In 2013, then-CBS CEO Leslie Moonves spoke to students at the School of Communication about fighting bias, plotting the future of journalism and treating others with respect.
Five years later, he has left the network—following allegations of sexual misconduct by 12 women, as reported by The New Yorker.
Moonves’ words to student media now ring with grim irony. He told students to “remember that how you treat people is very, very important,” and even praised a colleague, Jeff Fager, who, this month, was himself ousted for threatening a co-worker covering his own set of allegations.
It’s disheartening to hear yet another alleged instance (or here, instances) of sexual abuse by a person in power—especially considering the influence Moonves held, both at CBS and, potentially, to the students he spoke to, here at the University of Miami and beyond.
And unfortunately, the field of journalism seems especially susceptible to abuses of power—even though (or perhaps because) its very function is to expose those abuses. Fager’s threatening text, in which he reminded a reporter that “there are people who lost their jobs trying to harm me” as she covered his case, is proof of this. How do we grapple with it?
At the very least, we can learn. If we ever want to create a culture in which victims don’t feel pressured to wait years to come forward with their stories, we need to learn that abuse can take many forms and that all are contemptible. In one statement, the ex-CEO admitted that “he tried to kiss the doctor” in whose office he was a patient, while still seeming to shrug off the gravity of the situation by saying “nothing more happened.”
But nothing more needs to happen for an unwanted kiss to be unwanted and, thus, reprehensible. What’s more, what a person of power like Moonves might see as “just” an advance cannot be removed from the power, authority and intimidation that such a person inherently wields.
It is imperative that we recognize this sort of influence among employers and peers—so that we can confront a hostile culture when we see it and, accordingly, work against it.
One such way to do this is to address the issue of sexual misconduct (or its potential to happen) on an institutional level; merely hoping that everyone understands consent, boundaries and abusive behavior is not enough. The President’s Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention, as described in an email from President Frenk Sept. 24, is an example of the sort of top-down approach needed to combat a culture of disrespect, not just the one or two “bad apples” we seem to so often hear about.
According to the email, “all faculty members, supervisory staff, and employees in areas where there is frequent interaction with students” will take compulsory online training on sexual misconduct and reporting.
It is a start, and a welcome one. Any system that aims to teach about these issues on a wide scale is worth commending. Making it required “homework” sends a message of universal responsibility as if to say the issue of sexual misconduct (at work or at school) really is on all of us.
But even so, we can’t stop there. While formal education is absolutely necessary, empathy and understanding are powerful tools that last long beyond any lesson plan—and we ought to use them, at work, school and beyond.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.