Pressing Issues

What Does It Cost to Protect Shitty Media Men?

The millions of dollars paid in hush money or severance packages to make up for the bad behavior of a few men could have single-handedly given the ailing media industry a boost.

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For the price of ousted Today Show anchor Matt Lauer, NBC could pay the salaries for 500 TV reporters for a year.

That’s not a typo. Five. Hundred. Reporters. That’s what NBC could pay for, with one year of Matt Lauer’s last estimated salary during the time he was locking women in his office and bending them over his desk.

With the checks cut to the disgraced Charlie Rose, CBS could pay more than 50 journalists $45,000 per year. Rose, who was earning $2.5 million prior to his ouster, paid his interns $10 an hour to be rubbed up against and perved on.

The money used to settle former Fox pundit Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment complaints, $45 million, could run an entire affiliate TV station for a year, including editors, producers, reporters—down to the fees for servicing the water coolers.

In the months since the #MeToo movement began inspiring women in just about every industry, including media to come forward about the shitty men they work with, much has been made of the lost productivity and stifled talent of women who left the industry rather than stay to suffer groping, verbal harassment, and in some cases assault. These costs are real and consequential for American media and its consumers.

But these shitty media men (aptly named by Moira Donegan when she began gathering tales of them in a now-infamous spreadsheet) cost us more than just lost hours or untold stories. They cost money. Lots of it.

They cost their media organizations millions in salaries and payouts that could, in an industry beset with financial woes, pay reporters and producers and editors and other professionals to gather the news and distribute it.

When anchor Gretchen Carlson settled her suit against Roger Ailes, Fox News was on the hook for $20 million. The national salary average for a TV journalist is $45,925, according to Glassdoor. That adds up to 400 journalists, at a pretty decent salary, nationwide, their time and talent weighed against an elderly lech who told Carlson that if she had sex with him she’d be “good and better.”

Many journalists, especially those working complicated stories or reporting from conflict zones, complain of a lack of resources, from an unwillingness to pay for records-gathering or translators to nickel-and-diming hotel charges. Imagine the stories they could tell if we took the millions of dollars in resources devoted to coddling America’s entitled men and paid all the expenses of exposing government malfeasance, institutional negligence, or full-on war crimes.

In Chicago, the Tribune company, now known as Tronc, parted ways with chairman Michael Ferro to the tune of $15 million in “consulting fees,” after Ferro was revealed to have grabbed a female employee’s breast and cornered her in a hotel room. The Tribune previously spent $4 million on Randy Michaels, an executive fond of charming management tactics like offering a waitress $100 to show colleagues her boobs.

During the Tribune’s most recent bankruptcy, thousands of people lost their jobs. Newsroom employees, after years without a raise and layoff after layoff, voted to unionize this past spring, citing outsize executive salaries and gender inequity in pay as leading causes for their efforts.

The outsize value of shitty men in comparison to the work of their victims isn’t limited to media. Michigan State University is on the hook for more than $500 million for the victims of Larry Nassar, the nightmare gymnastics doctor who sexually abused young women for years despite many of them reporting him to various campus authority figures.

An Olympic gymnast, in contrast, earns a bonus of $10,000 to $25,000 every four years — if she wins a medal. Some unsponsored athletes have to launch crowdfunding campaigns to get themselves to the games. In the long run, it would have been vastly more beneficial to the University of Michigan to just give $10,000 to 50,000 female gymnasts.

And Harvey Weinstein is estimated to have cost his eponymous company $150 million in secret settlements to women he raped or harassed. The cost of the average independent film is $750,000, according to Sundance. And the genre is where most women and people of color create their work, the types of films that shed light on racism, classism, homophobia, and shitty men. Financing 200 independent films written or directed by women would be a worthier use of that fortune than covering up for a powerful man.

All this salary data leaves out the ancillary benefits of being a famous man: the book deals, speaking engagements, honorary degrees and everyday deference that being wealthy and well-known entail–not to mention the profitable apology tours and inevitable comebacks. Add those up, as the likes of Lauer and Rose and Weinstein certainly did, and forget the news. At that point, you could basically buy an island.

For years, the women victimized by these men lived in fear of their power and were told the Lauers and Roses of the world had irreplaceable skills and value for which they should be compensated highly. But in the months since Lauer’s and Rose’s ousters, the ratings for their respective shows haven’t suffered much, calling into question the real value they provided, especially in light of their actions.

There will always be lousy people, in any line of work. There will always be men who try to prey on vulnerable women, and the current movement to change workplace cultures rightly focuses on taking seriously the reports of people victimized by these shitty media men, and seeking justice, retribution, and access for them.

But the people who employ them need to understand that all these buyouts and payoffs — and the bloated salaries given to men in the first place — come at a cost to the viewing public, who lose out on stories of vital importance while corporate owners shell out for sexual harassers.

Consumers of news need to demand that media company management listen to women’s warnings, if not for the sake of human decency, then for the sake of news itself. And if the higher-ups won’t listen, they need to take their dollars to media outlets that treat women fairly and spend money on reporting and producing, not rapists and perverts.

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