Why Politicians Are Managing to Stay Put Amid Sexual Harassment Charges
Matt Lauer is the latest public figure to be felled by allegations of sexual misconduct. So, why aren’t politicians falling, too?
It’s a natural question, especially in wake of NBC’s decision to remove Lauer as host of the Today Show. The network seems to have acted preemptively.
No accuser has yet come forward publicly in the Lauer case, and NBC said it fired him based on a single complaint. However, Variety and The New York Times are said to have interviewed multiple woman whom Lauer had hassled.
Variety published its story later in the day on Tuesday. It said it spoke with dozens of women, and that three specifically said they were victims of Lauer’s sexual harassment.
Hours after the Lauer news broke, Minnesota Public Radio said it, too, had fired a famous figure: Garrison Keillor, long-time host of Prairie Home Companion.
Although he stepped down from that show in 2016, Keillor still had a series of production ties with MPR. The network ended its distribution Keillor’s other programs, and says it will change the name of PHC, now is now hosted by musician Chris Thile.
Meanwhile, the political arena is getting crowded with men about whom women have complained. Yet, notably, they still have their jobs.
Latina commentator Ana Navarro tweeted
Michigan Rep. John Conyers has given up a position as a ranking committee member, but still has his seat. Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken is sorry, but not leaving.
Roy Moore is still the Republican party candidate for Senate in Alabama. And of course, Donald Trump remains president. (Thrush, by the way, remains suspended by the Times.)
Why haven’t these political figures seen the same fate as Lauer, movie producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, or broadcaster Charlie Rose, to name a handful?
I spent time brainstorming about this with Colin Beresford of the Michigan Daily, and we came up with several reasons why these political figures have been able to stand pat.
First, they answer to the voters, in their districts, state and across the country. They didn’t get their jobs by building movie studios, starring in films, or appealing to a television audience.
There is a way to remove them, or to make sure they don’t succeed, and that’s through the voting booth.
You may despise Franken for groping someone and grinning into a camera lens, but unless you’re in Minnesota, you can’t do much about removing him. Likewise, Conyers isn’t going anywhere until Detroit voters decide their finished with him.
Of course, Congress can censure them, but many members will be reluctant to do so, since their turn in the barrel could easily be next.
Second, politics is already sordid. American history is littered with cases of political scandal, from city council members to the nation’s highest office.
Everyone hopes that their public servants are civic minded in action and pure in thought. And surely some are.
But the reality is that sexual scandals are as much a part of politics as bribery. They’ve touched city council members, mayors, governors, and presidents. Ubiquity doesn’t excuse it, but it does help explain the response to it.
Third, politicians are viewed individually. As a Michiganian, I hope no one believes that Conyers is the face of our state, just as I’m sure Minnesotans hope Franken’s actions don’t reflect on all of them.
You might be able to argue that Trump reflects the Republican Party, but even then, there are figures like the two presidents Bush and Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake who would argue he doesn’t.
By contrast, Lauer was undeniably the face of the Today Show. Rose helped revive the fortunes of CBS This Morning, which was struggling for years until he, Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell teamed up.
There are rumors the show is “begging” Oprah Winfrey to sit in for a while, proof of how much these programs rely on a recognized player.
Fourth, politicians are part of a herd. Setting Trump aside for a moment, Conyers is one of 435 representatives. Franken is one of 100 senators. Moore has an opponent in Alabama.
These men can fade into a bigger crowd. None of them are vital for their legislative body to keep operating, unlike Rose, whose departure immediately killed his long-running PBS program.
“When you get together in a group, it’s like being in a family,” said Albert Hammond Jr., admittedly an unlikely source of political wisdom. “It’s different than bringing something in by yourself.”
And, sometimes that family will come to your rescue.
While the sexual harassment stories are distressing, there are other politicians who will defend the miscreants when it serves a purpose. Just look at how House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi initially responded when asked about Conyers.
She called him an “icon” who deserved due process. Some saw the answer as a way to keep peace with the Congressional Black Caucus, which is not pressing Conyers to resign. But NBC political reporter Jonathan Allen said others called it “tone-deaf.”
It may sound cynical to remember Ronald Reagan’s words, but in the current atmosphere, he may have had a point.
“Politics is not a bad profession,” he said. “If you succeed, there are many rewards. If you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book.” And, Reagan could have added, keep your job.
Follow Micheline Maynard on Twitter @mickimaynard