Credibility at risk, media cuts stars loose over sex claims

This image released by CBS shows, from left, Norah O’Donnell, Charlie Rose and Gayle King on the set of “CBS This Morning.” Rose’s co-hosts on “CBS This Morning” sharply condemned their suspended colleague Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, after the airing of sexual misconduct allegations that included groping female staffers and walking around naked in front of them, saying that it’s a time of reckoning in society. (CBS via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — The consequences came swiftly after the allegations emerged against Charlie Rose. Within hours, the veteran news host was suspended by CBS and his PBS interview show was pulled off the air. The next day, he was fired.

Rose became the latest in a string of prominent journalists felled abruptly by accusations of sexual misconduct. While news organizations aren’t the only companies taking prompt measures against the accused, they face particular pressure to act because of the risk of losing the audience’s trust as they cover the sex scandals coursing through politics, Hollywood and the media itself.

“Our credibility in that reporting requires credibility managing basic standards of behavior” inside the network, CBS News president David Rhodes told staffers Tuesday in a memo announcing the firing of Rose, the “CBS This Morning” co-host and “60 Minutes” contributor. PBS also cut ties to Rose.

Rose’s downfall came after he was accused in The Washington Post of groping women, walking naked in front of them or making lewd phone calls. He apologized for his behavior while questioning the accuracy of some of the accounts.

He wasn’t even the only big-name journalist whose career was rocked Monday by sexual misbehavior allegations. The New York Times suspended White House reporter Glenn Thrush after he was accused of making drunken, unwanted advances on women. Thrush disputed some of the accusations but apologized for “any situation where I behaved inappropriately” and said he had had a drinking problem.

In recent weeks, journalist Mark Halperin was fired from NBC News and lost a book contract amid allegations he partially denied, and NPR news chief Michael Oreskes was ousted over behavior he acknowledged as “wrong and inexcusable.”

The disciplinary actions inside the media unfolded as news organizations have been busy covering the explosive accusations against such figures as Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K., actor Kevin Spacey and, in the political sphere, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and Democratic Sen. Al Franken.

While the journalists’ apologies or acknowledgements surely made it easier for their employers to cut them loose, a journalism expert said news organizations in particular can’t afford to hesitate and come off looking hypocritical.

“Especially in the news business, where it’s our job to ferret out the truth and hold powerful people accountable, executives realize that they must investigate reports about their own employees swiftly, and that means promptly suspending alleged perpetrators when there are credible allegations,” said Indira Lakshmanan, a journalism ethics scholar at the Poynter Institute, a media think tank in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The fever over sexual misconduct involving media figures began in the summer of 2016 with Gretchen Carlson’s accusations against Fox News Channel founder Roger Ailes. Within two weeks, Ailes was out of a job. Similarly, Bill O’Reilly’s career at Fox imploded quickly in April when The New York Times reported on how much had been paid to settle misconduct allegations against him.

To be sure, recent accusations have also sparked some quick professional separations in entertainment and other spheres. Weinstein was fired from the company he co-founded, Spacey was canned from “House of Cards” and excised from the finished movie “All the Money in the World,” and the release of Louis C.K.’s new movie was canceled.

Some in Hollywood and beyond have complained of a rush to judgment. But public-relations and employment-law experts say that in the post-Weinstein era, companies feel they have to take fast, decisive action — and should, even at the risk of being sued by those who have been fired.

“Brands that are making quick decisions are doing the right thing” to limit potential damage to their reputations, said Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, which specializes in crisis PR. “Firing somebody quickly allows you to stop the bleeding much, much, much quicker.”

Laurent Drogin, a New York-based employment-law attorney, said: “Employers would rather take the risk from the accused turning around and coming after them for something than to possibly be faulted for not remedying a work situation.”

“There’s a below-zero-tolerance policy now,” he said.

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