Will anyone employ media heavyweights canned for sexual harassment?

A surprise call on behalf of Garrison Keillor

Art Cullen, the editor of a twice-weekly 3,000-circulation paper in rural Iowa, had the guts to take on the Koch Brothers, Cargill and Monsanto, the state's most powerful agricultural interests on the way to winning a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing last year.

So maybe it's no surprise that he's got the nerve to say that, yeah, he'd take back Garrison Keillor. He'd be Keillor's Hawkeye State Companion.

Cullen informs that he just got a call from a Keillor representative, testing the waters as to whether he'd be willing to resume running Keillor's newspaper column if it re-started. And Cullen said yes. It puts him in a conspicuous minority in mulling any immediate second chances for notables felled by harassment and assault claims.

The list is bending toward the horizon. Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Bill O'Reilly, Mark Halperin, Glenn Thrush, Michael Oreskes, Kevin Spacey, John Hockenberry, John Conyers, Al Franken, Bret Ratner, Roy Moore, Leon Wieseltier, James Toback, Mario Batali, James Woods and Jeffrey Tambor. Among others.

No matter the differences in alleged sins, they've all been branded with a scarlet "H" for harassment, their careers largely in peril. Thrush was suspended by The New York Times but, in the correct management move, will be allowed to return, though not to his old White House beat. He's one of the fortunate ones. He is not "unemployable," as one of those other high-profile (and talented) folks just mentioned describes himself to me.

In Keillor's case, his column, which was syndicated by The Washington Post, is part of a universe that came crashing amid disclosure of what the Minneapolis Star-Tribune calls "unspecified 'inappropriate behavior' with a colleague." He was canned by Minnesota Pubic Radio, to whose success he was critical. Then The Post syndicate ditched the column, rightly pissed that he didn't reveal the situation before crafting a defense of Franken against allegations of sexual misconduct.

Cullen
Cullen

And then there's Cullen, who himself once battled alcohol problems, "did a lot of crazy shit when I was young," and rebounded nicely to win journalism's biggest prize by revealing Big Agriculture's secret funding of the government defense of an important environmental lawsuit. 

"We have been running his column from the Washington Post Syndicate until it was cancelled. It was the only syndicated piece we bought, other than TV listings, because he was such a graceful essayist with a Midwestern tone, really an Iowa/Minnesota tone. His columns were better than his books." And Cullen was paying $5 a week for the one he used, a depressing reminder of the uninspired economics of syndication amid the industry's free fall.

"I do not really know what happened when he allegedly rubbed a woman’s bare back," says Cullen, who concedes an affinity to Woody Allen movies even if the guy may be a creep and he wouldn't want his daughter around him. "That seems a venial sin compared to Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump. But a sin nonetheless. Then, after he pays his penalty (book deals killed, speaking engagements cancelled, newspaper column spiked, your named wiped from the annals of Minnesota Public Radio, which was nothing without A Prairie Home Companion, publicly humiliated) is he to be banished forever and forgotten by history?"

"I don’t know for sure. But I am inclined to pick up the column if he offers it again, and it sounds as if he will. He wants to write and this might be his only venue. He is a great writer. He did something wrong, in a single reported case. Does that mean he has nothing valuable to say ever again? I think he deserves a break."

And what about the far younger folks who clearly have many more productive years than Keillor, who is 75? Do the journalists, say, wind up with work in journalism? 

Jeffrey Seglin, an ethics and policy expert at Harvard's Kennedy School, says, "Of course, it is possible for a media company to rehire someone who has been reprimanded or let go for inappropriate workplace behavior. That’s a decision that the managers of the company have every right to make."
 
"A looming challenge would be for the company to make clear to its employees what the policy is for such re-hires. If employees know of the transgression and a re-hire is made, then that could send a message to employees that the company simply doesn’t care about such behavior."

"But if those hiring can articulate why they believe this person deserves a second chance, what precautions are being taken to make sure that the re-hire doesn’t engage in similar behavior going forward, and what clear and swift consequences there will be if he (and so far in the media examples, the male pronoun seems appropriate) does, then that could go a long way toward letting employees know about the expectations for behavior when they decide to work together."

And then there's this media reality: We love redemption stories. So, for a change it need not just be the people we've reported on, like high-profile politicians (Gary Hart, Newt Gingrich, to name two) or celebrities and athletes (Charlie Sheen, Britney SpearsMike Tyson, etc.). Maybe it can be the people doing the reporting. Which is why you might check out the very good "The 11th Hour With Brian Williams" on MSNBC for evidence of properly giving a talented person who transgressed another chance.

The dream of the very employable Peter Thiel

"Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel wants to create a new conservative cable news network and his representatives have engaged the powerful Mercer family to help with funding, according to two sources familiar with the situation," disclosed BuzzFeed.

At the same time, it reports, "One person close to Thiel said he was not aware of his plans to create a news network, and was surprised when asked about the plan. That person noted that Thiel had said in private conversations that media companies were traditionally bad investments."

The Morning Babel 

"NYT: Trump tried to Derail Sessions' Russia Recusal" was the first prominent chyron on CNN's "New Day." Times reporter Michael Schmidt's story dominated CNN and MSNBC, with clear drift of most interpretations there that this was potential obstruction of justice and Trump is not fit for office. A source of mine, a former high ranking Democratic official in the Justice Department, is nonplussed by the hubbub, saying that a White House lawyer urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself on the Russia-Trump investigation seems neither especially notable nor surprising.

There were new tidbits disclosed from what CNN calls the "bombshell book" by Michael Wolff, but with co-host Alisyn Camerota conspicuously and correctly indicating that there is much the network can't independently verify. But there was Carrie Cordero, a former national security lawyer, who surfaced on "New Day" this morning and spoke to the Times opus and said, "I don't think that this one fact, taken in isolation, would be a case of obstruction." 

As for opining on Wolff's modus operandi, an emerging early consensus is clear, as typified this morning by Axios' Mike Allen: "There are definitely parts of Michael Wolff's 'Fire and Fury' 'that are wrong, sloppy, or betray off-the-record confidence. But there are two things he gets absolutely right, even in the eyes of White House officials who think some of the book's scenes are fiction: his spot-on portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him."

Oh, and if your head was hurting from all the Trump talk, you could seek refuge this morning with the Weather Channel. Yikes. 76-mile-an-hour winds on Nantucket and a foot of snow in Rockyhock, North Carolina. "Frozen America" and "Winter Storm Grayson" were the preferred coverage titles as channel star Jim Cantore calmly did anchor honors from outside the relatively tranquil Sandy Bay Yacht Club in Rockport, Ma., attired in the network issue gray monogrammed parka.

Freezing out Steve Bannon

Will Sommer, an editor at the Hill who does a newsletter on right-leaning media called Right Richter, deals with the inevitable "How this ends for Bannon" question. It's all the more germane as key backer Rebekah Mercer confirms that she's pulling support and The Wall Street Journal writes that the lords of Breitbart have been mulling whether to boot him.

"It's looking more likely as I write this that Bannon could get the boot entirely from Breitbart, which would leave him with a bunch of money from his Seinfeld royalties but not much else."

"What's left for Breitbart?: Bannon's presumed influence into the White House had elevated Breitbart above its competition. Now, that's gone. Even if he stays on in a much-diminished capacity, the site has little now to distinguish itself from conservative media competition like Newsmax or the Daily Caller."

"Bannon's attacks on the Trump family weren't well-received by Breitbart's readership which, judging by my admittedly unscientific method of reading a ton of Breitbart comments, sided with Trump."

Early awards setback for 'The Post'

Writes the Hollywood Reporter, "The nominations announced Thursday for the 70th Writers Guild of America Awards were as interesting for the scripts that were overlooked as for those that made the cut. The Post, Darkest Hour and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri were among a number of major Oscar-contending screenplays that were not nominated."

Trying to kill the FCC's net neutrality decision

TechDirt concedes that courts provide the best option for overturning the FCC's repeal. But then there's also finding lots of dough to support election opponents of FCC-supportive legislators as part of "finding ways to publicize the grotesque fealty many lawmakers have toward some of the most-hated companies in America still serves a purpose. As we've noted, a big part of the broadband industry's lobbying agenda for 2018 will be the passage of bogus net neutrality legislation that will claim to 'put the issue to bed,' but will be exclusively focused on making the FCC's unpopular decision permanent. Purging at least a few of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast's mindless foot soldiers from Congress could go a long way in keeping that from happening."

Too cute by half

Spoiler alert: This is from Ad Age, apparently about NFL ratings:

"Surrounded by a cast of would-be ratings detectives, the NFL this year functioned as the corpse in an English murder mystery — only in this case the body at the center of the conversation remains in rude good health and the only Brit in the mix (or at least the only one that comes to mind) is Eagles running back Jay Ajayi. Despite enduring a 9 percent seasonal drop in viewership, pro football in 2017 continues to leave pretty much every other flavor of TV programming in the dust — which goes a long way toward explaining why the NFL's network partners still managed to eke out slight year-over-year increases in revenue from in-game ads."

Preparing for Facebook to shaft pubishers

An unidentified "audience development chief" for a mid-sized digital publisher tells Digiday that Facebook will do a distinct U-turn in 2018 when it comes to assisting publishers.

"They are going to completely deprioritize publishers. They very candidly said to me, 'If I were you, I would probably not rely on Facebook as much as you are.' So a big strategy for publishers needs to be diversification. The people at Facebook I’ve spoken to have confirmed this. Their efforts are going to be elsewhere."

"I guess it would be an annoying, possibly devastating thing for publishers, especially the ones that rely on it so much. We don’t get the bulk of our traffic from Facebook. We have a loyal user base. That’s going to behoove us going forward. We’re not going to be dead or anything. It’s going to be a challenge, but the only thing we can do is be creative. There are new platforms to be discovered on and new ways we can stay afloat."

Note to photographers

Writes PetaPixel: "Researchers have created the first 'metalens' that can focus the entire visible spectrum of light onto a single point in high resolution. The breakthrough brings metalenses one step closer towards replacing bulky camera lenses with much smaller chips."

Bowing to censorship in China

Writing in Times Higher Education, Tao Zhang, a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Arts and Humanities, nails the spinelessness of Western publishers and higher education institutions in dealing with increasing Chinese censorship. For example, "Cambridge University Press had bowed to Chinese pressure and censored more than 300 online-access articles in its prestigious journal The China Quarterly."

"The hesitancy across many of the key institutions of Western higher education — from publishers and universities to governments themselves — about confronting the new assertiveness of China perhaps signals a failure to comprehend the full extent of the challenge that it poses. The 'New Era' of global expansion that President Xi and Minister Chen envision is one in which the subservience of freedom of expression to the demands of the state is a fundamental ideological tenet."

The Los Angeles Times votes on unionization

It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago but editorial employees voted on whether to go union. The results will be disclosed Jan. 19. Then comes the question of whether management will voluntarily recognize the union as the collective bargaining agent if a simple majority casts its lot with the News Guild. Otherwise, a more formal  process would be triggered and the matter will drag.

And question of the day

Word that Jimmy Iovine, the legendary music producer-turned-entrepreneur, will leave Apple prompts Recode's Peter Kafka to write: "An uncomfortable question for Apple: Did it get its money’s worth when it paid Iovine and his partner, Dr. Dre, $3 billion for Beats four years ago — the largest acquisition in the company’s history?"

* * *

Okay, that's it for the week. The weekend brings choir rehearsal, a baseball practice, two soccer games (one at 7 a.m. Sunday), a birthday party and a basketball game. But no bomb cyclones. Whew. East Coast readers, stay home and watch NFL playoff games or help out at a local food pantry.

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 chief media writer, The Poynter Institute.

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