Message from Keith
By Keith B. Richburg
The swift downfall of Hollywood movie titan Harvey Weinstein, following multiple reported allegations of rape and sexual assault, among other misdeeds against women, has cast a welcome spotlight on one of the darkest corners of the workplace culture; the problem of sexual harassment and unequal treatment of women.
The #MeToo movement, with more and more women (and some men) stepping forward to tell their stories of being harassed has now gone global. Women in the U.K. and France have come forward to share tales of suffering at the hands of male colleagues.
China was also in the news, for the wrong reasons, when a state-run newspaper ran a ludicrous commentary asserting that sexual harassment did not happen in China, because Chinese culture taught men to respect women. The outcry on social media was so ferocious that the offending op-ed, in China Daily, has been deleted from the paper’s online site, and replaced by a notice saying; “Sorry, the URL you requested was not found.”
Official Chinese publications often like to claim that societal problems like gun violence, drug addiction, racism and, presumably now, sexual harassment are only found in the decadent West. But Chinese netizens were having none of it, which shows that even with the Beijing government’s tight control over the Internet, the online conversation still has the power to change the debate and force even official media to back down.
The other lesson I take from this debate is the enduring power of the legacy media, with good old-fashioned sleuthing, to prompt a debate and force a change of mind-set. The Weinstein story came from an in-depth investigation by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times, which in my view deserve a Pulitzer Prize for sparking this new global movement against workplace sexual harassment. And the reporters did it through digging and finding documents to bring to light Weinstein’s history of abusing, and then paying off, the women he victimised.
Journalism is in no way immune. Stories of sexual harassment by conservative icon Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and the late Roger Ailes pre-dated the Weinstein revelations. And newsrooms in the past were known as male-dominated bastions filled with loose sexual banter. Men still dominate the upper ranks of newsrooms where decisions are made.
But that’s changing. Women now far outnumber men in journalism schools — like the JMSC — and will soon be climbing up the editorial ranks to more management positions. That’s a great thing. For the news media to report stories of real interest to readers, they need to have newsrooms that reflect the diverse makeup of their readership, which means more women. And then hopefully stories like Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds, long the stuff of rumours and whispers, won’t go unreported for so long.