Mike Oreskes sure isn't getting the Roger Ailes treatment.
On the air, Fox News handled Ailes's resignation amid sexual harassment allegations last year like an honorable discharge, lauding the professional accomplishments of the longtime network chairman while scarcely mentioning the claims against him.
But NPR's coverage of Oreskes, its senior vice president for news until his resignation on Wednesday, has been unsparing. Shortly after Oreskes stepped down, host Mary Louise Kelly grilled NPR chief executive Jarl Mohn about his decision not to remove Oreskes sooner. The public broadcaster was aware of three incidents of alleged inappropriate behavior by Oreskes, two of which predated his tenure at NPR, but kept him in place until a report on Tuesday by The Washington Post's Paul Farhi.
“If you knew of these multiple allegations, did it cross your mind that leaving Mike in his job might put other women, might put our colleagues, at risk?” Kelly demanded to know.
Reporting on an internal scandal is inherently difficult for a news organization. An outlet risks damage to its reputation by baring its worst side; it also risks damage to its reputation by trying to cover that side up.
There is no way to win, which might help explain why Fox News and NPR took different approaches — and why NBC went a third direction when it suspended senior political analyst Mark Halperin last week and ultimately fired him on Monday. NBC did not praise Halperin on his way out, nor did it subject its management to public second-guessing.
On the day of Ailes's exit from Fox News in July 2016, an 11-paragraph statement issued by the network's parent company, 21st Century Fox, said nothing about sexual harassment but featured praise for Ailes's “remarkable contribution to our company and our country.”
Fox News's 6 p.m. newscast that day noted that Ailes had been accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed by former host Gretchen Carlson, but it omitted the subsequent allegations of roughly two dozen other women. Fox News media reporter Howard Kurtz quoted from the 21st Century Fox statement and added that Ailes “has been virtually synonymous with Fox News since its founding.”
The network's prime-time opinion shows ignored Ailes's departure altogether.
“I'm not interested in making my network look bad,” Bill O'Reilly told CBS News four months later. “At all. That doesn't interest me one bit.”
O'Reilly got a nice send-off of his own when he, too, was accused of sexual harassment and pushed out of Fox News in April. On the day of O'Reilly's firing, Dana Perino filled in on his show and told viewers that it was “the end of an era here at the Fox News Channel.”
“Bill has been the undisputed king of cable news, and for good reason,” Perino said. “He is an incredibly talented broadcaster who raised the bar for interviewers everywhere.”
There was no acknowledgment of harassment claims against O'Reilly.
The oustings of O'Reilly and Ailes suggest that Fox News took sexual harassment allegations seriously, behind the scenes. Outwardly, however, the network chose to shine a positive light on two men who built the network into a media juggernaut.
Perhaps, in part, because Oreskes and Halperin were not nearly so instrumental in the development of NPR and NBC, respectively, they have not enjoyed the same deference from their former employers.
“I will speak for both Joe [Scarborough] and myself here,” Mika Brzezinski said last week on MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” the program on which Halperin appeared most frequently. “Our hearts break for both Mark and his family, because he is our friend. But we fully support NBC's decision here. We want to know more about these disturbing allegations. We want to hear the stories. We need to know what happened. And we're not going to avoid the story just because he's our friend.”
On Monday, Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News anchor now hosting a morning show on NBC, conducted a live interview with one of Halperin's accusers, journalist Eleanor McManus.
NPR has been even tougher on Oreskes. It was NPR's David Folkenflik who followed The Post's initial report with the accounts of five additional accusers.
Thursday on “Morning Edition,” Folkenflik and host David Greene talked openly about what Greene described as “increasing tensions within our newsroom.”
“There are a lot of people in our newsroom, not just women, who are deeply upset,” Folkenflik said, adding that dozens of NPR staffers watched Mary Louise Kelly conduct her interview with Mohn on Wednesday. “They feel that NPR knew about troubling indicators early on [and] should have acted more quickly to protect their colleagues.”
NPR's approach has been to report on not only the facts of the Oreskes situation but also the public broadcaster's internal strife.