Throughout the #MeToo movement’s 2017, many of the women who came forward to tell their stories of sexual harassment and abuse while trying to do their jobs didn’t want their name used.
They didn’t want to be subject to retaliation and have their careers ruined.
What happened to many of those who put their names behind their stories? Their careers were ruined.
The Columbia Journalism Review today details what happened to women who spoke out against former FoxNews host Bill O’Reilly. Most all of the women were forced out at Fox but Juliet Huddy thought she’d be able to find something else.
She was passed over at every job opening in TV news before finally landing a gig this week in local radio in New York. The bank is about to foreclose on her home.
Most every news organization where women have spoken up has proclaimed that the actions of their harassers don’t reflect their company’s values, and yet there is an industry blacklist against the women, CJR says.
“There is definitely blackballing in the news industry,” says labor attorney Nancy Erika Smith, who has handled dozens of cases of sexual harassment and abuse of women in the media.
Among her most well-known clients is former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson, whose $20 million settlement against Roger Ailes sparked a New York Times investigation into sexual harassment throughout the network.
Carlson is also out of a news job. “Just as [Harvey] Weinstein was able to blackball any woman who complained about him,” Smith says, “I can’t even remember how many producers and women complained about O’Reilly.”
Andrea Mackris was one of those producers, who Smith has also represented. Mackris hasn’t worked in the media since leaving Fox in 2004. Another producer, Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, has not worked in news since her settlement with Fox and O’Reilly in 2002 (though her accusations were of harassment through verbal abuse, not sexual harassment).
In December 2017, Mackris and Bernstein sued O’Reilly for defamation after he denied allegations against him, claiming they were politically and financially motivated. Emily Steel was the first to report on the defamation suit, writing in the Times, “Ms. Bernstein said she had suffered reputational harm, emotional distress, physical sickness and loss of income as a result of the statements made by Mr. O’Reilly and Fox News.”
Broadcast news is, of course, far from the only workplace where women who blow the whistle on sexual harassment experience negative consequences in their careers. It happens in every industry. As Smith notes, it’s alarming that the women in the news business who spearheaded the global reckoning that is #MeToo are now being punished for doing so.
It was Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against Roger Ailes and Fox in 2016 that led other women to lay bare their own experiences of sexual harassment at Fox. Only then did the Times and others begin investigating or publishing stories about other prominent men accused of sexual harassment, such as O’Reilly and Weinstein.
Many of the women whose stories led to O’Reilly’s firing had settled with Fox years earlier, and had already spent those years excluded from the industry they had worked so hard to enter.
So what’s really changing as a result of the courage of women to come forward?
“It’s great that people are hearing my story, but for what?” Tamara Holder, a former political analyst asks. “I don’t have a job. Yes, I had a legal career and I was very accomplished, but I gave that up to pursue my dream job.”
“Being a female whistleblower, we’re inherently seen as troublemakers,” former Fox contributor Carolyn Heldman says. “People don’t like women who make waves.”
“If you truly believe these women were wronged, then hire us,” Huddy says.