Cascade of sex harassment cases may not be the reckoning some assume

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A cautionary note from long-ago great reporting

Dana Perino, the former George W. Bush aide and now a level-headed Fox News pundit, Tuesday described the sexual harassment disclosure all around us as "truly a society altering event" during the often uninspired ensemble show, "The Five." Norah O'Donnell of CBS News called it "a reckoning."

You might just wonder if that's true, even on a day that began with O'Donnell colleague Charlie Rose being dismissed by his primary employer, CBS, and included unseemly disclosures about Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Detroit and more revelations of the Harvey Weinstein muck.

"Excuse me if I sound jaded, but the recent spate of high-profile sexual harassment scandals may not, despite predictions, produce a revolution or a reckoning or a sea change in attitudes," says Jim Glassman, a journalist and former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Glassman was editor of Roll Call, a newspaper about Congress that was a must-read at the time, and just reminded by a then-colleague about how this same subject was a story on Capitol Hill 29 years ago. Shannon Bradley was the young reporter who broke an explosive story about harassment of female staffers by Jim Bates, a Democratic representative from San Diego. 

Bates
Bates

For the first time, the House Ethics Committee in 1989 took disciplinary action against a member. That action was to “formally and publicly reprove” Bates, who lost re-election to a Republican, "Duke" Cunningham (who would later himself go to prison for taking bribes).

"The point is that there were consequences for Bates," says Glassman. "He lost his job – just like Charlie Rose did today. But harassment didn’t end. Six years later, after another Capitol Hill sexual harassment scandal we covered (this one involving Sen. Bob Packwood), Congress passed a law to bring the House and Senate under the same civil rights and labor standards as the rest of the country. But the culture of Capitol Hill – and workplaces everywhere – still hasn’t changed much."

Bradley, the key reporter back then, is now the executive producer at University of California Television, which is an independently run set of theme channels based on university research and headquartered at the University of California-San Diego (consider it an eggheads' C-SPAN).

"I’ve been as shocked as anyone by the volume of stories and the speed at which the mighty keep falling, starting with (Roger) Ailes and (Bill) O’Reilly and straight through to Charlie Rose today, though somehow Trump survived similar allegations during the campaign last year."

Bradley
Bradley

When she initially heard the claims of then-current and former staffers against the California congressman in 1988, she was disgusted. But she wasn't sure what to do. This was pre-Anita Hill, and pre-Packwood (who lost his seat for sexual misconduct) and one just didn't have "a playbook of how to report this kind of story."

She says that Glassman recognized the story's utter relevance to their Capitol Hill audience and devised a way to frame it. He authored the headline, “Nowhere to Turn,” having her write it as a lack-of-resources story for the Hill staffers, who were exempt from Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws.
 
The story got tons of attention in the capital and San Diego (remember, Fox News and MSNBC did not even exist), and she became part of the story when Bates allies questioned her motives. 
 
"So yes, it was a big deal at the time but nearly 30 years later, not much has changed. I know that Congress did pass some ethics legislation shortly after we published our story that was nicknamed 'The Roll Call Bill,' but I have no idea if staffers are using it. The harassment clearly has continued.  And obviously, it’s not limited to Capitol Hill."

At minimum, "My hat is off to all of the correspondents at the Post, the NYT, the New Yorker and the others who are shining a light on this topic. Reporting on sexual harassment is unpleasant, to say the least. It was hard for me to approach young women who were strangers to talk about such personal matters, and not at all why I had pursued a career in journalism. But that said, I am proud of the work we did in part because many of my sources thanked me for believing them and putting their stories into print. It gave them some sort of relief, or validation, that we took what they had to say so seriously." 
 
But did it change anything? "Unfortunately, no. Though maybe the current avalanche of reputable reports covering so many industries will lead to real change in our culture. I hope so."

On a roll

The New York Times, Washington Post and The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow seem to have the rest of the press in a submission hold when it comes to breaking sex harassment stories. Trump's activist antitrust division might claim collusion and monopolistic practices. CBS News dispatched Charlie Rose with Usain Bolt-like rapidity after Post disclosures and Rose's own admission, only a few hours after Woody Allen's estranged son offered another unseemly Harvey Weinstein doozy with this effort on the disgraced producer's history of secret, labyrinthine legal agreements to hide his predatory ways. 

A Trump legal loss

A federal court trial judge ruled on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Time Inc. in a lawsuit seeking to make public documents central to a 1999 settlement of a class-action lawsuit relating to the construction of Trump Tower in New York City. It alleged that non-union Polish workers were shafted out of promised contributions to union insurance trust and pension funds.  

The Trump side will have to both quickly seek a stay of the order and then file an appeal to a higher court.

What economists think of the House, Senate tax plans

The University of Chicago's Booth School regularly asks a large rotating panel of economists about relevant issues. The latest involves asking what they think about the impact on GDP in the next few years if something similar to the current House and Senate plans actually passes the Senate.

A total of 69 percent are either uncertain or disagree that GDP will be substantially greater as a result of passage. 

Headline of day

"FCC announces vote to destroy net neutrality next month" (Here is a good examination of the issue, by Poynter's Al Tompkins.)

Trump's 90-minute phone call with Putin

Mike McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, and The New York Times' Peter Baker were equally informative if ultimately non-plussed during a smart chat on Brian Williams' late-night MSNBC show. McFaul didn't get the point of the conversation, given what trickled out from the White House, while Baker noted how Putin is driving Middle East politics and doesn't seem particularly interested in accommodating the U.S. 

And, he noted, it appears that Putin has quietly won the argument about whether the dictator Assad stays in Syria. He stays. Amazing. The two longtime Russia observers don't get what Trump is up to as he so ceaselessly seeks Putin's favor.

A lead of the day

From Slate's Heather Schwedel: "As allegations of misdeeds by powerful men continue to pile up in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein accusations, it’s becoming clear that if we don’t want to live in a society where abuse so plainly thrives, there’s a lot of work ahead. We need to question and rethink the power structures that have allowed men to act with impunity. We need to pay attention to ensuring the safety of people in lower-profile, lower-paying fields. And by God, we need to cut off men’s access to bathrobes."

Pot calling a kettle black?

Politico's estimable Jack Shafer skewers the New York Times for melding art (or at least journalism) and commerce in "New York Times Journalists Are Groveling to Their Readers. That’s Pathetic. I don’t want my favorite hacks turned into marketers."

In particular, he doesn't like a solicitation featuring columnist Nicholas Kristof. He's irked by "Kristof’s presumption that I might be a willing vessel for his gratitude. My relationship with him is more like my relationship to the station manager of the subway — he’s just another interchangeable employee producing a service that I use. I need or want a letter of thanks from Kristof as much as I do one from the station manager for riding the train. The truth of the matter is that I don’t subscribe to the Times so that he can, in his words, shine 'a light on important or neglected stories.' I tolerate his heavy moral preening and self-indulgence so that I can read the rest of the Times package. His gratitude is the last thing I want from the paper."

Well, perhaps he can ask the nearest Metro station manager for directions to an upcoming Politico marketing event featuring columnist Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman "going LIVE with POLITICO Playbook in a special extended version of the Playbook Audio Briefing. Join the authors of the most influential newsletter in politics for a live taping of POLITICO Playbook, taking you behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, in the White House, and telling you everything that you need to know to make sense of Washington as we look toward mid-term elections in 2018."

It's $15 in advance, $18 the day of the event, with additional fees if you book online or by phone. And, make no mistake, it's the sort of marketing or "branding" gambit that's now a media constant, especially in Washington. If The Times, or Politico, wants to use journalists to help keep a joint thriving or alive, fine, let them. Even if they happen to be for me, as are Palmer and Sherman, "just another interchangeable employee producing a service that I use," to steal a phrase. Again, if you can't find a subway station manager, here are details on the Politico event, which might even be interesting as it turns a few bucks.

Net neutrality

A Los Angeles reader asks us to assume that Trump gets his way and internet providers can do what they like. "Assume a parent company of one or more of those providers — say AT&T is pissed at Trump for trying to block the merger. Theoretically, could they retaliate against him by slowing down the speeds at which people are able to view Fox News & Brietbart and other similar sites?"

Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Georgetown University Law Center says, "The problems posed by (net neutrality) is much more subtle than the question suggests and the answers are much more complicated than that."

"First, the assertion would be completely inapplicable to the Fox News Channel. I assume the question relates only to the Fox News website. The very oversimplified answer is that it might be possible to slow down ('throttle') or block the websites. There are a number of technical problems that make the answer more theoretical than real."

"AT&T might be vulnerable to antitrust litigation from Fox and/or Breitbart." And this: "There is one other thing that won't be clear until we see the text on Wednesday: it seems that (FCC Chairman) Ajit Pai is retaining at least part of the current 'transparency' requirement. If so, AT&T would have to post its practices, so that its discrimination would be a matter of public record. The political cost of that would be huge; imagine Sean Hannity telling his viewers to switch to Verizon."

An ebullient Pai defended the move on — where else — "Fox & Friends" this morning and said that critics ignore this decision is "of history," meaning there were once no regulations, and the critics overstate the fears of the internet going forward as they call for "micromanaging the internet." Well, there were once no laws on child labor, too. That first argument didn't seem his strongest.

Teen Vogue, thanks for the news

"Shawn Mendes is denying recent reports about his dating life, revealing in an interview during the American Music Awards that he's single."

(In fact, the global exclusive belongs to EI Network, though the more on Mendes the merrier)

'John Conyers must resign'

Rep. Conyers' Detroit Free Press hometown editorial page reaches the conclusion "with an incredible amount of disappointment."

"The word 'hero' is invoked, without much hyperbole, around Conyers’ name, dating not only to his initial run for Congress in the mid-1960s, but to the stalwart civil rights activism in the 1950s and early 1960s that brought him to that point." 

"His career in Congress saw him play key roles in everything from voting rights and health care reform to the creation of the Martin Luther King Holiday. And even in recent years, when he has struggled with focus and the rigor of the job, he has remained a steadfast voice for social justice and equality."

"But the revelations of Conyers’ alleged sexual harassment scandal and his documented use of taxpayer dollars to bury that scandal, in violation of congressional ethics rules, is less ambiguous. It is the kind of behavior that can never be tolerated in a public official, much less an elected representative of the people." 

"And it means that whatever Conyers’ legacy will eventually be, his tenure as a member of Congress must end — now."  

Unrest in Los Angeles

There's a unionizing attempt playing out the Tronc-owned Los Angeles Times, with the union noting a Columbia Journalism Review disclosure (via Morningstar financial data) that "For all the demands for newsroom cuts, members of Tronc management are giving themselves huge raises. Executive pay ballooned by 80 percent from 2015 to 2016, to more than $19 million, according to data from Morningstar. By comparison, executives at The New York Times took a steep pay cut in the same period — from $26.3 million to $15.9 million — while running a bigger newspaper with a better reputation."

The fact that company chief Michael Ferro charges shareholders for use of his private jet has been disclosed by Poynter, but a union newsletter underscores "Michael Ferro’s private jet alone costs the company millions. From February 2016 through September of this year, Tronc spent $4.6 million to sublease and operate the sleek Bombardier aircraft, which costs $8,500 an hour to fly. The kicker? Tronc subleases the jet from Merrick Ventures, one of Ferro’s companies."

Yes, life's outrages can be what's totally legal.

The Morning Babel

The president was tweeting from his Florida estate not long after 5 a.m., mostly about the NFL and LeVar Ball, the dad of the college player who was caught shoplifting in China (Trump remains miffed that he wasn't thanked for getting the kid and two others out of the country and back in Los Angeles). Early on, at least nothing about a reported U.S. Navy crash off the coast of Japan, as CNN's "New Day" noted pointedly.

"Trump & Friends" on Fox went after John Conyers and his mess with no less passion than Roy Moore. CNN went heavy on Trump defending Moore, with host Alisyn Camerota betting Moore will win. And, to leaven the repetitive talk, there was an homage to actor David Cassidy, best known for the 1970s sit-com "The Partridge Family." I did not awake my spouse, who was chagrined with the news last evening. 

MSNBC underscored how Trump was vocal and standing by Moore in Alabama ("women are very special, I think it's a very special time," etc.) and discussed the Syria situation and how, in the mind of Richard Haass, Russia and Iran are now totally in charge.

Turkey pardons

The New Yorker's Troy Patterson both details media coverage of Trump doing the presidential thing with the annual turkey pardon and chides Trump's "thorough insincerity." The whole scene prompted a national security source in the government (yes, a national security source) to remind me of my own 2001 disclosure of a previously unreported Richard Nixon conversation on Nov. 18, 1971. He was in his second office, in the Executive Office Building next to the White House, with top aide H.R. "Bob" Haldeman.

"It's turkey presentation time again and I thought we'd present it to Mrs. Nixon this time since they're presenting a dressed turkey rather than a live turkey," says Haldeman. "They finally wised up on that. It's utterly asinine bringing that live turkey. But I think it's a good touch, anyway. She's been a homemaker. Give her the turkey for Thanksgiving"

Nixon: "And she can say who it's going to be for. Very good."

Haldeman: "I got you out of that!"

Nixon: (Very audible chuckle).

Haldeman: "That's a bad one [ceremonial event], anyway. In the first place, it's an unsympathetic story. People don't like the idea of killing a turkey, a live turkey. ... Put that beautiful bird there and saying, 'I kill it and eat it.' It's going to look bad. And it's always a stupid picture."

Nixon: "Oooooh, God. King's [his Irish setter, King Timahoe] the only good picture I've seen of a dog. His pictures are good.

"Well, it's a smart thing to do [having Pat Nixon handle the turkey chores], Bob, smart."

Well, maybe Melania or Ivanka can go solo next year.

* * *

Speaking of turkey, we're taking the holiday off. We'll see you Monday (with the almost certain update on the next batch of prominent males to be unveiled as harassers).

Happy holiday, everybody. We'll just have one early morning soccer game and a wonderful tradition, namely a Sing-a-Long "Sound of Music" at Chicago's Music Box Theater. It's a hoot. The movie plays, you sing along, hiss the Nazis when they appear and pull out poppers when the Captain and Maria finally kiss.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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