You don’t have to have a PhD in dot-connecting to figure out why talented journalists like Julianna Goldman feel forced to bow out of promising careers at major TV networks.
Goldman, a former CBS correspondent, published a memorable piece in the Atlantic this week. Its title: “It’s Almost Impossible to be a Mom in Television News.”
Goldman tells her own story and that of 13 other correspondents, anchors and producers (not just at CBS) about the extreme difficulty of being a mother and doing their high-pressure jobs. She wrote about the lack of flexibility and workplace respect, about unequal treatment and pay, and the agonizing career decisions that often follow.
“Pressed to choose between staying in my career and being a mom, I chose the latter,” Goldman wrote. “But it didn’t really feel like much of a choice. Why wouldn’t management budge?”
Possibly because of an ingrained corporate culture, starting with the longtime chief executive.
At the helm of CBS for decades had been Les Moonves, one of the richest and most powerful men in American media.
This week, the New York Times reported that CBS’s own investigators have concluded that Moonves behaved abominably toward women in his company — they even had multiple reports that he arranged for a female employee to be “on call” to give him oral sex.
But Moonves talked a great game about helping women.
When the #MeToo movement began in earnest last year, Moonves put himself front and center, fully in favor of reform.
He was a founder of the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, chaired by Anita Hill.
“It’s a watershed moment,” Moonves said last fall of the burgeoning movement. “I think it’s important that a company’s culture will not allow for this.”
That was utter hypocrisy, if the credible allegations in Ronan Farrow’s reporting in the New Yorker last summer are true — that Moonves forced himself on women, intimidated them and threatened to harm their careers.
Moonves resigned in September under a cloud.
With his huge severance payment hanging in the balance, CBS decided to do its own investigation, tapping lawyers from two prominent firms.
Their findings not only backed up Farrow’s earlier reporting but uncovered worse, according to the Times: that Moonves destroyed evidence and misled investigators as he tried to save his reputation and claim a $120 million golden parachute.
The lawyers also uncovered new reports of the chief executive’s sexual misconduct: “Moonves received oral sex from at least 4 CBS employees under circumstances that sound transactional and improper to the extent that there was no hint of any relationship, romance, or reciprocity.”
Moonves has denied any nonconsensual sex with employees or anyone else, and his lawyer says Moonves never put or kept anyone on payroll for sex.
It’s no surprise that the network’s investigators think it would be reasonable to deny Moonves his severance. He’ll probably be okay, anyway, since his net worth reportedly is in the neighborhood of $800 million.
And it’s also no surprise that with someone like Moonves at the top, the network’s corporate culture isn’t very sympathetic to women like Goldman. As she recalls in her Atlantic piece, it’s not so long from the time when women’s TV careers hinged on how sexually attractive they were. (She uses a much more pungent phrase.)
None of this is to say that there aren’t successful and powerful women at CBS and throughout network news — including some who have managed to combine motherhood and career.
And it doesn’t mean that male and female bosses are uncaring or unsympathetic.
Regardless, though, a deep and systemic problem remains for women in TV — and their viewers. It may even be getting worse.
Goldman cites the findings of a report by the Women’s Media Center: That television viewers are less likely to see women reporting the news today than just a few years ago.
“At the Big Three networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — combined, men were responsible for reporting 75 percent of the evening news broadcasts over three months in 2016, while women were responsible for reporting only 25 percent — a drop from 32 percent two years earlier.”
In 2016, another once invincible powerhouse in TV, Fox News founder Roger Ailes, resigned in disgrace over sexual misconduct claims, set in motion by former host Gretchen Carlson, who won a $20 million settlement from her former boss.
Even more than the famous faces that have left their media posts in infamy (Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, Bill O’Reilly), it’s the top executives like Ailes and Moonves who have done the most harm.
There may not be a direct connection between Julianna Goldman’s departure from CBS and the tone set by Moonves — any more than there is a provable connection between the unfair coverage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the media misogynists behind it.
But you can’t call either one a coincidence.
Corporate culture reaches far and wide, and inevitably, it flows from the top.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan