In 2016, I wrote a piece about the fall of Fox News chief Roger Ailes in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations that opened with the sentence, “Monsters don’t die easy.” I thought of him as a monster because of the sick, toxic, misogynistic workplace environment he created at Fox News as he harassed, assaulted and abused women and put people in power who did the same.
But three years and multiple allegations of similar behavior by Les Moonves and Charlie Rose at CBS, Matt Lauer at NBC, Bill O’Reilly at Fox and, of course, film mogul Harvey Weinstein at Miramax, it is clear that Ailes’ actions were not some extraordinarily evil, beyond the pale kind of behavior, as the word monster might imply. Instead, we now know Ailes’ actions were closer to the norm for too many men of power in the news and entertainment industries.
That’s depressing. But it gets worse.
As Irin Carmon, senior correspondent at New York magazine who has written extensively on sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement, pointed out on a recent edition of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” men like Ailes and Moonves not only controlled large corporations, they controlled large corporations that created and distributed on a mass scale the narratives that helped shape our views of the world. Their networks, cable channels and production companies turned out movies, TV shows and news programs that surely were influenced by their own embrace of patriarchy.
Worse yet, most of these men are not going quietly even after more than four years of revelations, headlines, scandal and disgrace in the media industries.
Look at the ongoing controversy at NBC News in the wake of Ronan Farrow’s best seller, “Catch and Kill,” in which he chronicles the way Noah Oppenheim and Andy Lack, the president and chairman of NBC News, respectively, shut down his investigation of Weinstein telling him he didn’t have a story worthy of being aired. Seven weeks after he took his investigation of Weinstein to the New Yorker, it was published there and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Farrow.
Oppenheim, Lack and the NBC News PR machine have been doing damage control since the publication of Farrow’s book, repeating their story over and over that he didn’t have anything worthy of NBC’s air ― as if the “Today” show, where some of Farrow’s work had aired, is such a lofty journalistic space. There is no doubt that David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, is one of the greatest editors of this era, but I don’t believe even he and his team could turn deficient work into a Pulitzer Prize winner in just seven weeks. Ask some of the reporters and editors who won Pulitzers for investigative reporting how long it took to report and write their winning stories.
Even NBC News employees have been openly questioning their bosses’ version of events as the network tries to counter Farrow’s claims about their stopping his investigation of Weinstein and knowing about and trying to suppress the sexual misconduct and assault claims against “Today” show host Matt Lauer before he was finally fired.
“One thing is indisputable,” MSNBC prime-time host Chris Hayes said on his Oct. 14 program, “Ronan Farrow walked out of NBC News while working on the Weinstein story and, within two months, published an incredible article at The New Yorker that not only won a Pulitzer but helped trigger a massive social and cultural reckoning that continues to this day.”
Hayes described Farrow’s reporting in the book as “the kind of journalism that you want to do as a journalist, that everyone who works in this business should want to facilitate.”
Hayes said this on the same day that Oppenheim labeled Farrow’s book “a smear” in a memo to NBC News employees, which NBC News PR sent to reporters like me.
On Oct. 25, Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s highest-rated prime-time host, told her viewers that she and her producers had independently confirmed that NBC News had in fact told Farrow and his producer to stand down in their investigation of Weinstein.
“As to whether or not Ronan Farrow was told to hit pause on any new reporting at a time when NBC didn’t think there was enough to go to air with, we have independently confirmed that NBC News did that," she said on-air. "That that did happen. He was told to pause his reporting.”
She brought Farrow onto her show where he said Oppenheim ordered him “on six occasions” to stop reporting the Weinstein story.
“It’s laid out in the book, whether what we had was enough," Farrow told Maddow and her viewers. “We had a tape of Weinstein admitting to sexual assault. We had multiple named women in every version of this story. But that actually is not the point: The order to stop was un-journalistic.”
And yet for all of that, NBC News and parent company Comcast still refuse to have an independent investigation of sexual misconduct at the network on how the Lauer allegations and the Weinstein investigation were handled.
As Carmon put it, “There was never an independent investigation at NBC in contrast to CBS, which hired an independent law firm to do an investigation. It wasn’t a perfect process, but you can see at CBS there are many new faces steering the ship. At NBC, we really have yet to have a full accounting.”
One of the most recent and brazen examples of a media executive not going gently into the night in the wake of #MeToo allegations, was seen on Oct. 23, when Weinstein showed up with an entourage at a New York comedy club that featured an “Actors Hour” with young performers onstage.
One of the women called him out from the stage as “Freddy Krueger,” an evil character from “Nightmare on Elm Street” films. Another young woman in the audience was asked to leave after she stood before Weinstein’s table and denounced him as a rapist.
Weinstein faces criminal charges of predatory sexual assault, criminal sexual act, first-degree rape and third-degree rape. He has pleaded not guilty and says all of his sexual encounters were consensual.
Baltimore TV writer and producer David Simon also found himself back in the news late last month after defending James Franco, his star and fellow executive producer on the HBO series “The Deuce," in a Rolling Stone interview.
Two women filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Franco and his defunct acting school saying that he and his partners used the school to “gain access to young women,” and then sexually exploited them.
Franco and his partners, the lawsuit alleges, “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.”
In the Rolling Stone interview, Simon criticized press coverage for essentially treating the allegations against Franco as if they were the same as those against Weinstein and Moonves, the former chairman on CBS.
“The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone," he told Rolling Stone.
“Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, ‘You know, it’s not this, it’s that’?” he asked his interviewer.
In an email response to my request for him to elaborate, Simon wrote, “My comments make plain what is alleged and what is not. There isn’t any charge that asserts that James Franco sought to have sex or sought to engage sexually with any of the complainants.”
I don’t think a powerful male TV writer and showrunner like Simon is the best person to be telling women today what is “this” and what is “that” when it comes to allegations like those leveled against Franco. To me, that’s feels like the path to the wrong side of history.
The men who write, produce and buy the narratives that play a role in shaping the world views of millions of viewers have great power; this is where the war on patriarchy must focus.
Patriarchy is Old Testament old, and it is going to take a long and fierce battle to end it. It is not enough anymore to tweet support of victims or go on social media to say something snarky about an abuser. Too many women have suffered.
Hayes and Maddow put serious skin in the game by using their shows to question their bosses. Farrow walked away from a network job and stood up to all the intimidation ugly characters like Weinstein could throw at him with their thuggish private investigators and calls to his bosses.
As we have seen with Ailes, Moonves, Weinstein, Bill Cosby and others, these men are shameless. They will give up their powder and privilege only when it is taken from the cold, dead hands of their careers.