Culture

It’s Getting Worse Every Day

Making the click-through worthwhile: Today’s just a cavalcade of creeps. Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, John Conyers, Al Franken. . .

Bonfire of the Grotesqueries

I hope this newsletter isn’t getting boring or redundant, dear readers, and that the coverage and discussion of sexual harassment scandals isn’t getting monotonous. It’s just that nearly every day, there’s some “whoa, did you see this? Can you believe this?” revelation about some previously-respected figure in politics or media or entertainment, one more figure that our society put up on a fairly high pedestal who turns out to be an abominable creep.

The revelations in the articles in Variety and the New York Times about former Today host Matt Lauer are stomach-turning.  Many people are focusing on this bizarre detail about Lauer’s office, suggesting he had a Bond-villain-like setup to ensure female subordinates could not easily leave his office:

Lauer, who was paranoid about being followed by tabloid reporters, grew more emboldened at 30 Rockefeller Center as his profile rose following Katie Couric’s departure from “Today” in 2006. His office was in a secluded space, and he had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his door from the inside without getting up. This afforded him the assurance of privacy. It allowed him to welcome female employees and initiate inappropriate contact while knowing nobody could walk in on him, according to two women who were sexually harassed by Lauer.

For what it’s worth, the Times article says “People who worked at NBC said the button was a regular security measure installed for high-profile employees.” But it has its own worse detail:

On Wednesday, NBC received at least two more complaints related to Mr. Lauer, according to a person briefed on the network’s handling of the matter. One complaint came from a former employee who said Mr. Lauer had summoned her to his office in 2001, locked the door and sexually assaulted her. She provided her account to The New York Times but declined to let her name be used.

She told The Times that she passed out and had to be taken to a nurse. She said that she felt helpless because she didn’t want to lose her job, and that she didn’t report the encounter at the time because she felt ashamed.

The “office culture” under Matt Lauer at NBC doesn’t sound all that different than the office culture under Charlie Rose at PBS, or the office culture under Roger Ailes at Fox News, or the office culture under Harvey Weinstein at his production company. In each case, workers under the celebrity boss may have personally abhorred the behavior but were unwilling or unable to make any real stand against it. The attitude was more or less, “look, he acts like Caligula and sees the staff as his personal harem, but he’s the boss, and he’s the guy who makes the place work.”

Except . . .  they weren’t! Were any of these guys all that difficult to replace? Lauer had an amiable presence on camera and read off the teleprompter, but was he exponentially better than any other NBC morning show host? Fox News has continued to thrive after Ailes’ retirement and death, and Tucker Carlson’s ratings are about as high as Bill O’Reilly’s. Future movie producers will cast different actors in the roles that Kevin Spacey would have previously had; cable networks will find comedians besides Louis CK to build shows around.

Several things about the network’s response do not make sense. NBC News chairman Andrew Lack declared in a memo that someone had come forward Monday and the network reached its decision Tuesday, concluding, “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”

That is difficult to square with “several women told Variety they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears given the lucrative advertising surrounding Today.”

I keep thinking about how much of the country watched Lauer co-host the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a week ago. Did NBC really have no idea that Variety and the New York Times were investigating Lauer’s behavior? Did they know and send him out to host the parade anyway?

Sometimes We Just Have to Say, ‘I Don’t Believe You’

Let’s take a good look at Garrison Keillor’s version of events that led to his dismissal from Minnesota Public Radio.

“I put my hand on a woman’s bare back,” he told the Star Tribune by e-mail minutes after MPR’s statement. “I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”

Wait, he aimed to pat her on the back, and somehow accidentally put his hand six inches up her shirt? Really?

And then this woman claimed to accept his apology, and secretly went to Minnesota Public Radio to complain?

And then in response to this entirely innocent and innocuous gesture, Minnesota Public Radio – which Keillor more or less built after 50 years – discounted his version of events and reacted as if he had been identified as the Zodiac Killer?

MPR will end its business relationships with Mr. Keillor’s media companies effective immediately. By terminating the contracts, MPR and American Public Media (APM) will:

* end distribution and broadcast of The Writer’s Almanac and rebroadcasts of The Best of A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Garrison Keillor;

* change the name of APM’s weekly music and variety program hosted by Chris Thile; and,

* separate from the Pretty Good Goods online catalog and the PrairieHome.org website.

Maybe we’re in a recurrence of the Spanish Inquisition, where innocent and well-meaning 75-year-old insufferably smug progressive radio personalities are targeted by vicious women, eager to paint their reassuring gestures as a horrible assault. Perhaps that explains Al Franken’s insistence that his hand may have accidentally brushed against a woman’s behind while taking photos, and that somehow these women are misremembering it as a full-fledged aggressive grope.

But then Keillor went even further: “If I had a dollar for every woman who asked to take a selfie with me and who slipped an arm around me and let it drift down below the belt line, I’d have at least a hundred dollars.”

I’m sorry. I’m just not buying that a hundred women have met Garrison Keillor, taken one whiff of his musky raw masculinity, and found themselves overcome with lust and unable to resist the urge to feel his tush or other places.

Speaking of Franken . . . 

Stephanie Kemplin, 41, of Maineville, Ohio, is the fifth woman in two weeks to accuse Franken of inappropriate touching, and the second person to allege that such behavior took place while Franken was on a USO tour. Three of the five women have been identified by name.

Kemplin said while she was stationed in the Middle East during the Iraq War, she met Franken — at the time, a comedian and writer — as he was visiting American troops with the USO. A longtime fan of “Saturday Night Live,” Kemplin got in line to take a photo with Franken.

“When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast. He kept his hand all the way over on my breast,” Kemplin said in an interview. “I’ve never had a man put their arm around me and then cup my breast. So he was holding my breast on the side.”

Kemplin repeatedly used the word “embarrassed” to describe her immediate reaction at the time.

“I remember clenching up and how you just feel yourself flushed,” she said. “And I remember thinking — is he going to move his hand? Was it an accident? Was he going to move his hand? He never moved his hand.”

Let me guess, senator, this is another incident that you don’t recall but that must be another innocent gesture maliciously misinterpreted?

Congressman James Clyburn Plays the Race Card in His Defense of John Conyers

Prediction: The spate of sexual harassment allegations will do more damage to the Democratic party as a whole than Republicans.

The New York Times’s Robert Draper: “Also at this morning’s House Democratic caucus: James Clyburn compared Conyers’ accusers to the child murderer Susan Smith, who initially claimed a black man had abducted her kids. Clyburn said these are all white women who’ve made these charges against Conyers.”

This cultural change will hurt Democrats more because the party’s grassroots faithful see their leaders as defenders against women in the allegedly GOP-driven “war on women,” and when Democratic powerful, entitled men exhibit the same unacceptable behavior, lame excuses, and counter-accusations as every other powerful, entitled man, those grassroots will be appalled and outraged.

ADDENDA: Go figure . . .  Chris Hofmann discovered the casting in the film Love, Actually was prophetic!