NPR news chief quits over sexual harassment allegations

I can’t keep track anymore of how many big cheeses in Hollywood and the media have been toppled since the first Harvey Weinstein bombshell burst. In the movie industry, there’s James Toback, Brett Ratner, Kevin Spacey, and Big Harv himself; in journalism there’s Leon Wieseltier, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly and his newly revealed $32 million settlement, and now Michael Oreskes of NPR. We’re going to need to start a separate vertical on the site dedicated exclusively to big-name sex creeps just to keep up.

Oreskes is by far the least well known of the men I just mentioned but he’s a person with considerable power in his field. Not only was he senior VP in charge of news at NPR, before that he worked for the New York Times and was senior managing editor for the Associated Press. He’s had a lot of influence in his long career. And no doubt many, many women reported to him in the course of it. So far there are three allegations of harassment against him. So far.

On the spectrum of offenses ranging from flirting with a subordinate to the Full Weinstein, Oreskes appears to be somewhere between flirtation and Mark Halperin territory. Not as bad as Halperin — there’s no allegation of him wanking it in the middle of a conversation with a woman colleague, for instance — but improper.

In separate complaints, [two] women said Oreskes — at the time, the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times — abruptly kissed them while they were speaking with him about working at the newspaper. Both of them told similar stories: After meeting Oreskes and discussing their job prospects, they said he unexpectedly kissed them on the lips and stuck his tongue in their mouths…

One of the women said her encounter with him permanently damaged her confidence. She was in her late 20s at the time, recently arrived in Washington from a small Western town. “When I first went to see him, it was after screwing up my nerve to try to be bold and maneuver myself into a better job, and after what happened with him, I never really tried that again,” she said…

She says that when she mentioned to him that she was traveling to New York for a job interview at the New York Daily News, he told her to book the flight he planned to take the same day. They shared a cab into the city from the airport. At the end of the trip, he leaned against her, kissed her and slipped his tongue into her mouth, she said.

The second woman tells a similar story, and Times employees remember Oreskes “pestering” a young woman employee at the NYT with phone calls and messages that made her “nervous.” All of this happened years ago, but a woman who works at NPR claims that a career counseling session with Oreskes two years ago turned into a weird conversation about relationships and his first “sex girlfriend.” (There was no inappropriate contact between them, she says.) What encouraged the first two women to speak up, they say, was the thought of Oreskes steering NPR’s coverage of Weinstein. “It’s sickening,” one told WaPo. “I want to say: ‘You owe me . . . a public apology. You should recuse yourself.”

Today he resigned:

“I am deeply sorry to the people I hurt. My behavior was wrong and inexcusable, and I accept full responsibility,” Oreskes said in an internal memo obtained by CNN.

“To my colleagues, I am grateful for every minute I’ve had to work with each of you,” he said. “NPR has an important job to do. Public radio matters so much and I will always be your supporter.”

In an alternate universe where Weinstein wasn’t exposed, I wonder if Oreskes’s accusers would have spoken up. (In a world where Hillary Clinton had won the election, would Weinstein himself had been exposed to begin with?) And even if they had, would these accusations have been sufficient to force his resignation? Media outlets are showing zero tolerance towards bad behavior towards women right now because the charges against Weinstein are so horrific, but what Oreskes is charged with is the sort of thing that might have earned him a suspension and/or some counseling and “proper workplace behavior” training not long ago.

On the other hand, there are probably more than three women with stories to tell. The sooner he resigns, the less incentive those other women have to dial up reporters. A few months from now, he’s doubtless hoping, the frenzy of outing sexual harassers will have passed and he’ll be quietly employable again.

Although not all accused harassers may be so lucky:

During a conference call with Wall Street analysts, Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley fielded a question about recent press accounts that the company has been negotiating with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“We get approached by people all the time, which is probably where these reports were coming from,” Ripley said. “He did approach us. We do not have any interest in hiring him.”

“O’Reilly to Sinclair” rumors have been floating around for six months, with NBC reporting less than a week ago that it could be happening. Now here’s the CEO saying nope, no way. Could be that’s a pure PR decision, with Sinclair increasingly leery of taking on O’Reilly’s baggage after he’s been bloodied in the media over that blockbuster settlement with Lis Wiehl. It may also be, though, that they’re worried O’Reilly would behave badly in their own workplace and that would open them up to mega-lawsuits by women employees. What would their defense be when a woman plaintiff inevitably pointed out in court that the company had every reason to know what they were getting into by hiring O’Reilly and chose to hire him anyway?

In lieu of an exit question, read this poll from NBC. Nearly half of all women who are currently employed, fully 48 percent, say they’ve experienced harassment on the job.