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This Week: Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Weinstein, Contraception Coverage Rollback


Now we're going to head into the Barbershop. That's where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup today are Susan Chira joining us from New York. She writes about gender issues for The New York Times. Welcome back, Susan.

SUSAN CHIRA: Hi, Michel. Great to be here.

MARTIN: From NPR West in Culver City, Calif., is Jeff Yang. He is a journalist. Glad to have you back with us, Jeff.

JEFF YANG: I'm glad, too.

MARTIN: And last, but not least, Lenny McAllister. He is a political commentator. And he joins us from WESA in Pittsburgh. Thank you also for joining us, Lenny. A whole group of regulars, that's awesome.

LENNY MCALLISTER: It is. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So let me start with this week's big news about a highly influential movie studio executive, Harvey Weinstein. Earlier this week, The New York Times published a cover story detailing numerous sexual harassment claims against Weinstein from actresses, assistants, other women who work in the film industry going back decades.

Now, Harvey Weinstein issued a public apology. In a letter to the Times, he wrote that he, quote, "came of age in the '60s and '70s, when all the rules about behavior in workplaces were different," unquote. He vowed to be a, quote, "better person," unquote. And he announced that he would be taking a leave of absence from his studio, The Weinstein Company. And a third of the all-male board of the company has since resigned.

So, Jeff, you're our man in Hollywood. And I want to mention that you also, you know, have a son in the business in addition to doing your, you know, your own work reporting. How is all this being received?

YANG: It is being received unfortunately in Hollywood with this sort of sense of, well, it was known all along. It was an open secret. Among those of us who follow Hollywood and who may not have been aware of the depth and length of these constant incidents, apparently, it is a shock. And, frankly, it's shocking that people are calling it an open secret, people who have worked with them consistently for the last decade.

MARTIN: Susan, what's your take on this story? I mean, I don't know. I mean, I'm just so fascinated by all these open secrets that everybody seemed to know about but nobody did anything about.

CHIRA: Right. Exactly, Michel.

MARTIN: Fox News comes to mind, but it's certainly not the only example. But what's your take on this?

CHIRA: Yeah. I think it's extraordinary because, in fact, you know, I have to shout out to my wonderful colleagues, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who spent months and months and months coaxing people to actually put their names to the open secret. I think, you know, I think that there are a lot of reasons open secrets get perpetuated. And I think there were similar trends in Fox News and here is that people were really - women were afraid to come forward or they were essentially silenced by settlement agreements that included very strict nondisclosure clauses.

And so everyone has the rumor, but the women who know received a payment and, you know, were legally bound for not speaking. And the perceived power of both Bill O'Reilly and Harvey Weinstein silenced people who might otherwise have spoken out. And then what, you know, you - when you're making charges like this, you want to have names and facts and details. And so the combination of those things meant that everybody was winking and nodding and unacceptable things were going on.

MARTIN: So, Susan, just as a person who covers the whole gender issues broadly, do you see something changing here?

CHIRA: I think this has been a very exciting year for this issue of uncovering and coming to terms with sexual harassment. You know, obviously, in addition to Bill O'Reilly and Fox News, we also have had these series of revelations in Silicon Valley. And what I think has changed is not that these were going on and everyone knew but there have been consequences. Bill O'Reilly got pushed out. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who have made lots of money for their companies got pushed out of office. And consumers of these products boycotted or made their feelings known in such a way that people felt there were consequences. So I don't, you know, I would never predict that all of a sudden, everything's going to be OK. But I think that the dangers of allowing this behavior have become clearer to corporate boards and to companies.

MARTIN: Lenny, you have thoughts about this?

MCALLISTER: I'm just thinking about his statement about coming up through the '60s and the '70s. And the immediate thought that went through my mind was, do you mean the same '60s and the '70s where there was a women's liberation movement and the civil rights movement? Do you mean that you came up through those movements but you didn't absorb anything about equality in treating people the proper way, et cetera, nothing to say about how you may have been brought up by a mother and a father that probably are very ashamed should they be looking down on you from another place?

So I can't stand when people use that as an excuse. I mean, heck, I was born in 1972. Does that mean because I was born during that period of time, I'm allowed to bring those attitudes into 2017? No. We know better. We have seen women be in positions of power from the lowest of the low to everything in between, to the highest of the high, for decades now. You either knock it off or you're a creep.

MARTIN: OK. Well, don't mean to make it that hard of a turn, but to our next story because I don't want to make - I don't want people to think that I'm calling these the same story, but it does have to do with gender dynamics. OK. So let me put it - with that kind of awkward separation, I'll say, here's a story from the world of sports. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton got himself into hot water for a comment he made at a press conference of a female reporter. Jordan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer asked him a detailed question about his team's roots and he had this to say.


CAM NEWTON: It's funny to hear a female talk about routes like - it's funny.

MARTIN: Well, you know what? A lot of people didn't think it was funny. And Jordan herself registered her displeasure at his comment on Twitter, pointing out that it's actually - it is her job to ask such a question. And a lot of people shared her outrage, including one of his sponsors, who dropped him with a quickness. And now Cam Newton eventually issued his own apology. Here it is.


NEWTON: After careful thought, I understand that my word choice was extremely degrading and disrespectful to women. And to be honest, that was not my intentions. And if you are a person who took offense, I sincerely apologize to you. I hope that you learn something from this as well.

MARTIN: So, Susan, again, I mean, what have we learned? Here? Here's one of the things I wanted to point out though. On social media posted - the comments that - attached to his apology I thought were very interesting because there are a number of women who posted who followed sports who say, I don't think it was meant to be all that. I don't think it was that degrading. And there are a number of - that he just seemed to find it, you know, curious. But other - there were a lot of men who posted, including the league, who said that this is completely inappropriate. And I'm just - Susan - curious what you'd make of that?

CHIRA: Well, you know, I have to say, women have been covering sports for a really long time. I mean, I have a friend and colleague, Lawrie Mifflin, is one of the first to get into locker rooms to cover men back in the '70s. So why Cam Newton thought it was so bizarre that a female journalist would ask him a sports question is beyond me. But I would say that if you were to compare the Harvey Weinstein apology with Cam Newton's, I would say that Cam Newton's was far more full-throated. I mean, he made the point that he was not a good role model for anyone or his own daughters. And, you know, I think that Harvey Weinstein, as Lenny pointed out, you know, just kept talking about, well, it was all OK way back when. It was never OK.

MARTIN: You know, Lenny, here's another interesting thing about this story. This being social media, some folks that investigated the reporter's social media account and found comments from a couple of years ago, like three or four years ago, that a lot of people considered racist. And then she apologized for those. I just - I - you know, Lenny, I'm just interested in what you think about this kind of dynamic here? Is this a Rorschach test moment? I mean, it was interesting for me, surprisingly thoughtful, even at Twitter length, because some people were saying, OK, does her alleged racism cancel out his alleged sexism? And people kind of went back and forth on that. But what do you think?

MCALLISTER: I think, number one, I mean, they're mutually exclusive. I mean, Cam Newton's comment was just - it wasn't thoughtful. It was stupid. I mean, Linda Cohn from ESPN has been on ESPN longer than he's been alive. And she's just one of thousands of women that have covered sports over the last 30 years since his lifetime. So to say it was him just trying to be cute and it burned him. At the same time, the racist tweets from five years ago, they're troubling.

But, you know, the problem is we have a society nowadays where people are not consistent with their definition of equality. You know, African-American men could want equality but look down on women. Or white women can say, we're not treated right in the workforce, but then look at their African-American sisters and look down on them.

And so until we have a better definition and a better hold of what equality means for everybody or somebody that's heterosexual saying, well, I deserve Christian rights and then talks about the lack of humanity with somebody that has an alternative lifestyle, that's not equality either. We continue to segment what equality is. And until Americans stop doing that collectively, we're going to continue to have these type of dynamics going on.

MARTIN: Jeff, I'm going to throw one more wrinkle at you. And that is that this is the same week in which the Trump administration announced two new rules that would exempt for religious beliefs and moral convictions, all employers and insurance companies, from the mandate in the Affordable Care Act to cover contraception without co-pays or deductibles. And a number of kind of activist organizations have been sort of beating the drum about this and saying, hey, this is really important.

So I'm kind of wondering whether the Cam Newton, Harvey Weinstein stories get more attention, but are there other things that we should be paying more attention to? And I apologize, I didn't give you a lot of time to answer, but what are your thoughts about that?

YANG: Well, I think that actually they're all pretty well interlinked. I mean, we talk about these things as if they're individual incidents, but what they really are examples of a deeper structure, right? It's not whether women speak out because women are often not in positions to do so. It's whether men do because men are certainly aware when some somebody like a Harvey Weinstein is doing what he's doing that these activities are happening. But if they don't speak out, then women don't feel comfortable or able to speak out.

And then when you actually have a situation where somebody who is an admitted sexual predator is elected president, it seems to be further evidence that there's a deep structure that accepts these sorts of things as OK in society, I'd say at the very highest level.

MARTIN: I'm sorry we don't have more time to talk about this because this is a really - I think a really interesting thing to dig into whether - do we go to the policy? Do we talk about the culture? So, you know, hopefully - I don't know, maybe sadly, we'll probably have another reason to come back and talk about this. That was journalist Jeff Yang with us from NPR West in Culver City, commentator Lenny McAllister with us from WESA in Pittsburgh, and Susan Chira joining us from our studios in New York, where she writes about gender issues for The New York Times. Thank you, everybody, for joining us.

CHIRA: Thanks, Michel.

YANG: God bless.

MCALLISTER: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF B. LOU'S "BODAK YELLOW (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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