We need more women in power. In media, government, entertainment…


Remember what a complete jerk Matt Lauer was at this 2016 candidate forum supposedly about military and security issues, interrupting Hillary Clinton constantly and badgering her about emails while tossing softballs to Donald Trump?

It’s not about sex. It’s all about power.

Matt Lauer is out at The Today Show after what NBC called a “review” of sexual misconduct at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. His actions were a “clear violation of our company’s standards,” says an NBC story.

Details about Lauer’s behavior — the alleged sexual assault of a co-worker — are still emerging. There are now accusations from several women and a report from Variety that Lauer, once he had a potential conquest in his office, pushed a button under his desk that let him lock his office door without getting up. The now-former NBC star says he is “truly sorry” and that he feels “embarrassed and ashamed” (ya think?). Lauer is just the latest man to be fired for inappropriate behavior, although at the rate these sexual predators are being uncovered, he may soon be yesterday’s news himself.

And — like clockwork! — hours later, the next man to be accused and fired was humorist Garrison Keillor, longtime host of “A Prairie Home Companion” on Minnesota Public Radio and a writer who became a columnist for The Washington Post News Service and Syndicate. MPR dropped him over alleged “inappropriate behavior” without detailing what that behavior was. Keillor later claimed that the incident in question, in which he touched a woman’s bare back underneath her shirt, was accidental. Ironically, Keillor’s latest op-ed in the Post stated that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken shouldn’t resign because of his reported indiscretions. After the Keillor news, the op-ed was removed from the Post’s online front page.

Before that same day was over, there was also a report that a senior producer at CNN, Teddy Davis, was dismissed over allegations from three women about inappropriate behavior. David Sweeney, the chief news editor at NPR, resigned one day earlier over similar allegations by at least three female journalists.

At the same time, Donald Trump, who admitted sexual assault in the Access Hollywood tape (although he apparently is delusional enough that he thinks he can now deny it was him on the tape), is still president. Roy Moore, with his history of stalking and allegedly assaulting teenage girls, has retaken the lead in polls in the Alabama Senate race, although some new polls have him tied or even behind Democrat Doug Jones. And still in office are the aforementioned Franken and Rep. John Conyers, although there were reports that the Michigan congressman, while not resigning, may not run for re-election after numerous sexual harassment claims.

This problem of sexual harassment and assault is systemic, and not just in media, government, or the entertainment world. It’s because too many men in power think basic rules of decency shouldn’t have to apply to them anymore. They earn salaries in the millions and receive applause and adulation in public, often based on ratings or election wins. Matt Lauer looked out on his fan base every morning through the glass window of The Today Show studio.

Because most of my work experience has been on newspapers, I’m going to concentrate on media.

I’ve worked in newsrooms for most of my career, from my college paper to a suburban weekly to dailies in medium-size and large cities to a national weekly. Work environments certainly have improved from the days on my first full-time job, when I was forced to write wedding and engagement notices while a male college friend who started the same day I did covered the police beat. But there wasn’t one workplace where some kind of sexism wasn’t present. Somewhere in all of these organizations, there was sexual harassment from male bosses and male co-workers. (I do feel the need to add that I’ve worked with many men who have always acted professionally and never crossed any line.)

I’m fortunate in that I never experienced direct assault or serious harassment at work. But there were often crude jokes. Teasing that went way too far. Comments from bosses about the appropriateness of women’s apparel. Ogling and “rating” women journalists by their male colleagues, either in the newsroom itself or loudly in bars after work while those same women were present. Reporters who refused to take no for an answer when the young female intern wouldn’t go out with them. Guys in the composing room (yes, it was a long time ago) who stood a little “too close” while you were checking a page. And reports of one male colleague rubbing his naked penis across surfaces that he knew women would be touching next (how juvenile can you get?).

The situation didn’t really start changing until more women started becoming the bosses. And it won’t change completely until there are more women editors, producers, anchors, and more.

Longtime journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Marie Lipinski, former editor of the Chicago Tribune, has written several pieces about the issue of sexual harassment in journalism in Nieman Reports, a website and quarterly print publication about leadership in journalism. Lipinski serves as curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Her latest has the headline, “When Women Stand Up Against Harassers in the Newsroom: We don’t need more training — we know what to do.”

The reason it is so easy for women to believe the avalanche of accusations about harassment and sexual abuse is that most of us are members of a reluctant sorority. We don’t need to have suffered the worst to have seen that men can abuse with impunity. And it is not coincidental that our industry — where harassers recently have been toppled at National Public Radio, CBS, Fox, NBC, The New Republic, and elsewhere — employs so few women in the most senior roles. The fix is not sexual harassment training, but more people in leadership who already know better.

The trouble is, too many men don’t know better. Along with the Lipinski piece, Nieman Reports had another story, headlined, “The News Industry Has a Sexual Harassment Problem. #NowWhat? How newsroom leaders can create workplaces that truly support women.”

The issue facing journalism is not simply about preventing sexual harassment; it’s about also acknowledging that this behavior is often a part of a sexist and unequal work environment. Newsroom cultures need to change in ways that both stop sexual harassment and foster supportive work environments for women. …

While the press has rightly focused on the misdeeds of prominent men in the media industry, the news industry must also address the less high-profile forms of belittlement, sexism, and harassment many women have come to experience as routine. …

Part of the solution: Put more women in newsroom leadership positions. … The value of women at the top is not only to shape coverage, but also to shape culture.

Makes perfect sense. So how are newspapers and networks doing in putting more women in positions of leadership? As it turns out, not too well.

The Women’s Media Center was started in 2005 by feminist activists Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem. This is how it describes its mission:

The Women’s Media Center is a progressive, nonpartisan nonprofit organization working to raise the visibility, viability and decision-making power of women and girls in media and, thereby, ensuring that their stories get told and their voices are heard. To reach those necessary goals, we strategically use an array of interconnected channels and platforms to transform not only the media landscape but also a culture in which women’s and girls’ voices, stories, experiences and images are neither sufficiently amplified nor placed on par with the voices, stories, experiences and images of men and boys.

In March 2017, the Women’s Media Center published its latest report — its fifth — on “The Status of Women in U.S. Media.” While there has been progress, the number of women in positions of power in media is still low and has actually dropped in some areas.

Men still dominate media across all platforms—television, newspapers, online and wires — with change coming only incrementally. Women are not equal partners in telling the story, nor are they equal partners in sourcing and interpreting what and who is important in the story.

Most certainly, we salute media advances toward gender and race parity that are noted in this report. Yet, we are deeply concerned about areas where the media lurched backward. …

At 20 of the nation’s top news outlets, men produced 62.3 percent of news reports analyzed during a studied period while women produced 37.7 percent of news reports. … Additionally, in the broadcast news sector alone, work by women anchors, field reporters and correspondents actually declined, falling to 25.2 percent of reports in 2016 from 32 percent when the WMC published its 2015 “Divided” report.

Is it any wonder why coverage of the 2016 election was so slanted against Hillary Clinton?

When men hold all or most of the power, too many of them see no downside to doing whatever they want, because they don’t fear consequences. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on the Access Hollywood tape. “You can do anything.”

As a friend wrote on Facebook:

As a heterosexual male I am completely dumbfounded by this behavior on the part of otherwise incredibly intelligent, talented people. I think I agree it’s a power thing. Some men just think rules stop applying to them in a certain level of power. And I’ll bet it begins with them being treated differently by the people around them. Then they think they are somehow special and they lose their normal self controls.

Maybe we should stop treating men at the top like they’re special. And let women run things for a change.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 3, 2017.

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