Sexism in the media, then and now | Joan Esposito

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Summary

Joan has been a fixture in the Chicago media landscape for more than 35 years. She first came to Chicago in 1981 as a 27-year-old reporter and weekend anchor at WGN-Channel 9, then became a Monday-Friday anchor star at both the local ABC and NBC affiliates.

Since leaving NBC 5 in 1999, Esposito formed J2 Strategic Communications, a media training firm. She is now back to her roots in radio. In Feb 2020 she took over as host of WCPT AM 820′s afternoon talk show, after the legendary Ben Joravsky stepped down from that slot. 

Joan was the victim of false accusations back in the 90s – not about sexual harassment, but terrible character assassination. We talked about how she sued the local shock jock who fanned the flames of the allegations on air, and how she found – and he earned – forgiveness.  

We also talked a lot about beauty, and what a double edged sword it is. As she said, “You wanted the boss to think you were pretty … but not too pretty.” And how neither of us ever felt that our beauty was a tool in our arsenal, something we could wield as we saw fit. 

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Episode Transcript

Introduction

Julia: For this week’s episode, I talked with Joan Esposito, who is a well-known figure in Chicago media. She has been on air, on TV and on the radio, for 35 years in the city of Chicago as an anchorwoman and as a reporter at most of the major local TV news stations here in Chicago. She is currently host of AM 820, which is WCPT’s afternoon show where she talks about local progressive issues. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Joan a little bit over the last couple of years, and she’s got just a fascinating personal story.

She herself was the victim of false accusations – not about sexual harassment, but just terrible character assassination, back in the 90s. And we talked about that during the interview. And how she was able to get to a place of forgiveness with the local shock jock who made these on-air allegations against her.

And being somebody who has had a long career in the media and in the public eye, she certainly had a perspective about how things used to be. And the female employee getting chased around the desk by the male boss really happened. And she told us a couple of stories.

We kind of dove in a little bit to, you know, the psychology behind it. And, you know, Joan is a real person. A real woman who went through these things and she’s able to describe just how difficult it was. And the kinds of choices that she felt she had to make. And how beauty was the primary consideration for how women were evaluated – certainly back then, but to a large extent today.

And speaking of beauty, towards the end of the conversation, we talked about a woman’s beauty. Joan certainly is still a beautiful woman, but when she was in her thirties and on TV, man, oh man, was she a knockout. And I, myself, wasn’t too bad. Look I mean, now I’m a little bit older, a little bit heavier, but you know, certainly back in the day, I was a pretty good-looking woman myself. And we talked about how beauty affects a woman and we talked about – I personally have never felt power from my looks, you know? And I think that a lot of people who perceive me as being attractive don’t understand that. I think a lot of people just assume that there’s a lot of inherent power in being beautiful and I’ve never felt that way. And so I asked Joan, how does she feel about it? And her answers were interesting.

And listeners, I would love it if you would give us your thoughts on the matter. What do you think about a woman’s beauty? Are you yourself a beautiful woman? Does it provide you with power? Does it open doors for you? Or does it present as many challenges as opportunities?

And for those of you who don’t think you possess beauty, what do you think about women’s beauty? Do you think that it gives a woman power? I really like to have this conversation so you can email us feedback@solvingmeto.com or join into the conversation on either the Facebook group or Twitter. And you can use #SolvingMeToo, or #TheSMTPodcast.

And with that, let’s jump into the conversation I had with Joan Esposito.  

Interview

Joan, I’m really looking forward to this conversation and I thank you so much for taking some time to be on the show today.

Joan: [00:04:28] Well. Thank you, Julia. It’s a pleasure to talk to you again.

Julia: [00:04:32] Yes. So much, so much. So just diving right into the meat of things. One of the backlash arguments against the Me Too movement is that false accusations can ruin a person’s life. And we have to point out as soon as anybody makes that claim that the majority of accusations in sexual harassment and assault situations are true. Something like 3% of allegations have ever been proven false. So it’s just not true when people are concerned that sexual harassment and assault allegations are false. It happens very, very rarely.

However. You have a particularly painful personal history with false accusations yourself. And I’m referring of course, to the nasty and unfounded rumors about the paternity of your son Benjamin, whose father – your husband at the time – tragically committed suicide while you were pregnant with your young son. And in your case, you now have the benefit of 25 years of hindsight to reflect on the experience of being dragged through the mud publicly and viciously and without cause.

And I’m wondering how much of that experience colors your thoughts and wisdom now, about how we do and how we should report on stories about people’s most intimate lives.

Joan: [00:05:59] Well, I do believe that people who are public figures have much less right to privacy and much less protection. And I think that’s as it should be. If part of the way you make your life – whether you’re a TV anchor or whether you’re a Hollywood celebrity – if part of the way you make your life is basically promoting your fame or celebritydom, then I think that you have to put up with more than the average person.

And, you know, the situation with me was – it was a little bit different. I mean, sure. What happened was horrible. There were a couple of radio shock jocks who went on the air and one of them said that I did something that caused my husband to commit suicide. And the implication was that I’d had an affair with one of the Chicago bulls and that the baby that I was carrying was one of the Bulls’ babies and not my husband’s and that’s why he killed himself.

And then after they had that discussion on the air, apparently a few days later, they asked people to call in and they did an abortion poll.

Julia: [00:07:09] Oh my god.

Joan: [00:07:10] Whether or not they had people, people who were listening to them thought I should have an abortion. And they took – I didn’t even know about that actually until we were in the throes of the lawsuit and the lawyers defending CBS let that slip. Because when my lawyer was talking to them, they were like, well, is it the infidelity accusations or is it the abortion pill? What is it that’s, you know, you’re talking to us about?

And, and my lawyer was like, abortion poll? And he looked into it and that’s what they had done.

Julia: [00:07:39] Oh my God.

Joan: [00:07:41] But you know, it’s easier for me, I think, to forgive them – particularly Jobo, because Jobo was really the mastermind, the wild guy. He was also at the time a raging alcoholic and he actually, before I ever filed the lawsuit, he wrote me a letter apologizing. Which luckily – when it came time for the lawsuit, I had saved the letter.

But he wrote me a letter and he said, I, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I did these things. I’m so sorry I said these things. And you know, if I felt that he was just simply somebody who had used my pain to increase his listenership, it would have been much more difficult to forgive him.

But I know that kind of pressure, and I know that being an alcoholic really contributed to his lack of a filter, his lack of a governor saying, you know, go this far, but no further.

So it’s, it’s, while they certainly for a time weren’t my favorite people in the world, I don’t really know that I ever really hated them, you know? I think that Ed Volkman, he kind of went along, he was kind of the sidekick. And I know how bad his drinking was because there was in the media just a few years ago, a year or two ago, there was a radio station that wanted to hire them again and pair them up together. And Ed Volkman who didn’t have much going on was like hey, let’s do this. And Jobo said no, I, I cannot be in that world. It is not good for my mental health. It’s not good for my sobriety. And they, there was a big offer on the table and he walked away. He was like, I can’t do that again.

So I know how serious he was about forgiveness, and I know how badly he messed up and he knows how badly he messed up.

Julia: [00:09:44] I love this part of your story, because forgiveness is such a difficult thing and such a complex issue. And any way you slice it, in order for forgiveness to be on the table, the person who did harm has to start by accepting responsibility for what he or she did. And then to really live into that request for forgiveness, there has to be real action towards change. And, I – what I seek to do, in part, with this podcast is offer a template. A personal action blueprint for people who know they have done wrong and who seek to be forgiven. And, and to include in this personal action template, what you need to do. Like it’s one thing to say, Oh, I want to be forgiven. When will I be forgiven? Well, okay, great. And you’ve got some work to do, buddy.

And so I love what you’re describing that in Jobo’s case, he not only committed to sobriety and succeeded at sobriety, but then when the, when he, when he was offered a whole bunch of money to go back to what he had been before, he said, no thanks. I choose this new path and I – there’s nothing that you can offer to me to get me to go back to being the man who I used to be who did, among other things, started these – well, not started, but certainly promoted these horrible rumors about John Esposito.

Joan: [00:11:33] Yeah. And people are a little unclear as to why I waited so long to sue and why I finally sued CBS. As a public figure, which I definitely was, there are rumors that fly around you all the time. All the time. I mean, it’s just, you just have to learn to live with it. It’s just part of, of what happens. But usually they come and then they die out.

This one didn’t die out. It started to spread further and further and further, and people who wouldn’t otherwise doubt me began to wonder – why, if it wasn’t true, why I wasn’t taking any action. You know, if it’s not true, then you sue. I mean, that’s what a lot of people felt. And I wasn’t doing anything which started to actually give credence to the rumors.

And I remember once I was at work and the woman who was working with me, my production assistant, she got a call from a little old lady. I don’t know what suburb she called from, but she got put through to my assistant. And this little old lady asked my assistant, is it true these things that they’re saying about Joan Esposito? Is it true? And I thought to myself right then and there, if I’ve lost the little old ladies, then I’m losing this war and I’ve got to do something about it.

And what’s interesting too is when I – actually, when I hired Dan Webb to represent me against CBS, a lot of people don’t know this. This was actually the second time that he had worked with me on this issue.

Eddie and JoBo were saying their stuff around January and February [they actually aired the rumors for the first time on March 24, 1993. The transcript was printed by The Chicago Reader], and I discovered that come spring, when the NBA finals were about to take place, that the National Enquirer had sent a reporter to Chicago because they were going to do a big cover story on me once the NBA finals started. And the whole cover story was going to be how this prominent anchor woman’s husband killed himself cause she’s carrying the baby of Horace Grant.

The way I found out about it was the National Enquirer reporter who came to town reached out to my in-laws. Because they figured it was their son and brother who had died. And they must really hate me.

Julia: [00:13:56] Oh my god.

Joan: [00:13:57] So the guy from the National Enquirer called them, and it was, and he was like, I bet you’re really mad at her. This is your opportunity to tell me everything. And they were horrified. Brian’s brother called me up and he said, I’ve got to tell you the National Enquirer’s in town, and they’re working on a story about you.

So I hired Dan Webb and Winston and Strawn – and I can tell you in case anybody wants to choose this path, the way you stop publication of something that is really untrue, if you get wind about it ahead of time, you have to gather information to do depositions. He did a deposition with Scotty Pippen. He did a deposition with Horace Grant, and both of them were all the materials you would need if and or when you proceed to court.

Dan Webb called up Jerry Reinsdorf and got like, you know, we wouldn’t know her if we fell over her. We don’t know who she is. We don’t, we’ve never met her. We’ve certainly, she’s never hung out with us. And so Dan Webb had to put together this whole dossier, I don’t know, this whole packet of depositions and statements from everybody involved.

And then he contacted the Inquirer’s lawyers. And as he told me, the Inquirer may be a schlocky publication, but they hire white glove, top tier lawyers. And he went to the law firm and he said, I’m telling you right now, you’re about to publish something that isn’t true. Here are all the sworn depositions that prove it’s not true, and if you go ahead and publish it, this is all the material that I’m going to bring to court when I sue you and they spiked it.

Julia: [00:15:46] Wow.

Joan: [00:15:48] You know, I already had this history with Dan Webb for that. And then when I decided to sue CBS, he tried to talk me out of it. He said the same thing that most people think, you know, Oh, they’re just rumors. Nobody of any education or sense believes this. It’s, you know, just let it die down.

And I was adamant. I was like, no, no, no, no. It’s time. We’ve got to do this. So he reluctantly moved forward. And I remember again, about three weeks later, he called me up and he said, you were right. And I said, what do you mean? He said, I was visiting some friends of mine, like in, I don’t know, Willow Springs or some tony suburb, and the wife of my friend who is a smart college educated professional woman came up to me and said, Oh my god, the stuff about Joan Esposito! Can you believe it?

[Eric Zorn wrote a piece in September 1993 for the Chicago Tribune that told a remarkably similar story – of being at a party with friends when someone unexpected actually believed the rumors… and how the lawsuit finally silenced them.]

And he was like, it’s not true. And she was like, I don’t know. And he was like, Oh my god, you’re exactly right. He said, you’ve lost them. You’ve basically lost the audience. And so that’s why we moved forward on the, on the lawsuit, was just basically to get my good name back.

Here’s part of the reason, and this ties into the whole idea of women and the standards we’re held to. I very publicly dated Tommy Shaw, who was a member of Styx. We met, I don’t know, at a party or something. And, and we started dating and we became a couple. And people made the assumption that because I was dating somebody in a prominent, successful rock and roll band that it came with this whole list of qualities that I must have. I must do drugs. I must be wild. I’m like a party girl or a groupie or something.

And it really sort of – the things that were said after my husband died, I think were more believable because people already thought that I was, I was the slut, the data, the rock star. I mean, of course, something like this. Of course, she would be this one to have an affair with a basketball player. I think it tied together.

Because of course, even though when Tommy and I first started dating, I said to him, you know what I do for a living. I’ve gotta be squeaky clean. I don’t do drugs. I don’t hang out with people who do drugs. And I don’t go places where people do drugs. And if we’re going to be a couple, that’s the way it’s gotta be. And he was like, I’m fine with that. And that was always our – we were so squeaky clean. At least when he was with me, it, I know, I can’t say what he was like when he was on the road, but when he and I were together, he was as squeaky clean as they come.

But there was this idea that a woman who falls in love with that kind of man has to be a certain kind of woman. And it’s this whole, you know, men are allowed to be promiscuous, and they’re a Playboy. They’re John Hamm, they’re Mad Men. You know, they’re, they’re sexy. But any sort of implication that a woman has any sort of sexuality about her and it’s, and it’s viewed with a completely different lens. At least it used to be. I think things are getting better, though I think the, not as anywhere near what they should be. But I think that that sort of made it easier in people’s minds.

I remember one time – and I hadn’t even thought twice about this because Tommy had a place. He had a horse farm in Michigan and we would spend weekends there and when he was in town during the week, he would stay at my place. And the Chicago Tribune came over to do a big article on him and they took a picture and, and we were both in the picture. And just as a matter of passing it mentioned in the article that we live together. I mean, not even anything outrageous. And I got some, I got some mail from people who told me that I was a whore for living with a man without being married to him.

Julia: [00:19:57] And this was in the 80’s right? The late eighties. So it was, I think we, as much as things have not changed nearly as much as they need to, I think we do sometimes forget just how much things have changed in a generation. Certainly in a generation and a half, you know, when we think about those times and those standards.

So the big financial harm that you listed in that lawsuit is that you said the false accusations weakened your bargaining power just when you were renegotiating your four year contract with WMAQ, channel five. And I think that a lot of people listening have never – I have never gone through a contract negotiation or renegotiation like that before. So can you explain to us a little bit about how they work and the power dynamics?

I think this is one of the important things for people to understand when we’re, they’re trying to –  one of the reasons that it’s hard to, for some people to gin up sympathy for women who stay silent or who stay in job after job with a boss who they claim has harassed them or you know, any of these other things.

Or, or in some cases where women actually accede to the demands, they, they end up participating in the sexual activities that their boss is pressuring them to do. And a lot of people don’t understand why women make those choices. So I’m wondering if you can describe what that contract negotiation process is like and what that power dynamic is like, and certainly, certainly was like then, which was 1994, 93- 94 and to the extent that you can speak to how that has changed in the 25 years hence.

And, what was your bargaining power – how weak was your bargaining power to begin with as a mere woman in a man’s world? And how much, and specifically in what ways, was your bargaining power weakened by these allegations?

Joan: [00:22:04] Well, when you sit down to negotiate a contract, the number one thing that you can bring to the table that’s going to give you leverage is an offer from another station. That’s, that’s the ultimate hammer. You know, channel five you don’t want me? Well channel seven is waiting in the wings. Channel two, you don’t want me? Channel nine wants to promote me to be their main anchor. And that’s something that makes people sit up and take notice.

They also, throughout your entire career, they do a lot of studies. They do all kinds of focus studies. They want to find out how the audience feels about various personalities. Who do they like, who do they not like? And even if they like you, are there things about you they don’t like or they wish were different?

So they do all this research, which by the way, they never ever share with you. Never. So they already have an idea of what you bring to the table. In addition to, of course, however popular your show is.

But that’s not always the only benchmark. We just saw Steve Cochran over at WGN. The last ratings book, he was number three in the market, and he was summarily fired. So it isn’t even always a question of ratings. A lot of times it has to do with all these factors, your research, your ratings…

And. It’s not 100% of the case anymore, but it used to be that it was all white men running these stations. And how your boss felt about you personally could make all the difference in the world.

I remember when I first started at channel five – channel five is the perennial #2. It just doesn’t seem like anything, any trick they try – any graphic, any whatever, that they just can never break into the #1 slot. And I was hired by a general manager who really liked me. And when my agent first did a sort of a touch base with him, the general manager said, well, you know, her show isn’t #1 in the market, but it’s not her fault. He said that, that was his attitude. I mean, it was true. It was right. But, but it would have been real easy for him to say, well, you know, we brought her over here and she hasn’t fixed anything. And it had to do with what he thought about me.

I mean, I’ve known bosses – this is especially true when it comes to hiring. I had one boss tell me that when he hires women for his newsroom, he uses his penis meter.

Julia: [00:24:37] Oh my God. Oh my God! I can’t believe I’m going to ask you this, but say more about that.

Joan: [00:24:45] What he put into words rather crudely is what we’ve all known was true. Bosses are human beings and they have certain likes. You know, some men have a type. It was always very terrifying whenever, whenever I worked at a station where we got a new General Manager – that’s the big boss, the General Manager. We would always just look at each other because depending upon that person’s taste, that person’s attractions, we knew some of our careers would rise and some of our careers would fall. It was largely women, but it’s not, it wasn’t entirely women.

When I worked at channel seven, Jay Levine was a reporter there, and by the way, everybody in the newsroom and everybody in management acknowledged that he was the best reporter we had. The, the boss loved him. He got the plum assignments, he got all the high profile stuff. We got a new general manager. Within 24 hours, Jay Levine went from being considered the best reporter at the station to being considered the absolute worst reporter on the staff because the new GM didn’t like him, didn’t like his style.

We would always joke about when we got a new GM, you know, did he have a thing for blondes or did he have a thing for brunettes? Because whatever he had a thing for, those would be the women who would be hired and who would be elevated.

Julia: [00:26:11] And so what that speaks to is the absolute power of the GM and the idea that whatever he says – and it was always he – whatever he says, goes. And what you’re saying is that while a lot of it was based upon flat-out discriminatory, or even assaultive, harassing, characteristics or considerations, some of it was just personal taste.

Which is, is no less fair, really. You know, because he’s a great reporter, he should be able to keep his job. But it’s – I can hear a backlash argument that, well, you know, so, so it’s based upon the whims of the GM. So what, he’s the boss. You don’t like it, work to become the boss yourself.

But I can, I can imagine that while you know, as you’re saying, sometimes it was just a whim, I can imagine that the majority of it, the majority of the fallout from these kinds of things happened to women, and largely based on their looks.

Joan: [00:27:11] I would say absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, the bosses tended to be white males, and depending upon – you know, it didn’t take long for those of us in the newsroom to figure out what the new boss’s type was and who he really liked and who he didn’t, and whether those were you know, qualities of personality or looks. But you know, I mean, it was always – whenever there was a new boss that came into town, it was always a terrifying time. Because you knew there would be changes and depending upon their predilections, it could be – the best you sometimes you could hope for was just to be left alone.

Julia: [00:27:47] Wow. Wow.

Joan: [00:27:49] To speak to your earlier point though, that’s sort of an underpinning for why you really couldn’t – you really had to walk a fine line with – you kind of wanted the boss to think you were pretty and smart and maybe even a little bit be attracted to you, but not so much that they would hit on you.

You know, I had a boss once that was – there were rumors that I was up for a big promotion. And my boss took me out to dinner. And we had a perfectly nice dinner, but you know, nothing was discussed really about the job. Kind of just a personable, you know, like you, you do sometimes.

And he – I hadn’t driven and he dropped me off at home. At least I thought he was going to drop me off. And then as I was getting out of the car, he asked if I wouldn’t mind if he just came in to check the score of the basketball game. And right as soon as he said that, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was in trouble.

Julia: [00:28:47] Wow.

Joan: [00:28:47] And so we came in, I turned on the basketball game, I kind of tried to stand a little bit away from him and he walked over and he grabbed me and he kissed me and he stuck his tongue down my throat. And I’m standing there thinking, how do I get out of this? How do I get out of this and not lose my job?

Because – thank god for Me Too. Really, thank god for it. Because now, you know, women have more power and more backing. But then, at that moment in time, if I had made a fuss, maybe I would’ve gotten him in trouble. But I would have been at the very least demoted, if not fired. And after that, nobody would have hired me. “She’s a troublemaker.” Nobody would have hired me.

So I finally – luckily I had met the man’s wife. He was of course married. And I pushed him away and I said, you know, no, I can’t do this to your wife. Like, like, otherwise, I would have really liked to. But you know, and he stepped away and we set our good nights and he left. I didn’t get the promotion, but I also didn’t get fired. And he never made a pass at me again. But I’ve, I’ve since learned that I was not the only one at the station that he did something like that too. There were at least two others.

Julia: [00:30:07] Yeah of course.

Joan: [00:30:08] Cause that’s the thing. That’s, I guess in a way that’s kind of the difference between this sort of thing and what happened with JoBo. It’s one thing if somebody behaves badly. But it’s another thing if it’s a pattern of behavior and the ones that, that really need to be called out are the ones who aren’t just doing it to you. They’re doing it their whole career.

And I guess I should’ve known better – you know, this the typical female thing, I should have been smarter. Because at dinner he kept telling me about this, this woman at his previous station whose career he really elevated basically because they were having an affair. I mean, so he was planting the seed.

But that’s the thing, that’s a pattern of behavior. With JoeBo, you know, I mean, he may have done other things that he regretted when he was drunk. But it wasn’t like he wasn’t just born a predator. He was a drunk. And he fixed it.

Julia: [00:31:07] So talking about the pattern of predatory behavior, it comes to mind there’s so many of the headline stories that we’ve heard in the last two and a half years since the Harvey Weinstein story broke – starting with Harvey Weinstein – where a big part of the story is, sure, there is a man who has been preying on female colleagues for decades in some cases. But a part of the story is that there’s no way that he got away with that stuff all on his own —

Joan: [00:31:41] Exactly.

Julia: [00:31:41] — That in every case there are people who are complicit.  I ask myself, what do we do with those people? What do we do with the people who have participated? And where on the spectrum are they?

We have story after story of people who talk about how well, yeah, I brought him his penis medicine and I booked him hotel rooms and I, you know, lined stuff up. But I was just a lowly assistant. If I had said no, he would have fired me and hired somebody else who would. And they’re probably not wrong. So what do we do about that situation?

Joan: [00:32:20] In a strange way, they were almost in the, in a similar situation to the women because they were people without power. And Harvey Weinstein was known for his rages. And I think, I think the people who could have reined him in, the people who were more at his own peer level, some of them were doing the same stuff.

I mean, I don’t know if you’ve read Catch and Kill, the Ronan Farrow book, but it comes to me. Yeah, it’s, there’s a book within a book and the book, that’s the secret book inside is about NBC and it’s about Andy Lack and Oppenheim and Burke and how, you know, basically, I mean, he doesn’t come out and say this directly, but it’s pretty clear, Harvey Weinstein was able to shut them up because it was like, Hey, Andy, you know what? You go big on me, I will return the favor. Because I know where all the bones are buried. 

There was a woman on West 57th [Jane Wallace] who said that even though Andy Lack was married, he pressured her and pressured her and flirted with her. I mean, he was like multiple times a day, day in and day out. And she said, I’m not saying that he raped me. I’m, I’m saying that our relationship was consensual, but he wore me down. And when it ended,  her career died. she was one of the people that I thought that was really interesting. So,

Julia: [00:33:40] Well, and they also, they also had Matt Lauer in their ranks, as we learned later. Have you seen the movie Bombshell yet?

Joan: [00:33:46] Not yet.

Julia: [00:33:47] So that is a movie about Roger Ailes. And it’s, it’s about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly and their sexual harassment lawsuits against him. I saw it the other night with a girlfriend, and there is, there’s two scenes that are so powerful and so clearly depict this struggle that a woman goes through. Because there’s a third woman whose name I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t know if she’s fictionalized —

Joan: [00:34:14] Is it the Margot Robbie character? I’ve read that she, the Margot Robbie character, is a composite of like four or five women from the actual Fox News. That she’s not, she, she in of herself was not real, but they took different stories and different traits and they combined them and they made the Margot Robbie character.

[Yes, the Margot Robbie character is a composite figure based on numerous real-life people. Here, Megan Garber writes for The Atlantic about the power of the scene that Julia is about to describe]

Julia: [00:34:34] That’s probably, it could be, but she is a young, gorgeous blonde, smart, ambitious woman who wants to be on the news! She wants to be a newscaster. She wants to be – and she loves Fox News. And they do a big bit at the beginning about how she’s this diehard evangelical and her, her whole family worships at the altar of Fox News. And it’s just like she just lives and breathes this company, right? And it’s the end all be all for her.

And then she finally gets a chance to meet Roger. And she talks to him about wanting to be on the news and he says, okay, but let me see your legs. And so she stands up and does a twirl in front of him. And then he says, no, come on, I want to see your legs. And so she – clearly uncomfortable, she reaches down to the hem of her skirt and you know, pulls up a corner of her skirt, a little bit, very uncomfortably. And he says, okay, more. And then she pulls it up a little bit more. And he says, all right, more, and this continues until we see the woman’s underwear.

And meanwhile, he is sitting in his chair, panting and like moistening his lips. And the audience watching this is like starting to squirm in our chairs, because this is getting very uncomfortable. And it does a terrific job in that way of helping us to understand just how revolting —

Joan: [00:36:00] Yeah.

Julia: [00:36:00] — and uncomfortable of a situation Roger Ailes, and so many other men like him, put women in. 

Joan: [00:36:07] Yeah.

Julia: [00:36:08] And then there’s another scene maybe 25 minutes later in the movie where she’s talking on the telephone to her girlfriend, and she breaks down in just retching sobs.  And all she says is, I did it. And she sort of describes his belt buckle, but it doesn’t get any more specific than that. And so we’re left to conjecture, just what exactly it is that she ultimately agreed to do.

Joan: [00:36:39] Exactly.

Julia: [00:36:41] And it makes it – again, it does such a terrific job of demonstrating, explaining, portraying the emotional turmoil that a woman is in. Because you know, one of the big backlash arguments against all of the actresses that Harvey Weinstein assaulted and harassed is that come on, they agreed to it. They wanted an Oscar. So they said yes. And it’s like, are you kidding me?

Joan: [00:37:07] Exactly.

Julia: [00:37:08] Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted a promotion and in order to get it, you had to blow your boss? And this movie does a terrific job of explaining how, even though, yeah, technically she said yes, it was so against her will and I, it’s just wonderful the way that the movie gives us all that understanding.

Oh wait, Joan, I think I lost you.

Yeah. And listeners, that is the moment that the technology broke down and Joan and I were no longer speaking to one another. We picked up the conversation the following day and we jumped in talking about the, her, her contract negotiations back at WMAQ after the allegations came out against her from Eddie and JoBo. And how her negotiating position was so damaged and weakened. because we didn’t really kind of hit the sweet spot in just exactly what happened to her when we were talking about it in the first conversation. So, uh, we pick up and dive in a little bit more deeply into that next.

Julia: [00:38:22] This is uh, the round two of my conversation with Joan Esposito because our conversation yesterday got inexplicably cut off. The technology gremlins interrupted us.

As we were telling the story – or as you were talking about how the allegations against you diminished your bargaining power, we wandered off topic before you came back and delivered the key sentence, which is, so therefore, when I sat down at the bargaining table, I was weakened because …

Joan: [00:38:48] Well, what I discovered when Dan was explaining to me, Dan Webb, how it would proceed once I filed suit, I discovered that the legal system doesn’t really care or have any provisions to deal with somebody who damages your reputation or who, you know, besmirches your reputation. All the legal system cares about is dollar and cents.

So if I decide to drag your name through the mud, but you can’t prove in court that somehow that has cost you financially, you essentially have no case against me. Which I was horrified by because I really wanted to sue because they had said terrible things about me and people now believed I was a terrible person. And the law, I discovered, at least back then, doesn’t care about that at all. It’s just if this person said things that were not true and it has cost you money, then you can go to court.

Now, once you go to court and if you win, in addition to whatever amount of money you can prove they’ve cost you, then you can get a separate check for emotional pain and suffering. But that is not apparently good enough to file suit in the first place.

Julia: [00:40:07] That’s interesting.

Joan: [00:40:09] It’s, it’s a very, it’s a very weird system.

Julia: [00:40:12] But the, the financial damages that you suffered were because in the marketplace you were sitting down for your contract negotiations and because as you had been explaining yesterday, what gives you power at the bargaining table is when you can say you’ve got another offer.

Joan: [00:40:31] And when you’re marketable. In the Midwest, especially, I think people tend to be more strait laced than on the West coast or the East coast. So there is a relatively narrow lane of behavior you’re expected to follow. In fact, I’m sure they still do it today. Everybody I knew we had a quote unquote morality clause in our contract. If we did something that brought shame upon ourselves and therefore on the station, that was firing. You know, no severance, no goodbye, no nothing. You’re out of here. You’re done.

Julia: [00:41:10] And so far from defending you WMAQ now recognized that you were essentially damaged goods and they saw that your value was plummeting in the marketplace and they chose to take advantage of that.

Joan: [00:41:22] And frankly, even when it came to filing the lawsuit. They said, we’re not gonna like stand in your way if this is what you decide to do, but don’t bring us into this in any way, shape, or form. We want nothing to do with this process.

Julia: [00:41:38] God, that’s awful.

Joan: [00:41:39] Very supportive.

Julia: [00:41:41] And, and were you at the time shocked by that? Or was that something that was par for the course at that point in time for a company to just abandon an employee who was facing something like that?

Joan: [00:41:57] I really was surprised by the stance that they took. Because, it almost felt – even though they didn’t fire me, they didn’t walk me out of the station, it felt a little bit like they were cutting me loose. Like, Hey, you want to do this? You know, you do this, but we are not a part of this. You’re doing this on your own. Good luck. And yeah it did not feel particularly supportive of them at all.

Julia: [00:42:20] That’s really unfortunate. And do you think it was because you – because of the nature of the allegations, because of personalities, because of sexism or, or they were just shitty bosses?

Joan: [00:42:33] Remember we talked about yesterday that in the media, the boss who hires you is the one who has the very most invested in you and your success. They’ve staked their reputation on hiring this person because they think she’s good. So that’s the person who’s most going to be in your corner.

That boss had been replaced by a different boss. And he had no particular – he wasn’t out to get me, but he had no particular affection for me or my work. He was just besotted with Alison Rosati. So we all knew her star was going through the roof. And so he had nothing invested in me. He hadn’t hired me. He showed up, I already worked there. There was no reason for him to stick his neck out in the least to support me or back me.

And also he was, he was a pretty crappy person. I mean, he was. NBC, they promoted him and then they eventually fired him because he, he was a crappy person. And they didn’t care when he was a crappy person to us because he squeezed more profit out of the station. But then when he pulled some of those same behaviors at the network level, they fired him.

Julia: [00:43:45] So speaking of WMAQ not being particularly supportive, as your resume shows, you didn’t actually stick around in broadcast television very much longer. It’s not like you left right after the allegations, but you’d been on TV here in Chicago for almost 15 years at that point, and you were done within another six if I’m doing the math right.

And was this allegation – but now you also, by that point, by the time you retired, or by the time you left broadcast television in Chicago anyway, you had a second child, so you had two little kids at home and you are now in your mid 40’s. And you know, stranger things have happened to anybody then to decide to take a different tack in their career. But did these allegations and the, all the fallout and all the nastiness around it has something to do with chasing you off television? Or is that even not an accurate description of it at all? Am I mischaracterizing?

Joan: [00:44:36] Well, it’s, you know, it’s hard to say. I mean, your whole life, your whole professional life, leads you to whatever moment you’re at. And I was, I was at a point where I was really ready to be done with it. I really needed a break. And one thing that I will say was common in my generation is when we had little kids, we tended to just walk away entirely and then raise our families.

Julia: [00:45:04] Sure.

Joan: [00:45:04] I think one of the things that women are doing now that’s smarter is, even if they decide they want to be home more with their kids, they find a way to keep their hand in. Whether it’s a freelance job, whether it’s one day a week, they find a way to not leave, especially television or radio. They find a way to not leave entirely.

And after your kids are grown and you think to yourself, well, I’d really like to do something – if you’ve been completely away from the business for 10 or 12 years, it’s, it’s really, really hard to get back in. But if you’ve continued to work, then it’s, it’s much easier to expand your schedule back out again. And that’s something that’s, that’s really smart.

But for me, after I left [channel] five, there was some interest from another station. But I just told my agent, I said, you know, I’m just, I’m done. I’m done. Leave me alone.

Julia: [00:45:57] And if I’m not mistaken, there was a little bit of a gap where you spent all of your time with your kids, but then not too long after that you started your company.

Joan: [00:46:06] Yeah. After, after a few years when they were in school full time, there were some, what we called, we were a group of refugees from television. And we decided that this would be a way to take what we knew and do the work that we wanted to do, but be able to create our own schedule. You know, when you meet with a client is negotiated. It’s not like, you know, you’ve got to be on set at 4:59:40 because that’s when the five o’clock news starts.

So it was a way for all of us, and frankly, we all used that and enjoyed that. And, and it became a sort of a jumping off place. Because when we first started the media training business, it was like 2007. And the first year we had a great year. And then of course the recession hit and a lot of the budgets were cut, so we continued to do it.

We did it for like 10 years and one by one all the people who were working with us found more full time gigs. And it became harder and harder to schedule this kind of thing. And then finally it became a burden rather than an enjoyment. So we just actually, it was only in 2018 that we finally wrapped it up and put it to bed. And all of us are now busy doing other things full time.

Julia: [00:47:28] Yeah. When you and I met in 2017, it was sort of how we met, because I was working a lot of hours with a grassroots political organization called Indivisible. And we had gotten connected with you, and you and your colleagues had offered to give a little bit of pro bono help to me and a couple of others who were getting a little bit of press around the things that we were doing in 2017. Our grassroots political activism work.

Joan: [00:47:53] And it’s funny because the last few years of the company, I found myself doing more and more of that because working with clients, it got boring for me. And if I was going to do the work, I started doing a lot of pro bono stuff for Planned Parenthood and, and all the organizations that I really cared about.

Julia: [00:48:10] Hmm. And now that you find yourself on the radio, what are some of the ways that you talk to individuals about how you and we, and they, and us can affect media and can actually create outcomes in the world around us that we seek to create through media?

Joan: [00:48:32] Well, one of the things that I’m very fortunate is that we are a talk radio station. So no matter who my guest is or what we’re talking about, we have people call in to talk. We have people text us. Sometimes people send me messages on social media to share with the topic. It’s, it’s really a community. It’s really, really a community.

And I think that people are always surprised at how much influence they truly can have. For instance, when the Chicago Tribune printed an editorial that said, Oh Donald Trump, let’s not impeach him. Yeah, he’s done a bunch of really bad things, but let’s just censure him.

I thought that was kind of bizarre, and a lot of people thought that was kind of bizarre. So for the next several days, I regularly was giving out the phone number to call the Chicago Tribune to talk to in person, one or more members of the editorial board.

And even when I was working in television so long ago, if, if there was something that I said or did that people didn’t like, sometimes people would write me a note or send me an email. But if there was something that people really felt was out of bounds, a few of them discovered the really, the most effective way was to go right to the top, write a letter. And letters are still really the gold standard in a lot of ways.

Julia: [00:49:55] Sure.

Joan: [00:49:55] Because if somebody takes the time to do that, you know that they really mean it. And media organizations also figure if somebody cared enough to take the time to do that, there’s probably a bunch of other people out there who feel the same way, who didn’t bother to do this. So it really carries a lot of weight.

But any organization, whether you’re inside or outside of it, if they do something or say something or give an impression that is inappropriate, reaching up to the highest level offices that you can find and explaining the situation. I mean, I don’t know that the General Manager’s office ever got a letter or complaining about something we did or didn’t do that he didn’t come down to the newsroom and want to find out, what is this about?

Julia: [00:50:38] That’s interesting.

Joan: [00:50:39] If it’s the person who did the faux pax or a middle manager, that kind of stuff tends to kind of be buried a little bit more.

Julia: [00:50:48] Do you think that there is any less of that today, given that this era that we are in is so divisive and so loud and everybody seems to just constantly want to scream about whoever they disagree with all the time? And I wonder if that creates a muffled or a muted effect in newsrooms.

Joan: [00:51:12] Well, I think what they look at now is, because of course with social media, it’s so easy to share your opinion. I think what most places who have their social media people do is they monitor the number of, of comments they get. What exactly people are saying. Did we get a hundred people, you know, tagging us on social media saying that we really blew X?

So yeah, I think that they do really appreciate social media and I think they pay attention to it, particularly when there are more than one person espousing the same point of view.

Remember back in 2017 it took one woman, Susan Fowler, remember? She wrote a piece on Medium because she had just left Uber and she’d had such a horrible experience and she said, you know what? A lot of my friends know I’ve got this new job. A lot of them want to know why I’m leaving Uber. I’ve decided to write about it and tell you all exactly what happened while it’s fresh in my mind.

One blog post on Medium, and she essentially almost brought the company down. I mean, once that blog post was publicized within I think a couple of weeks, they had lost 100,000 or more users. People who were just deleting their Uber accounts. And the fallout from that was just amazing. One woman writing.

And it was a very dispassionate, here’s what’s happened, I don’t hate these people. This happened. I tried to do this. This is what I was told. This is what happened next. It was dispassionate and it was breathtaking in its take down of Uber. And there’s a new CEO now, and you can trace it back to February 19th, 2017 when Susan Fowler published her post on Medium saying, this is what happened to me.

Julia: [00:53:10] And I think a lot of people tend to default to, Oh, I’m just a whatever. I, I don’t have any power. I can’t affect change. I can’t make anything happen in the world. There are at least a half a dozen different goals of this podcast, but at least one of the goals is to overturn that and is to awaken in listeners the sense of how much power each of us as individuals has, and certainly how much power we have if we can get 10 of us together. Or if we can get 100 of us together. And it’s, it’s, the society is vastly different than it was back in 1994 when these horrible, false allegations were leveled against you.

And also in addition to that, there was all kinds of rampant sexual harassment going on. And as we talked about earlier, there was nothing really that you could do. As you pointed out that you know, your boss essentially sexually assaulted you in your living room, and you felt as though you – you expressed relief that when it was over and you got out without having to do anything more than get kissed by him, that you didn’t lose your job. And you were grateful that you got off that scot-free, you know. And you didn’t even say anything – you did not do a single thing and, and that had you done anything to try to get justice for yourself or to try to make sure that he didn’t harm other women in the future, you almost for sure would have been fired —

Joan: [00:54:49] And, and my career would’ve been over. Because like Harvey Weinstein did with the actresses who snubbed him, I would’ve been blacklisted. Watch out for her. She’s, she’s trouble.

Julia: [00:55:00] Yes. I tell you, I am grateful that so much has changed.

When, when you spoke yesterday about how you said, you know, you want to be pretty for the boss, but not too pretty. And as I listened to that, I, it, it set me off on a couple of hours of writing and thinking and fuming about beauty.

You know, here I sit now 20 years later and 50 pounds heavier, but I was gorgeous when I was in my 30’s and I certainly had the experience also of having doors opened for me. But they were never, it seemed like it never was in my control. My relationship to my beauty was almost more disempowering than it was anything else.

Oprah recently was interviewing Cybill Shepherd and she asked her about her beauty, and Cybill Shepherd remarked that it is a benefit that has opened doors for her. And Oprah basically like said, Whoa, stop the presses. In 25 years of me talking to beautiful women, this is the first woman who’s ever told the truth and admitted that beauty opens doors. All these other women lie about it and they pretend that their beauty is like, Oh, this old thing? My nose is too big and my thighs are too wide and whatever, and they don’t recognize the power of their beauty.

And I feel like saying back to Oprah, Oprah, you don’t get it. For so many of us – and I’m wondering where you stand on this, Joan. But certainly for me, I knew that so many people thought that I was very beautiful cause I was told regularly. But I personally felt so disempowered all the time. I almost felt at affect of my looks because I never knew who or when they were going to have some effect. And, and so some door might swing open, but then there would be like this lecherous man on the other side of the door that now I had to deal with unexpectedly.

And it’s not like I could – never once in my entire life did I feel like I could saunter into a room and bat my eyes and flash my legs the way that they depict on TV and in the movies. I never once in my life —

Joan: [00:57:17] No.

Julia: [00:57:17] — felt like I had that much control over how I was going to wield this powerful tool called beauty. That feels to me like a fairly universal experience of beautiful women. But I’m wondering, Joan, as you, again, you’re a beautiful woman now, but when you were in your 30’s just like holy shit, were you a knock out. And you were TV gorgeous. Me, I was always kind of girl next door pretty cause I’m a little on the fluffy side, you know, so I was never like television gorgeous. But you – not only are you beautiful, but also you had the figure to boot. You know, flashing those legs on television that even Roger Ailes would’ve hired, you know.

So I’m curious, did you feel like your beauty was something that you could actively control and that you had precise control over it and it gave you power in a way that you were conscious of and could use to your benefit? Or were you more like me? Kind of clumsy and awkward and more at effect of it than anything?

Joan: [00:58:14] Well, first of all, I was in a profession where a certain degree of beauty was a job requirement. So it wasn’t like I was some kind of standout in a newsroom full of plain Janes. I mean, frankly, in television news, even most of the women who worked behind the scenes were gorgeous. I mean, maybe, I don’t know, it’s because men were doing the hiring, I don’t know. But it wasn’t, it wasn’t the sort of thing where I felt like I was some sort of standout. I felt like I was keeping up with the Joneses because that was what was expected.

But, but no, I, I didn’t feel like – well, especially because I think I’ve always sensed that people respond a little more positively to blondes. And I always sort of felt like as a, as an ethnic sort of brunette, that I had to work a little harder. And, you know, make sure my hair was a little bit more fixed and make sure my clothes matched maybe a little bit better. I really felt like I was in a medium where I had to really do my best to just be at the same level as everybody else I was working at.

So, I mean, I think the only person I think that might’ve had a different experience was Deborah Norville. Because Deborah Norville was, she was like head and shoulders pretty above the rest of us. But I also think her extreme beauty is also part of the reason – one part of the reason it went so bad for her at NBC. She was initially hired to do the news before the Today Show. And the way I heard – once everything had blown up, the way I heard one person analyze it well, was that early morning 6:30 AM newscast was viewed by a lot of the, like a lot of the men in the financial world, you know, getting up early to start their day early.

And so her beauty was a big attraction. Oh, the guys are going to want to tune in to see this. But when she was shifted to the Today Show where we had girl next door Jane Pauley, and then we had this bombshell. You know, I think even before – because when Deb was hired, they made a change that instead of reading the news on the Today Show from a desk away from the set, the person was gonna sit on the couch with the other hosts.

I mean, that was the big change. And as soon as Deb was there, sitting on the couch with Jane Pauley, that’s where what was his name? Tom Shale? Tom Shale, I think of the Washington Post who was their television critic started writing, look to your right Jane, because your replacement is sitting right there. And because Deb was so beautiful, I think it was really easy for most of America to see her as The Other Woman.

Julia: [01:01:11] Oh wow.

Joan: [01:01:12] You know, there’s the Jane Pauley, there’s the wife who’s been with you since you were 20 years old. And then there’s the trophy wife sitting there waiting to swoop in. She’s thinner, she’s taller, she’s beautiful, she’s blonder, you know? And I really think that if Deb had been a little more plain looking, it wouldn’t, there wouldn’t have been quite the blowup that there was.

Julia: [01:01:36] But so, circling back to your own feeling about your beauty and what you said that it’s funny that people say that I was so beautiful, I never felt so beautiful is kind of paraphrasing what you said. And as I reflect on this, it’s just, it’s so fucked up about our culture. Because I would bet money that I couldn’t find one woman in a hundred who would NOT say that. Because I could imagine, for example, black women or women of color talking about, well, sure, beauty, for you, you’re a white woman, right? I, who doesn’t have white skin, I’m never going to accede to that level. And then here, my own self, who is in fact a white woman, I say, well, but I’m never going to be seen as truly beautiful because I’ve always been a little bit too plump. And here you’re saying —

Joan: [01:02:24] I’ve never been blonde.

Julia: [01:02:26] And I can imagine that even if we had, you know, freaking Charlize Theron, or I don’t know who we’re going to pick sitting here, that she would figure out a reason that she herself never felt quite beautiful enough. And it’s this thing that we do to women. We, we make women want to be beautiful and chase this ideal of beauty, but it’s absolutely never good enough.

Joan: [01:02:48] I think that the younger generations, while not perfect, are maybe better at this. I mean, look at the body positivity and success of Lizzo. I mean, toss my hair, paint my nails. How you doing? It’s that kind of confidence. And you know, I mean, companies like dove, we know beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. If we could get a little bit more of that —

Julia: [01:03:10] Or Thirdlove, you know, their ads are, I would say at least half, maybe three quarters, full figured models. And they’re, and they’re not a full-figured company. It’s not like they cater to plus size women. And I think part of that is because average women are actually a lot heavier than what we’re accustomed to seeing on ads. So the Thirdlove ads probably are using average looking women, and they just look heavy, compared to you know, the rail thin models that we’re accustomed to seeing. So I think there is a reason to hope and reason for change.

But I tell you, it’s, it’s conversations like this, you know. One at a time, strengthening one another, empowering one another, listening to one another, supporting one another, cheering one another on as we each go forward in the things that we’re all doing. So.

Joan: [01:03:53] Well, I’m trying to, I’m trying to bring it for the old crowd.

Julia: [01:03:56] Yeah, yeah. I’m right there behind ya. You know? It’s, I, I still I think of myself as 38. Which isn’t young, you know, 38 is, I mean, a lot of people are like 38, that’s middle age. And I’m, here I am wishing to be 38 again. And I’m realizing, wow, it is more than a decade in the rearview mirror at this point.

Joan: [01:04:15] Yeah. You got to make your peace with it. Cause it just doesn’t stop.

Julia: [01:04:19] No, no, no. As they say, it’s better than the alternative. Well, Ms. Esposito, it’s been lovely talking to you.

Joan: Thank you Ms. Kline.

Julia: You are just a treasure and I’m so delighted to be able to call you a friend and also a guest on our podcast and would love to have you come back sometime again.

Joan: Sure. You got it.

Julia: Thank you. Have a great rest of your day.

Joan: Thank you. You too.

Conclusion

My thanks to Joan Esposito for being our guest today. What a great conversation about media in Chicago, back in the day. And some of the ways that it is better, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Listeners, what do you think about beauty? Let us know about that. Send us an email feedback@solvingmetoo.com or you can hit us up on any of the socials.

We are on Facebook. We are on Twitter. We are on LinkedIn, not so much Instagram. And if you want to put a hashtag in your message, it is either #SolvingMeToo, or #TheSMTPodcast. 

And that email address again is feedback@solvingmetoo.com or just come visit us on the website, SolvingMeToo.com.

I hope you are having a terrific day, whatever you are out there doing, feeling empowered and authentic and ready to take on whatever matters to you in the world. 

Andrew Lack

Name:  Andrew Lack

Age: 73 (in 2020)

Role: NBC News chairman

While Lack absolutely has been accused of sexually inappropriate behavior himself (see below), arguably his most serious misconduct was his attempt to help Harvey Weinstein’s decades of rape and other sexual assault against 100’s of women remain a secret from the public.

Ronan Farrow notoriously broke the Harvey Weinstein story wide open when, in October 2017, he published a piece for the New Yorker that accused Weinstein of rape by four women on the record. (The Weinstein allegations had first been published 5 days earlier by Jodie Kantor and Megan Twohey at the New York Times. But Kantor and Twohey’s stories didn’t have the rape allegations on the record.)

However, Farrow insists that he had the story ready to publish while he was working at NBC; and yet Andrew Lack along with Noah Oppenheimer blocked the story from being published. He details these allegations in his book, Catch and Kill.

Farrow says that Lack and Oppenheim blocked the story partly because of pressure from Weinstein himself to do so; but also partly because they knew their Golden Goose Matt Lauer was guilty of crimes almost as bad as Weinstein.

There are allegations that Lauer wasn’t the only star Lack ever covered up for.
Accused Sexual Harassers Thrived Under NBC News Chief Andrew Lack, by Lachlan Cartwright and Maxwell Tani, The Daily Beast, Sept 21, 2018

But fundamentally, the picture of Andy Lack is of a man who came of age in an era in which women’s primary role was to be sexual playthings for men. An attitude he seems to never have changed.

Accusations: 

Jane Wallace, an anchor on CBS’s “West 57th” news show when Lack was an executive producer in the late 1980s, was bullied into having a sexual relationship with Lack. Lack then retaliated against her after the relationship soured. This, according to Ronan Farrow in his book, Catch and Kill.

Lack was “almost unrelenting” said Wallace. He asked her out to dinner “every day for almost a month. If your boss does that, what are you gonna say? You know if you say ‘I don’t want to celebrate with you,’ you’re asking for trouble.”

She said their sexual relationship was “ultimately consensual, but I didn’t just get flirted with. I got worked over.”

“It wasn’t till I really got out of there that I felt the full force of it. Of how disgusted I was,” she told Farrow. “The truth is, if he hadn’t been like that, I would have kept that job. I loved that job.”

Jennifer Laird, a young associate producer, also allegedly had a “relationship” with Lack. It too turned “hostile” toward her when things ended, according to the book.

“When Laird asked to be reassigned, Lack wouldn’t allow it,” Farrow wrote. “He compelled her to work longer hours, and on weekends, and proposed she cancel vacations.” Said Laird in the book, “There’s clearly a reason you don’t get involved with your boss.”

While the claims themselves are made and substantiated in Farrow’s book, the excerpts above were taken from reporting on Page Six by Sara Nathan, oct 9, 2019.

Lack’s Response:  

To all the allegations, Lack’s stance has been to deny, deny, deny.

Consequences:

Updates & Developments:

NBC News Chief Andrew Lack Out After Tenure Marked By Scandal, by David Folkenflik, NPR, May 4, 2020

In the wake of Lack’s departure, Telemundo chief Cesar Conde was elevated Monday to oversee NBC News, CNBC and MSNBC, in a restructuring announced by NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell. Noah Oppenheim has been thought of as Lack’s eventual successor; he will instead report to Conde until his announced departure after the November 2020 election.

Jennie Willoughby | Healing From Shame

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Summary

Jennie Willoughby became a symbol of forgiveness and compassion in early 2018 when she wrote a blog post that became a viral sensation – and sparked the global hashtag #AndSoIStayed – detailing the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, a top aide to President Donald Trump.

Jennie is now a writer, speaker and singer whose message encourages us all to strive for empathy, connection and self-compassion. 

The reason I wanted to talk to Jennie is that the work that she’s doing is so in alignment with this podcast, and the movement behind the podcast: Stop the abuse. Foster healing. Fix broken systems. But wrap all of it in as much compassion and forgiveness as possible, without diminishing the first three. 

Jennie’s performance of her blog post + 2 songs, at a fundraiser for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in October 2019.

Jennie’s interview with Mark Halperin (edited by Mark’s people prior to publication, so it’s lost much of Jennie’s perspective unfortunately)

The detailed allegations against Mark Halperin, in the words of the women he harmed 

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Episode Transcript

Introduction

On today’s podcast, I have the tremendous honor of talking with Jennie Willoughby. I feel like I say this on every episode, but gosh, am I excited to talk to her today! Jennie is somebody who became a symbol of forgiveness and compassion in early 2018 when she wrote a blog post entitled Why I Stayed that became a viral sensation, detailing the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband.

And it sparked a global hashtag #AndSoIStayed. Using mindfulness and self compassion, Jennie offers new dialogues to use with ourselves and with others that foster empathy and connection. She teaches simple, accessible, meditation’s grounded in mindfulness and self compassion that help with anxiety, anger, stress, and healing from trauma.

The reason I wanted to talk to Jennie is that the work that she’s out there doing in the world is just so in alignment with what I am seeking to do with this podcast, and the movement behind the podcast. On the one hand, absolutely – people who have done harm, and certainly those who are continuing to do harm, need to be held accountable. The abuse must stop. And systems that support abusive behavior and allow it to continue also must be fixed.

And, all of that needs to happen in a container that allows for healing for everybody, both the victims and the perpetrators. And of course perpetrators are often victims themselves in various ways. But then also all of that needs to happen in such a way that we can access maximum forgiveness and compassion.

Not so much, of course, that we then, you know, we don’t want compassion that actually ends up allowing perpetrators to skate free. Obviously that’s not compassion. We want to be compassionate and forgiving only insofar as the abuse is still made to stop. And it’s complicated. It’s hard.

And Jennie’s blog post – her viral blog post, Why I Stayed – got to the heart of this conundrum in a way that made me realize, Oh wow, do I want to have a conversation with this woman. The work that she’s doing, the message that she’s spreading, the healing that she is facilitating are on point for what I am doing as well.

And so with that, Jennie, I am just so thrilled to have you here, talking with me today. Thank you so much for taking time in our coronavirus quarantine lives to come and join me today.

Interview

Jennie: [00:03:41] Wow. Thank you. Thank you for that beautiful introduction and for the work that you’re doing here.

Julia: [00:03:46] And I think – in addition to what I just said about you – I think the absolute best way to introduce yourself to the audience and also to kind of frame the conversation that we’re getting ready to have would be for you to actually read your blog post to us. Is that something you’d be willing to do?

Jennie: [00:04:02] Absolutely. I wrote this on April 24th, 2017, sitting outside of the marital home that I shared with my ex husband, Rob Porter. And really, really felt honest for the first time – probably ever – about this situation.

And So I Stayed.

The first time he called me a fucking bitch was on our honeymoon. I found out years later he had kicked his first wife on theirs.

A month later, he physically prevented me from leaving the house. Less than two months after that, I filed a protective order with the police because he punched in the glass on our front door while I was locked inside. Just after our one year anniversary, he pulled me naked and dripping from the shower to yell at me.

Everyone loved him. People commented all the time how lucky I was. Strangers complimented him to me every time we went out. But in my home, the abuse was insidious.

The threats were personal, the terror was real, and yet I stayed.

When I tried to get help, I was counseled to consider carefully how what I said might affect his career. And so I kept my mouth shut and stayed.

I was told, yes, he was deeply flawed, but then again, so was I. And so I worked on myself and stayed.

If he was a monster all the time, perhaps it would have been easier to leave, but he could be kind and sensitive. And so I stayed.

He cried and apologized, and so I stayed.

He offered to get help and even went to a few counseling sessions and therapy groups. And so I stayed.

He belittled my intelligence and destroyed my confidence, and so I stayed.

I felt ashamed and trapped, and so I stayed.

Friends and clergy didn’t believe me, and so I stayed.

I was pregnant and so I stayed.

I lost the pregnancy and became depressed and so I stayed.

Abuse is indifferent to education level, socioeconomic status, race, age, or gender, and no one can ever know the dynamics of another’s relationship. My cycle continued for four more years. Afterward I let go and welcome to the hard work of healing and forgiveness. My experience made me stronger and able to love more deeply, but my heart breaks for him. In the end, who was the real victim of his choices.

Julia: [00:07:06] That’s powerful. And you know, listeners heard you break down a couple of times as you’re reading it. They didn’t hear me, but I am too. I’m sitting here in tears listening to it. And what I want to elevate is that my tears – and I think also your tears – though I don’t want to speak for you – are, are, are, are not a bad thing.

My tears are, they’re a wonderful thing.  I’ll also share with the audience that as powerful as that blog post is to listen to all on its own, you performed that blog post onstage and, and you sang a song. Both on the front end and on the back end of the blog post. And that’s available on YouTube and I encourage listeners to go and check that out. The link is in the show notes.

I’d love for you to share a little bit about that evening for you.  Because I heard that performance of yours and I mean, I just broke down in retching sobs after listening to it. I mean, it just broke me open – in a wonderful way. There’s been all kinds of fury and rage and sadness and heartbreak building up in me for the last few weeks and I haven’t been able to access it and get past it. And that performance of yours broke me open in a way that was so necessary and so healing and so cathartic.

And when I shared that with you, earlier this afternoon, you said, yeah, I get it. And tell, tell us why. What was that evening all about and why was there so much power in it?

Jennie: [00:08:48] The evening was a fundraising event for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And so it was in New York city, and it was a group of performers, musicians, Broadway actors, to benefit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

And I had been asked to give remarks, which I was very comfortable doing. I’ve been a classroom teacher, I’ve been a speaker. And yet one of the things that I think had been squashed in my marriage that I had not yet resurrected, some four years later, was singing and performing onstage. And so I had asked for permission to be able to, to do differently than just give remarks, give a keynote.

And so what I experienced onstage was the power of one more layer of breaking open of what I was fully, fully capable of. And the power of being seen in the healing that I had done, in the abuse that I had suffered and in the passion that I have now for the work that I’m doing.

I got really emotional singing for those reasons. And it just, yeah. I, I still, I still think about that sometimes because that really marked – maybe not the final step, cause I’m on a longer journey than that. But it marked another step forward for me from breaking away from the shame and the bondage of, of any type of abuse and trauma.

Julia: [00:10:32] Yeah. And the way that you described it earlier was you said that it was you breaking apart onstage. And, and witnessing that, tapping into that, experiencing it along with you, is – it contains the power to break the listener open too. Again,  in a wonderful, positive, healing, cathartic way, you know?

So, gosh, I hope everybody listening to this podcast clicks on that link. It’s, it’s a 10 minute performance and — cause you’re also, you are a spectacular singer. I didn’t know that about you, but my God, it’s like why isn’t this lady on the radio or whatever? I don’t know about, I don’t know about the music industry. I don’t know where the big shots hanging out. But, I mean you’re, you’re amazing. You’re amazing.

You mentioned when you were describing writing this blog post your husband’s name. But it — unfortunately, we need to talk about who your husband is.  I tend to avoid expressly political conversations on this podcast because they are so quickly just dragged down into partisan nonsense and people don’t even hear the story or what’s being said. Rather they look at what kind of a weapon or cudgel they can use against the person of the opposite party. 

So given that I know and you know that that happens and we agree it sucks, the fact of the matter is that I would never know who you are and lots of people would never have heard your story if it weren’t because of the man you were married to.

So can you share with listeners, who, who is your ex husband?

Jennie: [00:12:11] My ex husband was the staff secretary, the initial staff secretary in the Trump administration. One of the top aides to the president and who had access, we’ll say, to sensitive information that that only a top few people in the White House would see. I’m very well aware that I was only given the platform that I was because of who my ex husband worked for.

And I see it as a blessing that he ended up in the position that he was, because it allowed me to tell a conversation that hopefully surpasses political party ideology. I tried at the time, and I will continue to try to do so, to separate this from the fact of who my ex husband was or who he worked for.

There’s a lot of stories to be told about that, but that’s not the story that I’m telling. The story that I’m telling is one of abuse that can happen at any level, that can happen to any person, and the lengths that we as society have gone to, to silence those voices and to cover up those situations.

I didn’t want to be forever – I’m a writer, I’m a speaker, I want a platform. But I didn’t want to be forever associated with “ex-wife of.” When you Google my name, I would like my name to come up, not ex-wife of.

But at the same time I’m grateful because if that is what it takes for me to be able to use my voice speaking about healing and forgiveness; if that’s what it takes to bring a spotlight on domestic violence, to bring attention to these causes; if that’s what it takes to raise the, the desire for resilience and self compassion in the world, I’m here for it. And I will take whatever negativity there was associated with how the story came to be. I will take that and I will use it for the betterment of any person or any victim or any, any man, woman or child who feels like they have been silenced and that they see themselves in my story.

Julia: [00:14:29] I love that. And, it does go directly into how your story kind of came to be. It seems to me as a casual observer – at the time, you know, before I knew you,  I saw your story become public just like the rest of the world did. Many of the listeners of this podcast will already be familiar with Rob’s story and your story.

But just to briefly summarize: because of the fact that, as you said, Rob in his position as the staff secretary, had access to highly sensitive, very high level clearance information in the White House, he required an FBI clearance. And like many of the people that were initially named to the Trump administration, he had difficulty getting that FBI clearance. And it was a big story in the media for a while. All these people in the White House who weren’t getting their FBI clearances and why not? 

In Rob’s case, it came to be known that part of the reason – maybe a lot of it, maybe only a bit of it – but some of the reason that he was not getting the FBI clearance was because it turned out that there were allegations of domestic abuse against him by both you and his first ex-wife, Colbie Holderness.

And so I as a member of the public and all the rest of the public became aware of you a year later, basically. I think we all became aware of it in January, February of 2018. And your blog post, Why I Stayed, had been published a year before.

And I thought to myself, huh. A year ago is when the FBI would have come knocking on her door to ask these questions. I wonder if part of the reason that you were stirred to write the post is because of the fact that the FBI came asking. Is that part of it?

Jennie: [00:16:34] That’s maybe the largest part of it. In fact, I mean, great, great observation. I, I was contacted by the FBI in January of 2017, which was right after the inauguration of the Trump administration to office. I met with them in February of 2017.  As a result of both Colbie and I meeting with the FBI, we had to tell stories that we had not told. Or that we had only told to our most intimate and trusted friends and partners .

Colbie then reached out to me in March of 2017 and said, I have a sneaking suspicion that this probably dredged up some similar things for you that it did for me. If you would be willing to meet, I would love to.

I’d never met her. I’d never seen her. I’d never had any communication with her until she reached out to me in this way. And so after meeting her in March of 2017 and telling my story to the FBI in February of 2017 it just – it gave me the permission that I needed to recognize that I had nothing to fear. That telling the story was not something that was going to reflect badly on me and that any negative repercussions that would come from my sharing would not be mine to own.

Julia: [00:18:02] Wow. Yeah. And isn’t that — I don’t even know what to say. This….

Jennie: [00:18:11] The number one silencer for me and, I’ve now come to understand, for so many people in any kind of abuse situations is shame. It’s fear, certainly, of retaliation or of consequences from the perpetrator. But it’s, it’s probably shame more than anything else.

I was blessed to be the keynote speaker at the 2018 Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma. And there was a co speaker there and he said something that has stuck with me ever since on this topic of shame. He had been in gang violence, he had been sexually and physically abused as a child. And he was so ashamed to say something to these gang members, he said, because I was afraid they would hurt me, they would kill me, or they would even shame me. He put them in that order.

And I thought, wow, doesn’t that speak volumes that we are more afraid of being exposed in our shame than we are of death? And I think that’s very, very true. It was for me, that being exposed as less than – being exposed in my, in my, you know, worst moments, it was more terrifying for me than living in silence at that time.

Julia: [00:19:36] So that prompts me to want to ask two questions, kind of opposite sides of the coin. And I will invite you to go whichever direction you want to. One question is, can you describe what that shame is about? Because for some listeners, they will be intimately familiar. Some listeners have had experiences of harassment and assault themselves, and they know exactly what you’re talking about.

But some people who are listening don’t understand that. They find themselves saying, oh my gosh. Why do women stay quiet? Why don’t you say something? These are the people who I, I’ve talked about in a lot of episodes are the people that they’re at least intellectually, philosophically in favor of women’s equality, and they want to believe women, but they find it to be so implausible.

They think to themselves, Oh my God, if somebody, if somebody was hitting me or hurting me, or God forbid, if somebody tried to rape me, I wouldn’t stay silent. I would tell everybody. And they don’t understand the shame. And, and it’s kind of my hypothesis that if people like that hear the explanation from enough different voices, something will stick.

And so that’s one side of the question is, you know, explain the shame. And then the other side of the question is, and how do you get past that? You know, it’s, the question is, or the invitation is to describe your healing journey out of the shame. Which of those – if either of them – would you like to address?

Jennie: [00:21:08] I don’t know how much justice I can do to what that shame feels like globally for everyone, but I can speak about what it was for me. And for me personally, it was that I had come from a background and a childhood that wasn’t ideal. It was because I had made choices in my adolescence and early adulthood that had negative consequences that were embarrassing that I would not make today.

And that I now with that baggage and with that history, I ended up in a relationship with someone who did not respect me and did not treat me well. I was ashamed because I was owning that. As though where I had come from, what my parents had had subjected me to, decisions that I had made when my prefrontal cortex was not fully developed as an adolescent, that those somehow defined who I was and what I was allowed to receive as an adult. And I carried that shame, as I went into my marriage and, and as, as I left my marriage.

For me, the journey out of that shame has been really my life’s work, which is understanding and receiving self-compassion. Acknowledging that the circumstances that I found myself in as a young child are completely out of my control. Acknowledge, acknowledging that the Adverse Childhood Experiences that I was subjected to, we now understand through research – psychological and medical research – have dramatic and drastic lasting impacts on someone’s behavior as they move forward. And on relationships and on their susceptibility to abuse and violence and other things.

And to be able to see that as a bigger picture of what got me to where I was, as opposed to taking on ownership as though I had consciously chosen these things. And that’s not to say that I, that I don’t accept responsibility for mistakes that I’ve made. That’s not at all true. I think it was acknowledging that the mistakes that I made were made from the level of awareness and the level of self love and the level of self acceptance that I was capable of in that moment.

And moving beyond the shame is then of course learning to accept and be compassionate with myself in all circumstances, even the ones that are that are dark and painful.

Julia: [00:23:41] So what I kind of hear you saying – and please do correct me if I’m, if I’m now mischaracterizing what you said – what I kind of hear you saying is that part of the path of healing from the shame was also unbundling it. That there was some shame about simply what had happened to you, and also there was shame about some decisions and choices that you made that put you in circumstances that were ripe for additional misfortunate things to happen to you. And so there was, there was like there was what other people did to you and there were choices that you made.

And kind of at the apex of the shame or before the healing began, all of that was sort of bundled together. And it was, and it was by unbundling it and recognizing, look, there’s choices that I can take responsibility for. But to the extent that my ability to make good choices was impaired because of things that people did to me – especially when I was a small child, but including what your ex husband did to you – those are not for me to take responsibility. It’s not my fault that I got hit. Sure, I can take responsibility for my choice to date him, to marry him, to stay with him for four years. And it doesn’t mean that it’s my fault or that I should be ashamed of the fact that I got hit.

Is that an accurate restating or am I mischaracterizing it now by putting those words on it?

Jennie: [00:25:18] That is accurate. It’s the conflating of those two things that somehow this happened to me because I’m incapable of making a different decision. That’s the shame and I can speak again, just from my own experience, and I hope that someone can find some sort of clarity in that, that I ended up in a relationship that was not respectful, that was violent, that that was abusive in a number of different levels in a number of different ways. Gradually, over the course of my entire life, I made decisions that ended me up in that relationship. And then I conflated the two together that somehow I then deserved that relationship because I ended up there.

And I can see that certainly in the Me Too movement and rape culture that a woman was drunk at a party. Well, she made the decision to drink too much. She made the decision to be at the party where they were – you know, her friends left. And then that gets conflated in her mind as though she was responsible for having put herself in that situation.

No. It was Rob’s choice to behave the way that he behaved. It was Rob’s choice to, to continue that behavior. It was a perpetrator of violence or a rapist’s choice to take advantage of someone when they had become incapacitated with alcohol. We all have our own choices.

And so the unbundling, as you were talking about, was me being able to unbundle which of these choices were mine that I can now work through and, and own and, and, and relinquish the, the narrative that that has on my life; and which were not mine to own. And I can say, that’s your problem. You did that. I did this.

Julia: [00:27:07] Mm. Mm. Yeah. What you just said, it’s — because of the choices that I made and the things that I’ve done, I deserve what I got, is what you’re saying.

Jennie: [00:27:17] It’s such a false narrative that so many people internalize. And again, I’m going to speak about ACE factors, Adverse Childhood Experiences, particularly then they get internalized as though this is, this is who I am. As opposed to these are factors that are contributing to how I perceive the world and I have control over being able to, to reframe that or move through that or make a different choice as soon as I’ve been educated about something and wants to do it differently moving forward.

It’s hard for me to see sometimes the way perpetrators of abuse and violence are portrayed in the media. Including my ex husband, if I’m being honest with you, because they don’t always show the, the full – the whole dynamic experience of being a human being. As though if I make a dangerous violent choice, therefore I am a dangerous, violent person.

And yet that is not empirically true. Good people, good husbands, good fathers, good workers can make devastating choices. And I don’t believe that any one person should be judged wholly on the worst decision they’ve ever made in their life or the worst action that they’ve ever contributed to.  That to me is the opposite of what compassion and and human experience is. We’re here to learn.

Julia: [00:28:46] I love that you said that. That came up in the most recent episode that I published with Alicia Garza. She talked about Bryan Stevenson, who is a lawyer in Alabama, who has devoted his life to helping get men mostly, but people, off of death row in Alabama. They’ve made a movie about him called – I think it’s Just Mercy, I think is the name of the movie. And he’s written a book.

And what Alicia said that the, what she said, it sticks in her finger like a stinger is his statement that no person is the sum of the worst thing they’ve ever done. And I just butchered that quote, I know, but it’s, it’s close.

And it’s what you just said, that the very worst thing that any of us has ever done is not what should define any of us.

Jennie: [00:29:36] And let’s talk about how the, the misperception of assuming that someone’s  worst situation is what defines them. If we do that, what we’re actually doing then is closing our own pathway to redemption, or at least our belief that we can be forgiven and redeemed for our mistakes.

Because if we say, when someone screws up – however big or small on the spectrum – that that now is a defining characteristic of them, we’re ultimately saying that that’s true for us too. And you know, psychology says that the more that we want to reject something, the harsher we are attacking it externally. And so if we feel as though there’s something in our lives that we’re ashamed of, there’s a, there’s a dark, secret space that we’re afraid that people might not accept or might not forgive or might not love, and then we say to someone else, you are unlovable and unacceptable because you’ve done that thing we’re then further pushing our own fear and shame down.

Julia: [00:30:36] Yeah, yeah. A hundred percent. And, and that gets us pretty squarely into what is the central hypothesis of this podcast project and website project, is, how do we do it different? You know? Is it possible for people to change? And if it is, what ingredients need to be present in order to catalyze change?

Jennie: [00:31:03] I don’t think it is possible for people to change if we purport that when you do something wrong, it is an inherent flaw in you. Because that does not give any motivation for someone to, to question their behavior or to, to seek remorse. Instead, that perpetuates what I see a lot of celebrities and people doing who are in these accusations digging their heels in. Denial.

And I think that that, the reason that it becomes that sort of black and white push and pull is because the societal understanding is that that one wrong thing means that they are perpetually going to be doing that one wrong thing forever and ever.

And if we then say, can we look at this? Is it a cycle of behavior over many, many years? What are the therapies and treatments for that? Versus this was one situation and their deepest, darkest moments and they regret it deeply. Well, what is the treatment and the therapy look for that? And we’re able to address each person individually as opposed to this, this blanket statement of guilt and trial by public opinion.

Julia: [00:32:14] So let’s push on this idea of can people change? And let’s just stipulate, let’s just take it as a given, that what you just said is in place. Let’s just take it as a given that we can wave our magic wands and we can declare that all people who have been found to have done wrong things are offered appropriate therapies for their particular flavor of wrongdoing. Exactly how you just articulated.

So let’s just take it as a given that we acknowledge like, okay, there’s this kind of wrongdoing, there’s that kind of wrongdoing, and here’s the therapy that’s available. To what extent, or what percentage of people, or under what circumstances, do you think people say, “Okay, I will take advantage of this therapeutic healing opportunity that’s being presented to me and I will do the hard work to change.”

Jennie: [00:33:15] Me personally, and the idealist in me, says every person. Every person is capable of that, and every person wants that. And my theory is that the, the many, many people that we see who don’t seem to be taking advantage of that and who don’t seem to understand that they have a choice, are conditioned that way because of the, the punitive nature in our society around these issues.

But now we’ve seen particularly since 2016 – 2017 with this rise of the Me Too movement, that there’s no pathway forward. So why would anyone then seek to change? Why would anyone then open up and make themselves vulnerable to those kinds of attacks? And the, the way that we invite people to learn and we invite people to really go, go in, introspective and analyze, why did they end up in this situation? Why are they acting this way? What are the behaviors? The way that we invite people to do that is by normalizing that it’s okay to make that mistake in the first place. Not okay in that there shouldn’t be repercussions and that there shouldn’t be justice served, but that generally you are not an unworthy, evil human being because you’ve made this mistake.

Julia: [00:34:33] Right, right, right, right. And that’s one of – and there’s, you know, we could spend an entire podcast talking specifically about the ingredients of our current culture that are preventing — any opportunity there might be for real change is being prevented, in so much of what’s happening in our current culture.

This seems like as good as any of a moment to talk about Mark Halperin.

For listeners, Mark Halperin is a news — was a newsman, a newscaster, a media figure who was caught up in Me Too allegations. And on the broad spectrum from let’s say Harvey Weinstein, who most people categorize as like, you know, he’s the Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, whatever, those are like the defining worst of the worst.

And then over on the other end, we’ve got maybe like your Al Franken‘s and your Joe Biden‘s, and I don’t know who else is in that category. There’s a couple of movie stars, I think, who’ve been accused of grabbing some side boob in a photograph. That’s kind of on the other end of the conversation.

And Mark Halperin was, I would say, in the middle of those accusations. I don’t believe that he’s been accused by anybody of having raped them, but it was more than just grabbing some side boob. There was some “Hey, come sit on my lap and let me demonstrate to you that I’m aroused by your presence.” Which is pretty gross and kind of extreme. And he was fired. 

You had the opportunity to have some pretty in depth conversation with Mark about what has happened with him in the wake of that stuff becoming public. And I should clarify, that you’ve interviewed him publicly. You’ve got full license to talk about him and his story. And what can you say about his process? What can you share with us about what you’ve learned about him specifically and what kind of spotlight or what kind of illumination this throws on the topic as a whole?

Jennie: [00:36:25] In March of last year, March of 2019, he reached out to me after I wrote a piece in the Washington Post where I talked about redemption and I left the door open for redemption for my ex husband. And Mark reached out to me curious, what does that look like? You know how, how, what is that path forward? Because I’m trying to navigate it and I don’t understand. Help me. Teach me what that looks like.

And in getting to know him and in having more conversations with him and in doing all the deep research online of everything that’s ever been accused and everything that’s been said about him, the first thing to say is, he did a lot of it. And he admits it. And it’s like you said, it’s gross skeevy stuff, and he admits it and says that it was gross skeevy stuff and wants to do better and be better. And wants to, in, in whatever way is possible at this point, 10, 12 years after the fact, make amends with the women that he hurt. And is receiving a lot of public backlash and hindrance to even being able to speak in that compassionate way towards his victims.

And what I’ve seen from him is – I guess the reason that I agreed to meet with him, and the reason that I see his case is a little bit different than say, a Harvey Weinstein or, or a Bill Cosby – is the incidents for him were chronic. They were multiple. And they happened years in the past and there haven’t been any since then. Because in his words, in his telling, he acknowledged he had a problem and that this was going to take him down. And so he removed himself from that station and went to therapy.

Now, he didn’t do that publicly and no one ever talked about, you know, this is why he left and there was, and there was penalties on that. So we can talk about the networks enabling this type of behavior in a, in a complete, separate conversation.

But for Mark, that was unique to me because what’s happened with a lot of the people who’ve been accused in the Me Too movement is they’re accused out of nowhere. And, and it’s like they didn’t see it coming. They didn’t acknowledge that they had a problem. And so here’s somebody from four years ago and last year and from 10 years ago, and it’s because they never acknowledged they had a problem. Mark did not acknowledge it publicly that he had a problem, but privately he did and went to therapy and attempted, in the best way that he could at the time, to just pretend like it didn’t happen.

He acknowledges now how insulting that is to the women that he hurt. That he had the privilege to be able to just walk away and do the therapy and pretend like it didn’t happen. And that is why now his, his desire is to be able to share with these women, “I kind of understand and I recognize there’s nothing I can do to take away what I did, but what can I add going forward? How can I be a part of this conversation going forward?”

And that to me is, is an example that I, that we, that we need in this particular movement. There, there haven’t been many who have openly acknowledged, yes, I did these things. I’m sorry I did these things and I’m willing to do the work to understand them better and to be a part of the solution going forward.

Isn’t that what, what the movement is asking for? Isn’t that what we want, is we want a change? The only way we can facilitate that change is to allow former perpetrators to come and teach, this is what you need to know. This is how you get out of it. This is why it’s wrong. And if we don’t allow for that, then we can’t allow for redemption for anybody.

Julia: [00:40:05] And why do you think there is such resistance? Why, why, why do you think that there are so few men that have done that? Why do you think men are so resistant to doing it once it happens? You know, it gets back maybe to my question, you know, can people change?

Like you, I have a bias that I believe people can change. I know that I personally have changed an enormous amount in my life, through many years of therapy. Years ago a cousin said to me, wow, Julia, you have changed more than people change. And that was years ago. I’ve changed a lot since then.

And, and frankly, I spent my entire twenties – I spent 10 years going to therapy twice a week, every week. And at the end of it, my therapist said to me, when you got here, I honestly didn’t think that you would ever get out of what you were in when you came here. So that’s a different way of saying it, but a therapeutic, like certified way of saying, yeah, I changed a fricking lot.

Jennie: [00:41:13] Yeah, you did. You did come out of it. You acknowledged the problem. Internally first, and then stuck through the hard work of changing, of growing, and creating a new future for yourself, a new path for yourself. And I believe that’s, that’s what we want to believe is, is available for everyone.

To the original question as to why men – we’ll say men, since we’re talking  about the Me Too movement, and it’s largely been men – why men don’t do that is because there have been systems in place forever that that made them able to not have to take accountability. That you could first of all, normalize misogyny up until probably two years ago that that allowed that kind of behavior and that kind of talk in the workplace. And it, and it wasn’t challenged in any way.

So we’re basically seeing men – generalization – men in society as a whole are finally being asked to question whether or not it’s okay. Why was that okay? Was it really ever okay? And now that you are aware, can you continue to pretend it’s okay going forward? And we need models of men going through that awakening process.

Julia: [00:42:32] Yep. And we have so few of them, but one of – a recent podcast episode, I interviewed a man by the name of Christian Picciolini. And while what he acknowledged and has healed from is not sexual assault, he was a Neo Nazi skinhead and he did a lot of awful things.

And he interestingly says the exact same when I asked him the question, why do you think that you’ve escaped cancel culture? Cause at this point he, his life’s work is about getting – his whole brand is, I used to be a shithead and now I’m a good guy, basically. And he spends his life, his life’s work is helping to get people out of hate movements.

Christian said – what he said was largely what you just said, is that maybe the reason that he escaped cancel culture is because he took responsibility for the bad things that he had done before somebody, quote unquote, caught him.

And I think that’s a lot of what comes up, not just in the context of sexual assault. Another big headline story of somebody doing wrong and now being asked for forgiveness is Michael Cohen, the long time, quote unquote fixer for Donald Trump. He spent 10 years allegedly doing all kinds of illegal things for Donald Trump. And then when he got caught, he flipped. Hard. He went before Congress and testified. I can’t quote him chapter and verse, but he essentially said, I see the light. I have done so many awful and illegal things because I got caught up in this guy Donald Trump, and now I get it. And I’m telling you people that are still mesmerized by him, you got to stop.

And pretty much nobody wanted to give him any credit for that, you know? And what I heard from person after person after person is he’s not sorry, he’s just sorry he got caught. And I think that that – it very much goes to what you’re talking about with Mark. Even though his own process wasn’t terrific, at least he quote unquote caught himself before anybody else caught him.

Jennie: [00:44:34] And I want to challenge that notion that he’s not sorry, he’s only sorry he got caught. Good. Because that means we have a starting point. He acknowledges it was wrong. Even if he’s only sorry that he got caught. That means that we have an entry point for changing the way that he sees things cause we can say, you got caught. That means you knew, you know it was wrong. And perhaps while you were in it, you couldn’t see that they were going to be consequences. Or there were systems in place that were protecting you. But here you are now and you can say, Oh okay, I get it. That was wrong. So let me apologize, let me do what I want to do. But that’s an, that’s an opening. That’s an entry point.

Julia: [00:45:12] Yeah. Except, let me push back on your pushback because I think what people think – they’re, they’re skeptical of him. And they say, no, he doesn’t think it was wrong. He’s SAYING he thought it was wrong because that’s what he thinks he’s got to say to get himself off the hook.

Jennie: [00:45:25] Well, I mean, I don’t want to lose the thread about, how do we acknowledge where someone is truly contrite and where someone is just going through the motions to escape that? And I don’t want to lose that thread because I had the thought about, we’ll say the civil rights movement, when there are people on camera spitting in people’s faces and calling them all sorts of horrible racist names and racist slurs and righteously indignant that they were right in their hatred. Who now in their 60s, 70s are horribly ashamed at that behavior. And yet that exists. Are we going to say that because we have that documented that they couldn’t have grown in the 40-50 years since? That’s, that’s hard to prove.

And I guess what we’re, what we’re in right now is an accelerated movement because we have cell phones, we have recordings, we have videos, we have all the online blogs and tweets that you’ve ever sent. And so there is a record of the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. It’s there.

And I guess what my argument was, wasn’t so much that it didn’t matter if he was really sorry or not. What my argument was, is the more that we can call attention to the fact that people can see that we are holding them accountable – that it is wrong – the more likely it is that someone will do it before they get caught. Or the more likely it is that other people will not cover for them if they see this behavior, or if they know about this behavior.

But that doesn’t shift until we have sort of that maximum load that makes it more desirable to do the quote unquote right thing than it is to deny and try to avoid it. And I truly believe that we are at that tipping point right now.

That the quote that I, that I, we have been often quoted on from an op-ed last year, is we all crave a redemption story. We all want to see people taking ownership of their inadequacies and their mistakes and their sins because we desperately want to believe that we too can be redeemed for our own. And so globally, what I think would be helpful in, in moving this, this life after Me Too movement forward, is showing that you can have a life after Me Too. Because right now if you get accused, you get fired, you get ousted, and then your life stops, that’s really not offering a solution in any way. That’s just saying there’s a consequence.

Well, our criminal justice system says there are consequences, and then there’s rehabilitation. That’s the whole point of our criminal justice system is that people —

Julia: [00:48:07] At least theoretically.

Jennie: [00:48:08] Yes, theoretically. There’s so many problems with that, that we can get into it another time, but the theory is that you do something wrong, there is a consequence – a strict consequence for that behavior – so that we can teach you that there’s a different way to be. And you can now contribute to society effectively, hopefully, maybe even against what it is that you, that you did wrong.

Julia: [00:48:29] So let me ask then, I mean, okay, great. I agree with you. Let’s go do that. Like how, how do we set that up? Because I, it seems to me that it’s not something that the individual can do on his own. His or her, but in this case, almost all of the Me Too perpetrators are men.

Mark is a great example. And there, there have been a number of other notable examples. Matt Lauer tried to quote unquote come back and so did Charlie Rose and they were sort of rejected. Well, Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari have both quote unquote come back, and they’ve pretty much been welcomed.  Aziz Ansari is on tour and Louis C.K. is on comedy stages. And there’s rumors that Al Franken wants to run for elected office again, but so far he’s not actually moving on that as far as I know. And so there’s individual men that are  trying it, but it does seem like – it’s like there’s not a lot of rhyme or reason in terms of who gets to come back, so to speak, and who doesn’t.

And I actually think that it behooves society. It behooves the system. It behooves any given workplace to decide, this is how we are going to set you up for reentry. Here’s what needs to happen.

Jennie: [00:49:44] These are the criteria that are the bare minimum criteria, that we’re going to allow for. The same way that we would with someone who has an alcoholism or a drug problem being able to reemerge back into the workforce after being, you know, some, some horrible mistake that happens in that way. The same way that we do with delinquent parents, if their children are taken away by child protective services, there is a minimum criteria, and then we say, okay, we want you to be with your family.

Because honestly – though we’ve kind of gone up and down in the roller coaster of emotion in this, in this conversation, my life’s work is that compassion, that forgiveness, that, that opening to redemption. And I have that opening. And I believe that that’s something that everyone is, it’s available to everyone because of all of the opportunities that I’ve had in my life.

And what we need to see going forward are frankly, more people like you and I, who are willing to sit down and have those hard conversations to, to expose and shed light on what it takes to quote unquote change, to truly, repent to, to, to forgive and mean it. To apologize and mean it. And until we have examples of that, there is no playbook.

Julia: [00:51:07] Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, in the course of this podcast, I have had conversations with many people about this exact question. How do we create a container in which redemption, compassion, forgiveness, all that can happen? And over and over again, the answer that comes back is that fundamentally it’s, it’s that is that as soon as we – society or a workplace or whoever it is that is going to do something to hold a perpetrator accountable – becomes soft or gentle or compassionate, that opens the door for being abused all over again. ie, for the perpetrator to say, “sucker! I’m out.”

Over and over and over again through a bunch of different lenses, I’ve talked to people who worked in victims advocacy, who work in women’s equality and workplaces, who work in the law, who work in HR – I’ve, I’ve had many conversations with many people who basically say, well, yeah, it’s all well and good to – the examples that you just listed, Jennie, alcoholics or parents who have been denied access to their kids. Those are all relatively disempowered people within our society. It’s relatively easy for us as a society to clamp down on those people. And, and we can feel pretty confident that as we ease up on restrictions, they’re not going to get away from us, you know?

Whereas we feel the explicit lack of that when what we’re talking about is some of the most powerful people in our society, namely affluent, successful, white men.

And so the question then becomes, how do we actually do it? Within the context of let’s say a company – even though there’s lots of workplaces in which lots of abuse and, and, and harassment happens that are not companies, there’s lots of workplaces, you know, restaurants and even domestic situations – but let’s just take a company, cause that’s where most of the affluent, successful white men hang out is in companies. How do we actually do this?

How can we imagine if — if you and I were writing a blueprint for a company that is open to do this. They’re like, look, we don’t have any active lawsuits so our lawyers are telling us we’ve got just a tiny bit of wiggle room here, but we know there’s some issues. You know, we’ve been doing some surveys of our corporate culture, and we know there’s some people who don’t feel so safe. There’s, there’s some harassy kinds of stuff happening, and we want to nip it in the bud.

What can we recommend to them? Let’s say that some company hired you and me as a consultant to come in and help them fix this situation. What do we actually tell them to do?

Jennie: [00:53:51] The situation can only be fixed from an individual level. And it’s not like a cookie cutter thing where this is the policy that we have and therefore it’s going to work for every person. You find the one person that is quote unquote problematic and you sit down with that person. The onus is not on the victim to to shift their understanding or to shift the cultural understanding of what’s happening.

The onus is on the, the people who are close with that person to then point out what is problematic with this behavior. And then that brings a light on something bigger, which is the systemic things that then protect – as you’re describing – white, privileged, cisgendered males, powerful men. There’s so many systems in place that protect them that are ingrained societally.

And what we’re seeing now, thankfully, is the, the awareness that that’s not the only paradigm that exists. The, the power of women’s voices now being brought to the table to say, Hey, that’s not exactly how things play out. But also we have like, we have cancel culture for a reason. And that is because it originated on Twitter. We now have a space where minority voices or disenfranchised voices have a platform to speak and say, this is not okay. And that’s what we need to do is continually have the people saying, this is not okay to the perpetrator, to the person who is doing it.

And each time you have these individual conversations, each time someone like you or I is willing to be really uncomfortable, to be hated, to be judged and attacked for standing for someone, the more likely it is that we’re going to be able to shift the societal opinion of it.

In a panel that I did a month or so ago – well before the coronavirus, so a couple of months ago – one of the things came up about cancel culture is that there are so few companies, executives, maybe comparable sister companies, that are willing to stick their neck out for someone when they’re cancelled – a celebrity or a spokesperson or something – that are willing to do that for fear of the backlash on them.

And I guess what I’m saying is I am willing to be that voice and I am willing to take on that backlash because I believe — no I know, that compassion and the openness and the acceptance of this full and dynamic spectrum of human experience is so much more powerful than anything anyone could throw at me.

Julia: [00:56:29] That sounds like a wonderful way to move towards wrapping up this conversation. Gosh, it’s been wonderful to talk to you, Jennie. You’re just a, a dynamic, powerful, strong voice. And, and it’s, it’s, the alchemy of all that you’ve been through.

Jennie: [00:56:52] That’s, that’s exactly what it is. That I, I have had enough experiences in my life that now I have no fear in using and speaking the truth that I know it to be true, which is that we are all on equal playing fields when it comes to being worthy of our experience here.

Julia: [00:57:09] Yeah, yeah. And while this conversation is coming to a close here, I trust that this will not be our last conversation. Listeners to the podcast might have you back again. And in other ways, the conversation I hope will continue.

Jennie: [00:57:23] Thank you. Me too. I hope so.

Conclusion + Links

Julia: And there you have it. Another episode in the can. Jennie Willoughby. Wow. What a powerful voice that woman is. “Compassion and openness are so much more powerful than anything anyone can throw at me.” Yes. That one is a quote for the quote board. I tell you what.

I hope that you loved this episode. There are a couple of links in the show notes that you might want to follow.

First of all, if you want to know more about Mark Helprin, there is a post about him on the Solving Me Too website. It’s not an editorial; rather, it is a collection – a curation, if you will – of all the journalism that has been published about him. And more importantly, we have found as many of the women as we could and posted their stories in their own words on the site. So you can read for yourself what they had to say along, with his responses, and determine for yourself what you believe. Or, who you believe.

Because all too often, people make a judgment about women making sexual allegations without even listening to the women’s stories. And that is a grave injustice. So to make it really easy for you to listen to what the women have to say, we have put all of their stories in one place.

You’ll notice that Mark Helprin isn’t the only one that we’ve done, not by a long shot. We’ve got stories about a few dozen of the men who have been publicly accused and it’s a work in progress. It’s a Herculean task. We’re adding more every week. So if you keep on coming back, you will keep seeing more of these profiles.

And there is a link to the post about Mark Helprin in the show notes, or you can also find it by going to the website, SolvingMeToo.com. From there, you want to click on the tab called perpetrators in the news, and then scroll down on that page to the Media section and click on his picture.

And of course the second link that might be of interest to you is Jennie’s performance, the one that we talked about in the episode. Which she gave at a fundraiser for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in October, 2019.

The performance was two incredible vocal performances as bookends to a reading of her viral blog post, Why I Stayed, which of course is the blog post that she read for us live today. But having it bookended by those two songs? Wow. As we talked about, it was a, you know, break you open kind of an experience. So if you’re looking for that kind of an emotional catharsis, be sure to check out that video, which is available on YouTube and the link is in the show notes.

And as always, if you want to let us know what you think about this episode or any of our others, we are on all the socials. We are on Facebook. We are on Twitter. We are on LinkedIn. Not so much with the Instagram, not just yet. Yours truly hasn’t quite figured that platform out yet. I’m not exactly an early adopter. It’s only been five years. Why should I be on Instagram? I mean, we are there, but not active.

But wherever you want to have a conversation with us, if you want to add a hashtag to your message, it’s either #SolvingMeToo or #TheSMTPodcast.

And finally, if you just want to send us a good old fashioned email, you can do that feedback@solvingmeto.com.

I hope you are having a great coronavirus quarantine May. Wherever you are in the country or in the world, you might be opening up, you might be staying put, but whatever you’re doing, I hope that you and your family are safe and healthy.

And please do join us back here again in a couple of weeks for our next episode.

Megyn Kelly

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/11/megyn-kelly-claims-roger-ailes-made-repeated-sexual-advances

https://www.businessinsider.com/megyn-kelly-talks-sexual-harassment-gives-advice-women-afraid-to-speak-2017-11

https://www.today.com/news/megyn-kelly-reveals-she-complained-about-bill-o-reilly-presidents-t117840

https://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-kelly-harassment-fox-20171023-story.html

https://money.cnn.com/2016/11/03/media/megyn-kelly-roger-ailes-settle-for-more-book/index.html

Addie Zinone

In 2000, Addie Zinone was a 24-year-old Production Assistant on The Today Show when newly-married, 40-something Matt Lauer started aggressively hitting on her.

Addie’s story – largely in her own words – was first published in Variety, Dec 14, 2017, by Ramin Setoodeh.

Lauer’s very first message to her read, ” “i hope you won’t drag me to personnel for saying this. but you look fantastic.” In other words, he knew that what he was doing and saying was all kinds of wrong.

As if that wasn’t enough, at the end of their first private lunch – at which Zinone hoped to receive some professional career advice – he told her to leave the restaurant separately from him. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Zinone, for her part, was so taken aback by the messages that she initially thought someone was playing a trick on her. After ignoring the messages, her reply was, “OK is someone screwing with me?”

But he didn’t give up and she succumbed to his advances, ending up in a month of sex in his dressing room.

The situation really took its toll on me. I changed physically. I changed emotionally. Fear crept into my life. I became unsure of myself. Any confidence I had was gone. For him, it was a conquest. 

Addie Zinone

Her career also suffered as the result of the encounter:

My experience on air as an anchor [in West Virginia, immediately after she’d left the Today Show] turned out to be so traumatic that I quit. I was in a depression. This man who I’d held on a pedestal had made me feel like my looks and my body were my true assets. He made it clear that he wasn’t interested in my skills or my talent. It just shattered everything.

Addie Zinone

The National Enquirer came sniffing around her about the story. It turns out Matt Lauer’s philandering and sexual harassment wasn’t exactly a secret. But she never sold her story. She wasn’t out for money. She just wanted to put it behind her.

But since we’ve now finally reached a moment in time that abusive men might possibly be held to account, she is adding her name publicly to the long list of women who Matt Lauer preyed upon.

Read Addie’s story in her own words in Variety, Dec 14, 2017, by Ramin Setoodeh.

Bill Clinton

Name:  Bill Clinton

Age: 48 (in 1994, when the Lewinsky allegation led to his impeachment)

Role: former President of the United States

Accusations  

Juanita Broaddrick accused Clinton of raping her in 1978, and the allegation became public in 1999.

Leslie Millwee accused Clinton of sexually assaulting her in 1980. She didn’t make her accusation until 2016.

Paula Jones accused Clinton of exposing himself to her in 1991 as well as sexually harassing her. Her allegation became public in 1994, during Clinton’s first term as President.

Kathleen Willey accused Clinton of groping her without her consent in 1993, and the allegation became public in 1999.

Monica Lewinsky had an affair with Clinton in 1994 that led to his impeachment. Lewinsky always maintained their relationship was consensual; although in the post- Me Too era, she has begun to publicly contemplate whether the extreme imbalance of power between the two of them meant that she was by definition taken advantage of.

Lucy Flores

An Awkward Kiss Changed How I Saw Joe Biden, by Lucy Flores, The Cut, March 19, 2019

Lucy Flores was running as a Democrat for Luitenant Governor of Nevada when Joe Biden arrived at a rally to support her. As she points out, he wasn’t there as her friend or mentor; he was there because she was the best person running for the job.

As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. “Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”

I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, “I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it.

And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?”

He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head.

My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.

There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.” I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything.

I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. My name was called and I was never happier to get on stage in front of an audience.

Biden has long defended his behavior – with Ms. Flores, as well as the many many other women (and some men) who Biden has been photographed nuzzling over the years – by saying that he thought he was providing support and comfort with his physical touches.

Biden, Flores and Eva Longoria, before the rally in question

Joe Biden

Name:  Joe Biden

Age: 77 (in 2020)

Role: former Vice President of the United States; presumptive Democratic 2020 nominee for President

Accusations:  

Tara Reade, a former Biden staffer, accuses Biden of digitally penetrating her in 1993, along with allowing harassment and retaliation to go on in his Senate office.

Eight other women including Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblyperson, accuse Biden of a variety of sexually inappropriate touching.

Amy Lappos says that Biden grabbed her head and rubbed noses with her at a political fundraiser in 2009 for Congressperson Jim Himes. “He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.” Lappos was a Congressional aide to Himes at the time.
Hartford Courant, Apr 1, 2019, by Neil Vigdor

“I never filed a complaint because he was the vice president. I was a nobody… There’s absolutely a line of decency. There’s a line of respect. Crossing that line is not grandfatherly. It’s not cultural. It’s not affection. It’s sexism or misogyny.”

Amy Lappos

Caitlyn Caruso, a former college student and sexual assault survivor, said Mr. Biden rested his hand on her thigh — even as she squirmed in her seat to show her discomfort — and hugged her “just a little bit too long” at an event on sexual assault at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She was 19.
The New York Times, Apr 2, 2019, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Sydney Ember

DJ Hill alleges Biden rested his hand on her shoulder and moved it down her back at a 2012 fundraising event in Minneapolis. Hill said the encounter made her “very uncomfortable.”
The New York Times, Apr 2, 2019, by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Sydney Ember

Vail Kohnert-Yount, a former White House intern, said when she met Biden in 2013, he “put his hand on the back of my head and pressed his forehead to my forehead.”

Ally Coll, a former Democratic staffer, told The Washington Post in April 2019 that when she met Biden in 2008, he complimented her smile, squeezed her shoulders, and held her “for a beat too long.”

Sofie Karasek, a progressive organizer, was photographed holding hands and touching foreheads with Biden at the 2016 Academy Awards. Karasek said she felt Biden violated her personal space in that interaction.

Biden’s Initial Response:  

He issued this statement on March 31, 2019: “I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention.” In short, I didn’t do anything wrong; but if you want to talk about how you feel anyway, I’ll listen. {eye roll}

Biden’s Evolving Response: 

When the Stephanie Carter photo (below) started being circulated along with many others depicting Biden nuzzling women, children and a few men over the years, the campaign got defensive. They began developing the narrative that smears, photoshopping and other forms of lying were being used to gin up false allegations against the candidate.

Unfortunately, there was in fact some of that going on. However, to just start screaming “false allegations! false allegations!” over and over again is the tactic of a man on thin ice, grasping at anything to save his own skin. It’s not the response of someone who feels a deep and abiding sense of his own innocence; and it’s absolutely not the response of someone who puts a high priority on fixing the systemic issues which have subjected so many millions of women to harassment and abuse over the years.

Updates & Developments:

March 2019 – Stephanie Carter wrote in a blog post for Medium that the much-circulated picture of Biden putting his hands on her shoulders and whispering in her ear (while her husband Ash Carter was being sworn in as Defense Secretary, in 2015) was acting as “a close friend, helping someone get through a big day, for which I will always be grateful.”

May 9, 2020 – Amy Lappos says that she believes Tara Reade, and that she plans to vote for Joe Biden. “I don’t want to be weaponized,” Lappos said.

This article goes on to describe the despicable ways in which 1000’s of people on Twitter and other social media platforms have spun Lappos’ story – whether out of ignorance or malice – such that it fits their own narrative and bears no resemblance to her actual position.
San Francisco Chronicle, by Emilie Munson