While reading the Morning Jolt today I noticed that National Review’s Jim Geraghty is delving into some of the same questions we’ve been asking about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace and whether some industries are more prone to it than others. He’s exploring the idea of whether or not Hollywood and the Beltway political media crowds are really all that different.
Are they? Well, at least on the surface, sure. But perhaps not as different as you might hope.
While it’s not quite as competitive as Hollywood, journalism is like other fields perceived as glamourous: a lot of people competing for a limited number of jobs and slots. An editor or publisher’s ability to offer a job, and then give a particular journalist the top-tier assignments, prominence, and accolades creates enormous power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely; no doubt Harvey Weinstein’s power to create or destroy careers in Hollywood added to his certainty that he could harass any woman (and apparently berate any man) and get away with it.
It’s cynical but not so rare to assert that the highest tier of the realm of journalism is starting to resemble Hollywood. Halperin’s latest show, The Circus, ran on HBO, not a news network. Journalists play themselves in cameos in television shows and movies, and the White House Correspondent’s Dinner increasingly resembles Oscar Night for Washington. Some journalists have become full-scale “personality celebrities,” performing a drama of their own. The cover of Vanity Fair usually features a movie or music star; in January, Megyn Kelly stared out at viewers. Would anyone today launch a McLaughlin Group style-show of ruffled, not-quite-ready-for-prime-time middle-aged print reporters with more inside scoops than good looks?
Two points about the question Jim is posing. First of all, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the difference between “us and them” has become more and more blurry over the course of my lifetime. Sure, it’s wonderful to think of journalism in terms of some idealized concept of the gumshoe style reporter, pounding the pavement in relative anonymity, writing up stories or reading script on the evening news which focuses on the Five Ws and acting as the vehicle for the distribution of facts rather than being a celebrity. But that’s not what sells copy, boosts ratings, drives up click-through rates or builds careers.
You can’t find much in the way of a “just the facts” new show anymore which doesn’t include at least some elements of panel discussions and opinion ping pong on display. Drama sells. Friction between ideologies, sometimes heated, is what gets people talking about a show. Your column in the Washington Post isn’t going to get much play if you’re just spouting common sense and facts. You have to deliver the hot takes. And that means developing a spicy personality profile. (Being good looking doesn’t hurt either.)
The second, and probably far more important point (which I’ve attempted to make here before) is that no matter what similarities you may or may not see between the cocktail parties in Los Angeles and their counterparts in Georgetown, there is nothing unique about these professions when it comes to sexual harassment. I remain convinced that there’s probably every bit as much of this sort of abuse of power going on in newsrooms and behind the scenes at cable news studios as there is in Hollywood. We’re just not hearing as much about it… yet.
But if the media really wants to do their job (at least the ones not grabbing women’s buttocks uninvited), they need to get out of Hollywood and their own backyards and talk to real people working in industries where camera crews never come calling. If you listen to the stories of some young starlet or aspiring reporter and force Kevin Spacey or Charlie Rose out of their industries, maybe you’ll help the next young woman trying to make it in either business. But who is going to help the bank teller, the nurse or the real estate agent who is putting up with invasive groping because they can’t afford to lose their jobs? If they come forward and nobody believes them, reports on it or publicly holds the perpetrator to account, they’re going to wind up out of work and the next woman who applies to be their replacement will be in the same positition.
Yes, it’s a big job and it might take a very long time, but there’s a responsibility to see it through.