NPR's Chief News Editor departs amid sexual harassment allegations by three women

With all the big names being fired this week amid sexual harassment allegations, this story probably isn’t getting the attention it otherwise would. NPR’s Chief News Editor David Sweeney departed the organization Tuesday amid allegations of sexual harassment by three different women. Sweeney may not be a household name like Matt Lauer or Charlie Rose but he was one of the top five news executives at NPR.

“David Sweeney is no longer on staff,” Chris Turpin, acting senior vice president of news, said in an email to staff.

“This is a difficult time for our newsroom and I’m committed to supporting all of you as we move forward. I know you appreciate that there are some questions I cannot answer in keeping with our practice to not comment on personnel issues, but I will do my best to address those I can,” Turpin added.

Sweeney’s downfall follows the resignation of NPR News Chief Michael Oreskes earlier this month. After Oreskes resignation, NPR invited other employees to come forward with complaints about their work environment. At least three women did come forward to complain about David Sweeney. Two weeks ago, Sweeney was placed on paid administrative leave while NPR investigated the allegations:

Three female journalists — two of whom are still NPR employees — confirmed that they had filed complaints against Sweeney following the Oreskes revelations. Their complaints stem from isolated encounters in 2002 and 2007 and a series of interactions in more recent years. Conversations with friends of each of the women validated, in broad strokes, their accounts, saying that they had spoken about the incidents either contemporaneously or before the Oreskes scandal….

In the encounter from 2002, Sweeney and a producer drove around the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., in a luxury car being used for a story she was working on. After stopping in a glitzy bar for a drink — “we were pretending to be fancy,” the producer said in an interview — she said Sweeney asked her to pull to the side of a quiet street and then leaned over and kissed her. She said she froze and that after he stopped she kept driving…

A second female producer hoping to make the difficult jump to on-air reporter says she approached Sweeney for advice in 2007. They met for drinks during happy hour at a Latin restaurant. According to the woman, as they were talking Sweeney unexpectedly went in for a kiss. The former producer said she pulled back, grabbed her purse, and ran to the bar’s bathroom, where she waited until he left.

She recounts her shock in the moment and decided later to pretend it had never happened. “When it happened, I asked myself, did I do something to make that seem OK?” the journalist said. She said she never wanted to interact with Sweeney again. This producer later became an on-air reporter at the network, where she still works.

The third accuser is NPR editor Lauren Hodges who filed complaints against Sweeney and two other employees. She told NPR, “I felt I was a joke. The only reason people wanted to get close to me was because they were interested in me romantically or physically.” Hodges claims Sweeney asked about her personal life and gave her unsolicited gifts. All of this happened while he was her direct supervisor. Eventually, Sweeney was taken off her job as an editor of Newsdesk by Sweeney and another executive. She suspected her unwillingness to be social with them was part of the reason for it and says she almost quit her job over it.

Will this be the last shoe to drop at NPR? Given that the network invited women to come forward after Oreskes departure and that Lauren Hodges filed complaints against two other colleagues (besides Sweeney) I’m guessing the answer is no. Presumably, we won’t hear about the firing of some junior editor, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned in all of this, it’s that it’s usually the guys at the top who feel most free to try out their moves on female subordinates. They have the most to lose but also the most reason to think their accumulated power will insulate them from consequences. That seems to have worked for people like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer for quite a long time.