Viewers of CBS This Morning had to wonder what would happen today after the abrupt ouster of co-host Charlie Rose over allegations of sexual harassment. After all, other similar stories got coverage on the show today, including an update on Roy Moore’s denials of sexual predation in the late 1970s, another on Al Franken’s second accuser, and a third on the new exposé of John Conyers’ settlement. Give Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King credit for knowing they had to lead the show by confronting the Rose story head-on, although both say they’re still not quite sure how to react to it.
Even so, both women came down squarely on the side of Rose’s accusers, which isn’t tough to do when his longtime producer has basically admitted to the core elements of the story. O’Donnell promised an investigation at CBS News:
O’DONNELL: This is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women. Let me be very clear: there is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive and I’ve been doing a lot of listening and I’m going to continue to do that. This I know is true: women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility. I am really proud to work at CBS News. There are so many incredible people here, especially on this show – all of you here. This will be investigated. This has to end. This behavior is wrong. Period.
King told audiences that she was “still reeling” after getting calls last night from her children and from Oprah Winfrey over the scandal. She offered a slightly friendlier take to Rose, noting their friendship and partnership over the five years of the show’s run. King echoed a sentiment first broached by Sarah Silverman after Louis CK admitted to grotesque episodes sexual harassment:
KING: You know, I’ve enjoyed a friendship and a partnership with Charlie for the past five years. I’ve held him in such high regard and I’m really struggling because how do you – what do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something that is so horrible? How do you wrap your brain around that? I’m really grappling with that. That said, Charlie does not get a pass here. He doesn’t get a pass from anyone in this room. We are all deeply affected. We are all rocked by this.
“None of us thought that we’d be sitting at this table, telling this story,” King concludes. How did that escape their attention over the past five years? That’s not hard to guess, and it’s not on King or O’Donnell either. It’s almost certain that Rose took care not to exhibit that behavior in front of them, and he certainly wouldn’t have pulled his stunts on women as highly ranked as King and O’Donnell. Harassment is about the projection of power, and Rose had to know that King and O’Donnell had more than enough to ruin him if he attempted to victimize him.
However, this is all the more remarkable for a news production that has such powerful women in front of the cameras. The lack of accountability at CBS This Morning and at PBS and Bloomberg was apparently so acute that the women victimized by Rose felt that they couldn’t even speak up to their natural allies on the set to correct the situation. Again, that’s no knock on King or O’Donnell, who couldn’t correct what they didn’t know, but it might be a starting place for building better structures of accountability down the road. After all, this is supposed to be a journalistic enterprise, which is all about imposing accountability and transparency on others. This is a wake-up call for CBS, PBS, Bloomberg, and others to apply those standards internally as well.