Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Harassment firings turn the spotlight on press

Matt Lauer prepared for the broadcast of the "Today" show in New York.
Karsten Moran/The New York Times/file 2014
Matt Lauer prepared for the broadcast of the "Today" show in New York.

There’s an old saying that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

The #MeToo movement is a good reminder of the danger of doing so — and the challenge for the press to push forward even when the story hits home.

Matt Lauer is the latest media star to take a giant post-Harvey Weinstein fall. The longtime “Today” host was fired by NBC after a “complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” The phrase “in the workplace” is key. According to the definition of sexual harassment put forth by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it applies to job applicants and employees, and can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. The harasser can be a supervisor, a co-worker, a client, or customer.

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Television host Charlie Rose, preying on young interns in an open bathrobe, with nothing underneath, fits the definition too. He deserved his firing from CBS. But then there’s reporter Glenn Thrush of The New York Times, loutishly putting his hand on a young woman’s thigh in a bar after a lot of drinking. Thrush, who was suspended, had power in that setting. But it’s different from the home office setting in which Rose operated, or that of Mark Halperin, who, according to multiple accusers, pressed his body against young women seeking jobs and career advice in his ABC lair. After those allegations made headlines, Halperin was fired from his position at NBC and MSNBC.

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With Thrush, the problem for the Times is that it will be hard for its White House correspondent to ask President Trump tough questions about his conduct involving women, given the allegations about his own conduct. Meanwhile, the Times reporters who exposed Weinstein and celebrity sexual harassers like Bill O’Reilly are enjoying newfound glorification in a glitzy Vanity Fair Hall of Fame photo shoot.

This turn of the screw on the media is fascinating. We regularly call out politicians and corporate bigwigs for all kinds of wrongdoing, from fiscal misdeeds to sexual misconduct to lack of diversity. Turning the microscope on our own organizations happens infrequently and usually not until some major crisis of credibility becomes impossible to ignore.

For the most part, the press sees its job as exposing the weaknesses of others. The Weinstein exposé started out that way. With the revelations about Fox News personalities, the media part of the scandal was initially contained to the political right. Then came a tsunami of anecdotes about men from across the political spectrum behaving badly and, in some cases, criminally. When the #MeToo movement empowered women to come forward and tell stories from decades ago, those stories didn’t just sweep up Roy Moore in Alabama. They also swept up Al Franken from Minnesota, plus assorted members of the liberal media establishment.

The stories range from allegations of rape in Weinstein’s case to accusations of child molestation in Moore’s case, to unwanted French kissing and butt-groping in Franken’s case. They are all being stirred around in one big pot, seasoned by hyper-moralizing and self-righteous calls for resignation.

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In the mixing of this brew, some see a watershed moment. Others call it a witch hunt, this time with the witches doing the hunting. If the press doesn’t do its job right, it could be both. Exposing the culture that empowers sexual harassment is important, and the press shouldn’t back down from covering it. But every incident doesn’t deserve the nuclear option. There should be less hysteria when it comes to judging everyone caught up in it, whether it’s a politician or a reporter.

Meanwhile, this is one story that requires every media outlet to look into its own backyard. Because for once, the people in glass houses are being exposed along with everyone else.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.