Two more media stars were fired on Wednesday due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor are the latest celebrities to lose their jobs in a cascade of accusations and revelations that began with the October exposure of the many misdeeds of film producer Harvey Weinstein. If recent history is any guide, some will say that other industries are just as bad as the ones that produce information and entertainment. But the hopeful news is that this may not be true, based on the results of a new public opinion survey.
As for Mr. Lauer, co-anchor of NBC’s “Today” show, the speed of his exit from his longtime perch atop the world of morning broadcast television was striking. According to the Journal:
NBC News Chairman Andy Lack said in a memo to staff Wednesday that the network received a detailed complaint from a colleague about misconduct by Mr. Lauer that represented “a clear violation of our company’s standards.”
The alleged incident between Mr. Lauer and the staffer took place during the network’s coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a person briefed on the matter said.
“While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident,” Mr. Lack added.
Ari Wilkenfeld, a lawyer for the accuser, said his client “detailed egregious acts of sexual harassment and misconduct by Mr. Lauer” in a meeting Monday night with members of NBC’s human resources and legal departments. Mr. Wilkenfeld said NBC “acted quickly and responsibly” in investigating the claims and firing Mr. Lauer.
As far as this column can tell, Mr. Lauer has not commented publicly on the allegations. In the matter of Mr. Keillor, this doesn’t appear to be a case of unwanted prairie home companionship, but rather a workplace issue. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Citing “inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him,” Minnesota Public Radio said Wednesday it has terminated its relationship with Garrison Keillor, the former host of “A Prairie Home Companion” who helped build MPR into a national powerhouse.
In an email to the Star Tribune Wednesday, Keillor said, “I put my hand on a woman’s bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”
Ironically or perhaps not, Mr. Keillor had just this week published a defense of fellow Minnesota liberal Sen. Al Franken, who has also been accused of sexual misconduct. The accused naturally deserve the presumption of innocence.
Today’s news follows the firing of numerous other alleged malefactors who held leading positions in the information and entertainment media. Just last week another staple of broadcast television, Charlie Rose, was fired by CBS, PBS and Bloomberg amid numerous accusations of appalling conduct.
There will likely be commentary in the coming days about how this problem exists in every industry, and it surely does. But there’s reason to believe that workplaces may be relatively safer outside of Hollywood and journalism. A new Economist/YouGov survey out this week finds Americans understandably and deeply concerned about the issue, but also finds that Americans are generally not working in places like the Weinstein Company.
While a large majority see sexual harassment as a serious problem for the country in general, they see less of a problem in their own workplaces. Specifically, a full 80% see sexual harassment as either a somewhat serious or very serious problem in the United States. Large majorities of both men and women hold this view.
But when asked about sexual harassment in the places they have worked, just 36% call it a somewhat serious or very serious problem. Of course one would hope for the complete absence of harassment, but the difference is striking. According to this survey, most American women do not regard sexual harassment as a serious problem in the places they have worked.
Traditional media have faced formidable challenges created by new technologies. This column’s most celebrated alumnus has described how unchecked bias has also undermined media authority. Now beyond questions of opinion and judgment, the industry faces a new test of its moral authority. How much cultural power can a movie or a television program exert if the audience decides its creators are repulsive?