By Mark L. Taylor
The Commoner Call (11/23/17)
Years ago, in a previous career as a journalist, I worked for a feisty underdog newspaper, The Albuquerque Tribune. We were the afternoon paper and with half the staff fought a scrappy daily battle against the larger, locally-owned and much larger circulation Albuquerque Journal.
The dramatic implosion of television journalist Charlie Rose this past week in a tawdry sexual harassment and abuse scandal had me thinking about those days, especially when I saw how CBS News reacted to the whole disaster. Pretty much every news cycle brought fresh allegations, going back years, of Rose wandering around nude in front of PBS staffers, making lewd late-night telephone calls, pinching, squeezing and copping lecherous feels with what staffers at both CBS and PBS referred to as Charlie’s dreaded ‘Crusty Paw’.
Rose staffers frequently moved back and forth between the two networks with Rose doing background research, helping with production chores and meeting with their sometimes nude boss in his mansion for late night drinks and work sessions.
As the news broke, CBS corporate headquarters rushed to distance itself from the scandal’s smelly paw.
In a memo sent to staffers Tuesday, CBS News President David Rhodes announced the company had severed ties with the “This Morning” co-host over the “extremely disturbing and intolerable behavior said to have revolved around his PBS program.”
The long-running kinky innuendo-filled, highly suggestive back-and-forth between these three dusty adolescents suggesting dating and sexual encounters should have awakened someone in the CBS human resources department to the possibility of PR icebergs in the path of CBS Titanic.
Rhodes went on, “Despite Charlie’s important journalistic contribution to our news division, there is absolutely nothing more important, in this or any organization, than ensuring a safe, professional workplace — a supportive environment where people feel they can do their best work,” Rhodes wrote. “We need to be such a place.”
In quick succession, Rose was dropped by CBS, PBS and Bloomberg.
But there’s a problem with Mr. Rhodes’ stern rebuke and reassuring declaration of workplace integrity.
Icebergs and CBS Titanic
To the tell the truth, I have never seen the CBS “This Morning” show. I have sworn off most mainstream television for 20-plus years. The last time I saw Charlie Rose with any regularity was at least 20 years ago and only on PBS. I thought he was a pretty good – if a bit nerdy and sometime obsequious – interviewer. So when the scandal hit I checked out a video montage of Rose’s interactions with “This Morning” co-hosts Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell entitled Last Week Tonight – And Now This – More Of CBS This Morning’s Awkward Sex Talk. Or, perhaps Mr. Rhodes could taken a few minutes t check out these clips compiled by the HuffPost. The long-running kinky innuendo-filled, highly suggestive back-and-forth between these three dusty adolescents suggesting dating and sexual encounters should have awakened someone in the CBS human resources department to the possibility of PR icebergs in the path of CBS Titanic.
The show was so well known for this sweaty back-and-forth comedian John Oliver had been commenting on the licentious vibe of “This Morning” for years. In a 2015 7-minute interview with the CBS threesome Oliver was pretty damn direct about the tacky orientation of the show. When King tried to ask a question about Oliver’s take on politics Rose interrupted saying, “Let’s stay on sex.”
O’Donnell chimes in, “Yeah, where you going?”
“Let’s just say, sex, we approve, we’re in favor,” King replies.
Poor Oliver looks like he just got locked in the sticky end of a New York City subway car, noting, “There’s a lot more sexual tension here that what Matt Lauer is doing.”
So at the very least, Mr. Rhodes and CBS should have been well aware that his three dancing dingbats were skittering across a moral and PR minefield.
As faux outraged and moralistic as Mr. Rhodes was, Rose’s co-host enablers, King and O’Donnell, took things to stratospheric heights with a Wednesday morning on air catharsis.
O’Donnell gazed earnestly into the camera noting, “This is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women. Let me be very clear: There is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive. I’ve been doing a lot of listening, and I’m going to continue to do that.
“This I know is true: Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility. I’m really proud to work at CBS News. There are so many incredible people here, especially on this show,” she said, looking over at King. “All of you here. This will be investigated. This has to end. This behavior is wrong. Period.”
“I certainly echo that,” King said, noting she had not slept a wink the night before and even got a phone call from … Oprah!
“Charlie does not get a pass here,” King declared. “He doesn’t get a pass from anyone in this room. We are all deeply affected. We are all rocked by this.”
Umm, yeah, okay…
Surely, Rose is solely responsible for his deplorable and demeaning behavior but what about King and O’Donnell’s participation in Rose’s locker room banter and sexually suggestive and supercharged on air talk? What about the executives and producers that permitted such crap? How, one might wonder, would a 20 year-old intern who managed to escape the sweaty 75 year-old Paw think she could possibly get any support when her attacker’s two female costars engaged in sexually suggestive and tacky banter every morning in front of millions on national television with the offender?
Obviously, they needed a babysitter on the CBS “This Morning” set. Hell, one adult would have maybe helped.
How it works in smaller media markets
All of this brings me back to my Albuquerque experience. The Albuquerque Journal had a very popular sports columnist who had a big readership. His smarmy mug was frequently on the news boxes and billboards promoting the paper. While I never heard rumors of sexual issues, it was long known that he was a manufacturer of quotes and quick to take freebies from sources and subjects of his columns. Because of his popularity he was immune until one day something happened and he got fired.
Before the day was out my paper, the Tribune, hired him as a city columnist. Several of us went to the editors to express our alarm: “What the hell are you guys doing. This guy is dirty.”
We were dismissed and the guy’s mug was now on our news boxes and splayed across our billboards. The penny ante shakedowns and freebies continued. Most of us steered clear. While he knew I didn’t care for him one day he walked up to my desk to show off a big honking bag of 4th of July fireworks he had been given by someone he wrote a story about.
“Man, we don’t do that at the Tribune,” I said.
A few minutes later he came sauntering back to my desk with the bag, “Hey, Mark, you have a son, do you want some fireworks?”
“No thanks,” I said. “I’ll buy my own.”
Eventually the managing editor got a big promotion to a west coast paper and took wonder boy with him as a new restaurant reviewer. He managed to stay under the radar for almost 15 years until everything blew up and he lost his job in a scandal of unpaid restaurant bills and weaseled freebies. From what I see on Google he now does what he should have been doing all along – PR work.
Most journalists I had the honor of working with were hardworking, ethical and dedicated to public service. There were liberals and conservatives alike and most of them could do objective, yet passionate reporting. But just as money corrupts politics and religion, so, too it can journalism.
The First Amendment gives protection to free speech and press because ultimately that is the only protector we have from homegrown despotism. Given the despot now manically tweeting from the White House the role of journalism is more important than ever. Seeing Charlie Rose’s 45-year career go up in smoke is one thing. Knowing what the implications are for the nation is another.