On Nov. 29, Savannah Guthrie announced at the top of the hour on” The Today Show” that her co-anchor, veteran NBC journalist Matt Lauer, had been terminated from his role due to allegations of “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” In a company-wide memo sent by NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack, it was stated that these allegations “prompted a serious review and represented a clear violations of [the] company’s standards.”
This incident closely follows Charlie Rose’s termination from CBS, PBS, and Bloomberg after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct as well as Bill O’Reilly’s firing from FOX News when the New York Times revealed settlements that O’Reilly, Fox News, and 21st Century Fox had made with women who accused O’Reilly of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Sexual assault’s “watershed moment,” as previously addressed in our Oct. 19 editorial, has dominated media coverage in the past two months. Investigative journalism and revelations published by the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair, to name only a few widely circulated publications, have led the charge in uncovering and legitimizing women’s claims as well as lending them a voice to come forward and tell their stories.
The increase in conversation around sexual assault is both empowering and disheartening. It is empowering because women have been encouraged to speak out, bring to light how real this issue is, and reveal how often it occurs in the workplace. It is equally disheartening because women have remained silent for so long, unable or unwilling to come forward, afraid they will put their careers and their personal lives on the line by doing so.
By the time this article goes to print, it is likely that another producer, media mogul, or veteran journalist will have fallen. As we process these claims, as individuals, as women, and as a society, we might become desensitized. This is the trade-off for bringing more attention and awareness to the issue.
As we process these claims together, there is another question we need to consider. What will happen when this new era of sexual assault awareness faces its own Duke lacrosse moment? Will all women coming forward with their own allegations be cast aside, rejected, and ridiculed as if the entire movement was a sham?
Bari Weiss wrote in a Nov. 28 NYT op-ed that, “It’s condescending to think that women and their claims can’t stand up to interrogation and can’t handle skepticism. Facts serve feminists far better than faith.” We are adamant that coverage should not dissipate when, not if, any of these very public allegations prove to be falsified or untrue.
Even journalism, an industry predicated on a core belief that peoples’ stories should be shared, finds itself constrained to male-driven power dynamics. Because of this, how news organizations handle sexual harassment claims from within is paramount. Guthrie was visibly choked up on The Today Show, saying that it was “a sad day here at NBC News” and that she was “heartbroken.” And she, unfortunately, will not be the last female journalist to report live on sexual assault allegations against colleagues.
What outlets like NBC, CBS, and NPR have made clear is their zero-tolerance policy. Furthermore, as women like Mika Brzezinski, Norah O’Donnell, and Gayle King have reiterated on-air, their organizations are committed to covering the story as reporters and as journalists, putting facts first.
There may be a small silver lining. Journalists undoubtedly receive negative attention regarding their ethics, morals, and trustworthiness. However, what this recent wave of sexual assault allegations indicates is that journalists have clearly established their stance and devotion to protecting women in the workplace. As a predominantly-female editorial board, led for the past two years by a female editor-in-chief, The Bucknellian certainly feels uplifted that many of the women we look up to in journalism are committed to this cause.
As my time as editor-in-chief comes to a close, I am convinced that female journalists will continue to break down barriers for ourselves in the field. I continue to be inspired by the legendary women who work diligently and tirelessly to maintain journalism’s reputation as what I’ve always known it to be: a platform for storytelling, agency, and yes, change. On behalf of the entire editorial board, thank you for reading with us this semester. – Barbara Bell ’18