Women journalists are breaking the biggest stories and bringing down powerful abusers. So why are so many men getting the follow-up assignments?
The #MeToo Movement has arguably been the biggest catalyst in changing how society reacts to accusations of sexual misconduct — and female journalists are doing most of the groundbreaking reporting. Many of the high-profile people who have been accused of sexual misconduct have accusations about them that span decades. These accusations weren’t publicly addressed until journalists, most of them women, made them public in investigative news reports, thereby forcing the accused and many people who do business with them to publicly confront the accusations. It’s resulted in consequences that might not have happened if it weren’t for these investigative reports.
Even though there’s been an increase in #MeToo coverage—and women journalists are breaking most of the high-profile #MeToo stories—men end up with more bylines. According to a 2018 Women’s Media Center report on #MeToo news coverage, about 52 to 53 percent of #MeToo stories since October 2017 have been reported by men. The report concluded that this gender disparity has a lot to do with the makeup of mainstream newsrooms, men outnumber women by more than double, and therefore tend to get the most assignments. In other words, women are doing most of the work in breaking the biggest #MeToo stories, but men are doing most of the #MeToo stories overall.
However, majority doesn’t always mean authority. One thing is clear about the biggest #MeToo stories of the past two years: Women are leading the way in breaking the news, gaining the trust of victims and sources, and can be credited with starting—and continuing—a movement that’s working to change our culture for the better.
On Oct. 5, 2017, The New York Times published Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s detailed report of several women coming forward (including actress Ashley Judd) to accuse entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault or harassment. The article also revealed Weinstein’s history of settling sexual-misconduct complaints out of court.
Five days later, Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker exposé article about Weinstein was published, and it had stories from several other Weinstein accusers, including actress Mira Sorvino. Kantor, Twohey, and Farrow won the Pulitzer Prizes for their Weinstein coverage, and the former movie mogul has since become a pariah with a ruined career, his second wife divorced him, and he is currently facing several criminal charges and civil lawsuits over his alleged sex crimes.
Kantor and Twohey’s landmark New York Times article on Weinstein opened a floodgate not only to expose the corruption and abuse of men in power, but also for female journalists to break these stories.
Since Kantor and Twohey’s influential report about Weinstein, women have reported on the alleged sexual misconduct of former NBC anchor Matt Lauer, chef/restaurateur Mario Batali, TV journalist Charlie Rose, comedian Louis C.K., filmmaker Brett Ratner, entertainment mogul Russell Simmons, movie executive John Lasseter, politician Roy Moore, casino mogul Steve Wynn, former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, fashion photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber, finance manager Jeffrey Epstein, former New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman, entertainment executive Roy Price, rock singer Ryan Adams, filmmaker Max Landis, TV personality A.J. Calloway, and opera singer Placido Domingo. All of the accused lost their jobs or business deals after these reports were published, and some are facing legal consequences, such as lawsuits or criminal investigations. (Epstein died in a New York City jail on August 10, while awaiting his trial on sex-trafficking charges. A medical examiner ruled Epstein’s death a suicide by hanging.)
Eliza Ennis, who co-wrote the Women’s Media Center #MeToo report with Lauren Wolfe, believes when a #MeToo news story breaks about an accused public figure, it’s usually because “women accusers have chosen to talk to women journalists or women have chosen to pursue the story.”
The Women’s Media Center #MeToo report focused only on major U.S. newspapers, but Ennis believes it’s no coincidence that the biggest #MeToo news stories were first reported by print or online media. “It’s a really sensitive topic,” Ennis says, and print/online media outlets usually require more intricate written journalism, compared to media outlets in radio or television. Print/online media outlets tend to have their investigative content “written far in advance” before it’s made public, says Ennis, and they usually have more room than soundbite-driven radio and TV newscasts to go into the details about these often-complicated #MeToo stories.
“This is the kind of thing that a lot of reporters have been passionate about reporting for a very long time,” says Amy Zimmerman, who has done extensive #MeToo reporting for the news website The Daily Beast, including breaking news about accused sexual offenders Landis, YouTube gamer Jared Knabenbauer (aka ProJared), and podcaster Adam Grandmaison. “With the latest resurgence of #MeToo, starting with Weinstein, I think you saw major legacy publications really take notice. It was clearly a cultural moment, everyone’s paying attention, and with that comes a reallocation and reconsideration of resources and support.”
She adds that since the Weinstein story broke, editors are giving “more support” to #MeToo news coverage, but “there’s still more work to be done,” and that journalists still need “more resources — time, money and platform” for more progress to be made. “In general, there is a gender disparity in the journalism world and many industries,” says Irene Plagianos, who broke the story of disgraced celebrity chef Batali for Eater. “A lot of the #MeToo stories have really shown what deep gender disparity in levels of power can do, when it comes to creating a very inequitable environment.”
“These are stories I would find,” Zimmerman says of her exclusive #MeToo coverage. But she adds that “supportive editors” make a difference in the decisions to publish the stories. “This is always going to be work that I’m passionate about. As long as there’s an opportunity for me to do work like this, I’m going to do it. It’s hard work and, on a personal level, it can be draining. It can take a lot of you, but it’s work that I’m really proud to be able to do.”
Zimmerman believes that female journalists can have an advantage when covering a #MeToo story with female accusers. “Not all victims and survivors of sexual assault are women, but as women, we have more of an understanding of how pervasive [sexual misconduct] is and how important this work is.”
She adds, “On almost every sexual-misconduct story that I work on, there’s at least one person I talk to who says, ‘I feel comfortable talking to a female journalist about this. I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to a male journalist about this.’ That’s not to say that there aren’t men who can do this work extremely well. Women, because we’ve dealt with things like this in our lives, we’re just more attuned or sensitive to them. We build up these skills of being able to talk to a survivor in a respectful way that makes them feel comfortable. Maybe male journalists haven’t had occasion to do that as much.”
Zimmerman continues, “That’s a real skill that people should take the time to learn. Just because you’re a fabulous journalist doesn’t mean that you have that skill set. Anyone who has taken the time to develop these skills or do this work, this skill set should be rewarded and noted. They should be seen as real reporting skills, not just a feminine touch.”
The impact of #MeToo coverage goes beyond showing gender-disparity issues or accusers getting justice. Plagianos believes that the purpose of #MeToo coverage is also about improving how society deals with sexual misconduct: “These toxic cultures, if they are changed, they benefit men and women.”
Eater NY editor Serena Dai — who oversees Eater’s New York City coverage, and is on the editorial management team that worked with Palgianos in the Batali exposé — says about journalism’s role in the #MeToo movement: “I’m optimistic that more people are taking abuses of power against women seriously now, and that’s particularly showcased by how many past news stories are finally getting their day in the spotlight with system inequality in mind … People are still out there abusing their power, but it’s not as okay anymore. And while it’s still shamefully difficult to go public as a victim of such behavior, there’s far more public belief in women now.”
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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