NPR’s CEO and chief legal officer were aware of harassment complaints against its top newsroom editor Michael Oreskes for at least two years, but didn’t do anything about it until reports surfaced this week, a move that has frustrated NPR staff, according to new reports from CNN and The Washington Post.
Oreskes was asked to resign Wednesday after The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the editor had kissed two women and put his tongue in their mouths without their consent during business meetings while he was working at The New York Times in the 1990s. Those women both complained to NPR human resources in October, with one of them saying she felt compelled to speak out because of Oreskes’ position in coverage of the outbreak of allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
NPR itself reported that one of its current reporters had filed a complaint against Oreskes in 2015 for initiating a sexual conversation with her when they were discussing her career.
While CEO Jarl Mohn said in a memo to staff Wednesday that ousting Oreskes was not spurred on by the Post’s reports, employees aren’t buying it. Several female employees have signed a draft petition expressing their concerns over how the process was handled, according to the Post.
“The in-house mood is stunned, shocked, angry,” Susan Stamberg, one of NPR’s founding journalists, told the Post. “We’re trying to talk it through, and figure out effective responses.”
A union that represents NPR employees is considering making a statement on the organization’s handling of the situation and some staffers want the news outlet to hire a firm to conduct an external investigation into the conduct and the response to complaints, according to CNN’s sources.
During an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered” Wednesday, Mohn said Oreskes was put “on notice” after the 2015 complaint and said executives would have had a “very different reaction” to the reports from the two women in October if the incident had happened at NPR.
Current and former employees told the Post that Oreskes’ inappropriate behavior was an open secret within the newsroom and management circles. In recent weeks, senior executives asked Mohn to take action against Oreskes, but he felt he had done his duty and said he asked people to come forward within the organization, but no one did, CNN reported, speaking to several NPR sources.
“There had been rumors circulating around the building here, about his behavior. Rumors and gossip. We can’t act on that. We have to act on facts,” Mohn said in the “All Things Considered” interview.
Oreskes is the latest prominent member of the media to be accused of inappropriate sexual advances toward women who either worked under them or were getting career advice.
There has been an uptick in victims, mostly women, making their allegations of sexual harassment and assault public ever since reports of decades worth of accusations against Weinstein were made public. More than 60 women have come forward with allegations against Weinstein, many of whom are prominent Hollywood actresses.
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