Editorial: Outing harassers good; changing workplace culture, better

  • The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
3:52 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 Opinion
Co-hosts Norah O’Donnell, Charlie Rose and Gayle King on the set of “CBS This Morning.” (CBS via AP)

The brave women who came forward to describe the sexual abuse, professional intimidation and personal abasement they suffered from Harvey Weinstein, the overbearing man who produced understated films, have set off a revolution.

Not only did they topple the seemingly invincible Weinstein, but they set an inspiring example for scores of other women, and some men, to overcome long-stifled fears and unwarranted feelings of shame, and step forward with testimony of being abused by men who held power over them.

RELATED: Three CBS employees accuse Charlie Rose of sexual harassment

CBS This Morning anchor Norah O’Donnell, reporting Tuesday morning on the appalling allegations against her longtime colleague Charlie Rose, had it right. “There is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive,” she said with clenched fury.

“This has to end. This behavior is wrong. Period.”

What is revolutionary is that, for the first time, the women are being widely believed. They are not being dismissed as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” like Anita Hill when confronting U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991, or an “Arkansas bimbo” calling out former President Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential campaign.

Now, America is starting to regard these stories from the women’s point of view. By shifting the perspective, everything changes. That cultural rumble you hear is an earthquake.

In the less than two months since the New York Times and The New Yorker published the on-the-record allegations about Weinstein and the damage suffered by his victims, we’ve seen the downfall of one famous man after another across various professional and ideological landscapes — many of them men we’ve heretofore admired.

Comedian Louis C.K., award-winning actors Kevin Spacey and Jeffrey Tambor, influential journalist Mark Halperin and about 25 lesser celebrity names. They’re all pretty much kissing their careers goodbye. Maybe now they know what an unwanted kiss feels like.

And, of course, Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and Democratic Minnesota Sen. Al Franken. Their stories are still playing out.

In Florida, a powerful state senator who was running for governor, Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is being investigated by the Senate amid allegations by several unidentified women that he groped them and commented on their bodies. The chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, Stephen Bittel quickly resigned after several women accused him of leering at them and creating an uncomfortable work environment.

The charged atmosphere felled Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, who resigned as soon as an extramarital affair with a lobbyist became public, although by all reports it was a consensual relationship, not a case of harassment or abuse.

We endorse the response by several female legislators who want to change Florida ethics laws to make it a crime for elected officials to coerce someone into having sex in exchange for official acts. State law says officials can’t solicit or accept gifts, but “never mentions sexual harassment or assault or abuse of power of any kind related to withholding political power or exercising it in exchange for sex,” says Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation.

Book and state Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, also want a task force to address the once-hidden issue of sexual harassment and misconduct in the Legislature, which some women say is pervasive in Tallahassee. Good idea.

RELATED: Legislative sex scandals lead McKinlay to seek women’s board revival

In Palm Beach County, County Mayor Melissa McKinlay has reacted constructively: choosing this time to propose re-establishing the Commission on the Status of Women. This creature of the 1970s expired in 1995, but, as McKinlay says, the 15-member advisory board is “more important than ever.” Its tasks, McKinlay said, would include making sure county government’s sexual harassment policies are in line with modern practices.

But the panel should see its job as much broader than that. Its purview should be nothing less than ensuring that women are fully respected throughout the county’s 5,500-person workforce. The best hope is that their work will set a tone for all other workplaces in this county.

As in all revolutions, things can go overboard: Innocent men may be unjustly accused. Punishments may exceed the crime, and not every offense is equal. But where is the line? Our society must sort this out with as much seriousness (and as little politicization) as we can muster.

This revolution is happening because men have taken terrible liberties with women, because a power imbalance gave them a sense of license and because our male-dominated culture was all too content to turn a blind eye.

Those days, as O’Donnell said, must come to an end. Women are speaking up — with contagious courage.

This revolution is happening because it is necessary.