This culture of impunity persists and must be addressed in Congress, in Hollywood, in media.
I don’t get it.
In a single week, three massively powerful media organizations — NBC, Warner Bros. Television and the Los Angeles Times — were rocked by allegations that top executives behaved badly toward subordinates, and the organization allowed it to go on.
Dear Reader, you may now take a moment to check your calendar.
Yes, it is 2020, nearly three full years after the #MeToo movement crashed through our sexist norms, toppled powerful executives and supposedly established a new environment where sexist, abusive and racist behavior would no longer be tolerated.
So, seriously — did these people simply miss the #MeToo memo?
For those who might not be keeping score, let me catch you up:
• Late last week, we learned that NBCUniversal has launched an investigation into NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy, who was promoted in fall 2018 to head all entertainment programming after leading the network’s reality division for many years. On Friday, The Hollywood Reporter published an exposé detailing accusations of “racist, sexist and homophobic behavior” by Telegdy that had apparently gone on for years, based on interviews with 30 current and former employees.
“Sources say they have seen Telegdy mock gay executives, sometimes to their faces; use homophobic and misogynistic slurs; and disparage or make sexual comments about the physical appearance of network talent,” THR wrote. “Current and former insiders say they have heard Telegdy participate in what one former insider describes as ‘appalling’ discussions in the office that included crude sexual remarks.”
• The day before, BuzzFeed published an exposé of simply rancid behavior by executive producers on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “According to dozens of men and women who work behind the scenes, the office is a place where sexual harassment and misconduct by top executive producers runs rampant,” the outlet wrote, singling out four EPs in particular.
“Five former employees said executive producer Ed Glavin touched them in a way that made them uncomfortable by rubbing their shoulders and back, as well as placing his hand around their lower waist,” BuzzFeed wrote of one EP. And then there was this: “One ex-employee said head writer and executive producer Kevin Leman asked him if he could give him a hand job or perform oral sex in a bathroom at a company party in 2013. Another said they separately saw Leman grab a production assistant’s penis.” (Glavin and Leman denied misconduct.)
Where was Ellen DeGeneres through all this? Where was producer Warner Bros. Television? DeGeneres has apologized and pleaded ignorance — not impressive or convincing, sorry — and Warner Bros has (predictably) launched an investigation into the behavior.
• Finally, 50 women at The Los Angeles Times sent a letter to the paper’s human resources department demanding an investigation into how and why top newsroom editor Colin Crawford was permitted to stay in his job and then quietly retire in January 2019 despite accusations of “inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and toxic management over multiple decades,” as a story in Vice put it last week.
Of course, the L.A. Times has itself broken many important stories about the #MeToo movement. But executive editor Norman Pearlstine and owner Patrick Soon-Siong are now under virtual assault by the staff, with the Crawford HR complaint emerging as the latest instance of an “environment of hostility, intimidation and harassment” toward Hispanic and Black writers, as one of the letters put it.
In each of these cases, the accusations of bad behavior involve a person in a position of vast power — and each also came from dozens of sources. In each case, these media organizations have publicly committed themselves to a safe environment that respects women, that supports inclusion and that has vowed to implement change after previous instances of bad behavior.
So you have to ask: Were the owners, boards of directors, CEOs or other responsible individuals busy? Distracted? Were they not paying attention? Or were they paying lip service to the #MeToo movement while failing to actually take it seriously?
I spoke to a leading woman in the #MeToo movement last week who was fully exasperated. “How could you do and say any of those things … and not be worried that you’ll lose your job?” she asked. “How does that culture continue?” This woman has been part of the commitment to change. “We’re in the midst of a moment where everyone feels change is happening,” she lamented. “How does this go on for so long? I don’t understand.”
To cite the words of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), these latest cases suggest a culture of impunity. Bad behavior is not punished, so it continues. It is that culture that must be addressed — in Congress, in Hollywood, in media and throughout society.
As Ocasio-Cortez so memorably said in response to the disrespect shown her by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.): “It’s not about one incident. It is cultural. A culture of impunity of accepting violence and violent language against women. An entire structure of power that supports that.”