she didn’t have to as she conceded important lessons she’s learned in the aftermath of the Orestes mess: a) sexual harassment was “the tip of the iceberg” of institutional problems subsequently uncovered, b) the organization is deeply splintered structurally, and c) tough budget times have led to focusing on editorial dollars at the short-sighted expense of other functions, like a thinning human resources department.

There was no shortage of mea culpas, insights and telling anecdotes throughout the day that had an unavoidable preaching-to-the-choir air. There was the duly noted lack of of men among the 150 or so in the room (though there was otherwise a seemingly praiseworthy mix of ages, race, media platforms, ethnicity and sexual orientation).

Joanne Lipman, who recently exited the top editorial post at USA Today to focus on an upcoming book, “That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together,” spoke of the “unfortunate side effects” of not rallying males to the whole evolving national discussion.

In the process, she said, one may “demonize perfectly good men, the good guys.” And then there are those armies of men in the media who are simply “clueless,” unaware of the issues so grotesquely obvious to their female colleagues.


Posted by Tim Morrissey