If I hadn’t been on a plane I would have stood up and screamed, “You have got to be kidding me!” And then I would have torn the newspaper to shreds and scattered them. But security issues being what they are, I thought it best to control my Italian temper. So I calmly — well, OK, maybe not so calmly, but firmly — shoved the newspaper into the seat pocket in front of me. And I offered up a prayer for an institution that has lost its way, especially based on the ridiculous report I had just read, from where it’s supposed to be: performing a public service by reporting the facts.
I was traveling home from a speaking engagement recently, in the midst of the seemingly never-ending stories of public figures, including popular media personalities, either stepping down or getting fired over sexual harassment allegations. The comment that almost caused my outburst came from one of the so-called experts interviewed by USA Today on the recent news of the likes of Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. I had grabbed a copy of the USA Today before boarding the plane after noticing it contained a number of articles related to the media scandals. This former CBS News executive, Andrew Heyward, had the nerve to claim that the media are handling all of these allegations along with the coverage of these allegations with the utmost professionalism, honesty and transparency. After all, he went on to say, it’s not as if those who have been forced to resign are actually hypocrites. Seriously? Yes, he was quite serious.
“But the cure is transparency, and we’ve seen examples of that, most recently at CBS. CBS handled the Charlie Rose story with openness, the anchors talked about it with appropriate candor and indignation. … If we found out that TV news operations were covering up their own sins while busily investigating others, (that would be a problem), but there’s no indication that’s happened.”
I don’t know what planet Mr. Heyward is living on. Could it be that an admission of anything but “transparency” and “appropriate candor and indignation” would be a reflection on Mr. Heyward himself and other news execs who might have known about sexual harassment in their newsrooms?
Call me crazy, but if the media were honest and transparent they wouldn’t be in this big of a mess in the first place. It’s bad enough to see all of these allegations about people who held themselves up as moral icons, Americas darlings and arbiters of truth. But adding a whole lot of salt to the deep and painful wounds are other ugly facts that keep emerging. The first being that the already very long list of employees claiming that they and their co-workers have been complaining for years keeps growing longer by the day. These employees say management turned a blind eye and a deaf ear because those involved were cash cows for their operations. Whether it’s CBS, NBC, Fox News, public radio, etc., the allegations coming to the light are unfortunately not exactly breaking news but the result, again, of years of mistreatment and abuse of power.
The second ugly truth emerging: Many of the media personalities accused were doing major stories on politicians and other media personalities accused of the very same things. And they did this with a smug determination to go after the bad guys when they themselves were just as bad if not worse. As a Catholic journalist and talk show host who spent half of my professional life in the secular media, I can continue to hope and pray that those in the news business will take a good look at themselves. But right now, it doesn’t appear, based on what we’re seeing, that we will be getting even the slightest attempt of a media mea culpa. Bah humbug.
This column first appeared on OSV Newsweekly. To read Teresa’s latest OSV columns click here.