NPR Management Under Fire Over Sexual Harassment Scandal

Nov 3, 2017
Originally published on November 3, 2017 3:40 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are continuing to follow a story from within our own newsroom here at NPR. As we reported earlier this week, NPR's top editor Mike Oreskes resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. Now NPR CEO Jarl Mohn has told the network's staff that he let them down in how he handled concerns about Oreskes' behavior toward women. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been covering this.

Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So I know we all got a memo from Jarl, our CEO, saying that he let people down in how he reacted to all of this. Just take us through how he has handled the concerns inside our newsroom.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, initially, he said, you know, there were a lot of things that were being done behind the scenes that we couldn't talk about because personnel decisions are confidential, that he had been, of course - reprimanded Mike Oreskes, our former news chief back in 2015. But other concerns were taken into account. Now, Jarl's simply saying that he should have acted more precipitously to protect the culture here. He's called for an all-staff today where he'll take any question from folks in the newsroom about their concerns. And he's saying, you know, work with me. Let's fix what's wrong in our culture to make it the welcoming place it should be. He's also commissioned an outside review by a law firm of how Oreskes' - concerns about Oreskes were handled. And they'll be reporting back, I guess, to the board.

GREENE: Well, you know, we have a board of directors at NPR, you know, obviously involved in following all of this. How were decisions reached in this case, David? And was the board involved, aware?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, so what we've previously known is that there were three, in a sense, complaints. One was from a younger junior colleague in 2015 of an incident not of great severity but a real concern. And he was reprimanded after that. Then a woman came forward in October 2015 to say that he had forcibly kissed her against her will almost two decades ago at The New York Times. And that was in October 2016. And then this past October, another woman came forward - a second woman - to say that she, too, had been kissed against her will when Oreskes was Washington bureau chief at The New York Times. And at that point, Mohn informed the chairman and the vice chairman of the board of directors of NPR of this concern and of the earlier reprimand. And the full board was notified, I'm told, on the afternoon of this Halloween on Tuesday afternoon, which was, of course, was after - or as the Washington Post was reporting about the two women's concerns from nearly two decades ago.

GREENE: And David, speaking of timing here, you have been reporting that NPR - the network may have gotten a warning about Mike Oreskes a while ago. Can you talk about the timing of that?

FOLKENFLIK: So let's go back more than a year to the very end of September 2016. I'm told two veteran editors did go to management. Both went to HR. One also went to a lawyer. The other also went to senior news executive and said the culture within the newsroom is toxic. People are very concerned about Mike's behavior towards women. There have been, I think, a lot of gossip about the complaint filed in 2015, I mentioned, but also concerns that perhaps there have been others. Lack of knowledge, lack of specificity - but, you know, one of them very directly said, according to what they told me, that he had lost his ability to lead the newsroom, that his leadership had been compromised because of this question of his behavior towards women.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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