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Protecting Powerful Harassers

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – SEPTEMBER 12: CBS Corporation President/CEO Leslie Moonves (L) and journalist Charlie Rose (R) attend the Hollywood Radio & Television Society’s “A Conversation with Leslie Moonves” Newsmaker Luncheon at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on September 12, 2006 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

Ronan Farrow’s story about the pervasive sexual harassment at CBS — starting at the top — should be read in its entirety. The lengths CBS went to to keep this out of the news are worth emphasizing:

Fager has tried to keep the allegations about the treatment of women at “60 Minutes” from surfacing publicly. According to the Times, in 2015 Fager took over the writing of a book about “60 Minutes” after the original author, Richard Zoglin, began asking people about the subject. In April, as two Washington Post reporters, Irin Carmon and Amy Brittain, were reporting an article about the allegations of harassment at CBS News, including complaints about Fager and Rosen, lawyers retained by Fager threatened to sue the Post, and presented testimonials about Fager’s good character. “There was this ham-handed effort to make women at the show say Jeff was a wonderful person,” one producer said. “It was so obvious we were doing it with a gun to our heads.” Fager’s lawyers also attacked the professionalism of the two reporters. In the end, the paper published a story that included complaints of harassment against Charlie Rose from dozens of women, but not allegations about Fager or Rosen. In a statement, the Post said, “The reporting throughout was vigorous and sustained and fully supported by Post editors. Nothing that met our longstanding standards for publication was left out. Nor did outside pressures, legal or otherwise, determine what was published.” CBS employees told me that they were alarmed by the attempts to kill the reporting. “The hypocrisy of an investigative news program shutting down an investigative print story is incredible,” one told me.

Fager said, “There’s a reason these awful allegations have not been published before—despite the efforts of a few former employees who did not succeed at ‘60 Minutes.’ It is because they are false, anonymous, and do not hold up to editorial scrutiny.”

The CBS chief compliance officer said, “CBS previously retained attorney Betsy Plevan of Proskauer Rose to conduct an independent investigation of alleged misconduct at CBS News. Ms. Plevan’s work is ongoing, and includes investigating allegations in this story. CBS has taken the allegations reported in the press seriously, and respects the role of the press in pursuing the truth, which is a role that is central to the mission of CBS News.”

In June, Carmon, in a speech accepting a Mirror Award for the Post’s reporting on Charlie Rose, warned that stories of abuse by powerful men in the news industry were still being suppressed. “The stories that we have been doing are actually about a system. The system has lawyers and a good reputation. It has publicists,” she said. “Indeed, the system is sitting in this room. Some more than others. The system is still powerful men getting stories killed that I believe will someday see the light of day.” Fager was seated in the audience, and later in the ceremony accepted an award on behalf of “60 Minutes.”

This reflects remarkable courage on the part of Carmon, and the fact that remarkable courage is required is a major part of the problem.

And we’ve discussed this before, but this is also a critical point:

The fact that the several of the news organizations that decided that a bunch of inane bullshit they have never thought was important before or since pertaining to Hillary Clinton was as or more scandalous than Donald Trump literally boasting about serial sexual assault were rife with sexual harassment and exploitation isn’t a coincidence. It would be extraordinary if these assumptions didn’t shape coverage.

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