Media, including Globe, walk fine line in the age of ‘MeToo’
In the two months since uncovering explosive accusations of sexual misconduct against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, the media have maintained a starring role in the spiraling sexual harassment scandal that has brought down dozens of powerful men.
In many prominent cases, the industry has turned its piercing spotlight on men in its own ranks, including Mark Halperin of NBC News, Leon Wieseltier, formerly of the New Republic, and “CBS This Morning” host Charlie Rose, each accused of harassment. On Nov. 29, NBC sacked “Today” cohost Matt Lauer in the morning after a serious allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior, and by lunchtime, news broke that Minnesota Public Radio had cut ties with humorist Garrison Keillor.
Even as they ramp up investigations into sexual harassment, media leaders — at The Boston Globe and other newsrooms — are looking inward, reassessing the media’s history as a male-dominated industry, and examining the current climate of their own workplaces.
At the Globe, the reckoning began even before the Weinstein scandal broke in October. Earlier this year, after a mid-level manager within the Globe’s sales department was removed for allegedly making inappropriate comments to co-workers, the Globe hired a law firm to conduct a review.
The law firm interviewed current and former employees in the advertising department, and reviewed notes from exit interviews with employees who had left.
The department had a “culture problem,” said Linda Henry, the Globe’s managing director. “It had become a boys’ club.”
The Globe has since made a number of management changes across the business side of the organization.
Henry said the newspaper is committed to creating a more proactive human resources department under new leadership, hiring and promoting more women in advertising, requiring more training for managers and employees throughout the company, and establishing a system for employees to submit harassment complaints anonymously.
The Globe’s review continued after the watershed Weinstein revelations. Henry has been meeting internally with women at the newspaper to discuss workplace culture, as part of the unfolding national discourse on sexual harassment, a movement often referred to by the hashtag #MeToo.
In a number of informal interviews over the past two weeks for this story, women at the Globe had overall positive things to say about the current work culture in the news department where three of the top five jobs are held by women, and 22 of the 44 managers are women. Some have worked here for years and said they had never seen anything that would constitute harassment. Henry said different departments at the Globe seem to have their own cultures, and she was convinced the newsroom climate is “not one of sexual harassment or sexism.”
Still, some women in the newsroom said they have current questions about equality of opportunity, have experienced annoying incidents of “mansplaining,” or have been talked over by men in meetings. Some have had unwanted attention in recent years from male co-workers, or have been the target of inappropriate comments and e-mails, according to conversations with female staff members.
In one particularly notable case dating back to March, a female employee in her 20s filed an internal complaint against a Globe journalist. She said he propositioned her to have sex with his wife, using vulgar sexual language, according to the employee who filed the complaint.
She provided a reporter for this story a letter from the Globe’s human resources lawyer confirming her complaint was filed and investigated. Her encounters with the male employee began with friendly banter over company e-mail, but he later asked for her personal e-mail address and cell number and then propositioned her by phone in November, 2016, she said.
Later, the male employee was pressured into resigning after additional accusations emerged from outside the company, according to two people familiar with the situation. Globe managers declined to discuss his departure, saying it is a confidential personnel matter.
The Globe chose not to identify the employee in this story because his alleged conduct did not involve physical contact, threats, or persistent harassment, and editors determined it is highly unlikely the newspaper would have identified the accused, or written about his conduct, if this situation had arisen at another private company.
In another case this year, the Globe stopped using a contract worker after senior managers at the paper learned of complaints about his past treatment of women during a previous stint at the Globe.
Exposing harassment often requires painstaking and time-consuming investigations. The Globe started work on this story about media organizations the week before Thanksgiving. It is being published amid speculation on social media and talk radio about the Globe employee pressured to resign.
In a note to the newsroom on Friday, Globe editor Brian McGrory acknowledged, “Yes, we’re well aware that by withholding the identity of the reporter involved, we’ll be accused of a double-standard by people and organizations that are not privy to all the facts. I can live with that far more easily than I can live with the thought of sacrificing our values to slake the thirst of this moment.”
Few local media companies seemed eager to discuss how they are handling the harassment issue internally.
On Nov. 21, WBUR general manager Charles Kravetz, declined a request from the Globe to discuss how the station was addressing harassment.
But on Friday, he confirmed that Tom Ashbrook, the voice of the popular nationally syndicated public radio show “On Point,” had been placed on leave, due to allegations made against him.
“Yesterday, Boston University and WBUR received some allegations against Tom Ashbrook,” Kravetz said Friday, reading from a statement. “Tom will be on leave from his duties at WBUR while an outside organization hired by Boston University examines these allegations. We will decide a course of action after getting the results of this investigation.”
He did not describe the nature of the allegations or disclose who made them.
Ashbrook said in an e-mail that he had no information about the complaints and could not comment. “However there is a process and I respect that process,” he said.
Several other companies did not respond to inquiries.
One that did, WGBH, said employees are required to certify that they have reviewed the company’s “respectful workplace policy” each year. The company conducts annual training for all supervisors on how to interpret the policy, and employees are urged to report specific complaints to human resources or to an anonymous reporting system, said Jeanne Hopkins, WGBH’s vice president of communications. Anonymous complaints are shared with the audit committee of the WGBH board.
“Since the stories [about workplace harassment] have been appearing, our executives and managers have reminded staff about the existing policy and mechanisms WGBH has, and some departments have reviewed it together and held discussions,” she said by e-mail.
Boston Herald spokesperson Gwen Gage said in a statement that the Herald “has a non-discrimination and harassment company-wide policy, which has been delivered to all of our employees. We are committed to a work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity.”
While it is uncomfortable for the Globe, or any media organization, to look at its own behavior, it is critical to do so, said Jeffrey McCall, media critic and communications professor at DePauw University in Indiana.
“The media has been covering sexual misconduct in other institutions for years,” he said. To cover these stories without also looking inward “looks like a double standard.”
Historically, news was a difficult industry for women. The modern media workplace descended from what is now disparagingly called a “bro culture.” Women in journalism who are now around retirement age were pioneers, who entered the business when it was overwhelmingly male.
Carol Young, who retired as deputy executive editor of the Providence Journal in 2010, started at the paper in 1965 among a large group of new hires. “Twenty-two men and me,” she said. At the time, the notion of a woman covering a newsbeat was so novel that training materials handed out to reporters urged them to “dress like a gentleman,” she said.
In the 1970s, women made up a small percentage of the Globe newsroom staff and opportunities were slim. For years, the newspaper would not assign more than one female reporter to its prestigious Washington, D.C., news bureau, a former editor said. The seat occupied by a woman was jokingly referred to as the Susan B. Anthony Chair.
As a Globe intern and then a part-time reporter in the late 1970s, Teresa Hanafin, then in her early 20s, thought she could learn much about journalism from an editor on the foreign desk, who seemed to take an interest in mentoring her. He was about 10 years older and understood the craft of writing.
“Unbeknownst to me, he was known in the newsroom as someone who preyed on young women,” said Hanafin, now editor of Globe newsletters, and one of the few people interviewed for this story who agreed to speak for the record.
The editor would occasionally invite her out for drinks, she said, ostensibly to talk about journalism and discuss her writing. After one of these nights, he asked for a ride home. When the car stopped outside his apartment, “He put his tongue in my mouth,” Hanafin recalled. “Then he said to me, ‘You want to come upstairs?’ ”
Angry and disappointed, she told him no. He left.
“At work he acted like nothing had happened,” she said. “And like a lot of women, I didn’t say anything.”
The editor, who left the Globe years ago and has since died, was referenced a number of times in conversations with current and former Globe employees, mostly women, who said they knew of his reputation for using his position at the paper to get close to young women, in ham-handed attempts to get them into bed. He was not the only one, according to the former and current employees. Some male newsroom employees would eye the Globe’s annual group of co-ops — college journalism students eager for work experience and critical bylines to bolster their resumes — as a dating pool, they recalled.
In a famous much-discussed incident from around the year 2000, an editor downloaded a swimsuit photo of a newsroom co-op who had been Miss Idaho. He sent it around the office with a message, something along the lines of: “How ‘bout them taters?”
Men now make up about 63 percent of the Globe news and opinion staffs, according to the paper’s HR department. The stats are skewed somewhat by an overwhelmingly male sports department, which lost a number of women in recent years to buyouts and job offers from other media organizations. Top editors have made hiring more women in sports a point of emphasis, they said. The Globe recently hired a woman to cover football, Nora Princiotti, and filled a gap in the paper’s opinion coverage by adding a female voice to its ranks of sports columnists, among the highest-profile jobs at the paper. Sports columnist Tara Sullivan, who comes to the Globe from the Bergen Record in New Jersey, started work last Friday.
Newsroom managers intend to survey employees anonymously to get a better sense of the work climate and to invite employees to flag any problems.
“Journalism is tough, important work, and every single person in this room deserves to be treated with great dignity and respect,” said McGrory, in a statement prepared for this story. “We believe we’re in a good place now, but the goal is always to get to a better place. These are issues we have to be ever vigilant about, in terms of hiring, promotions, pay, and overall culture.”