A Journalist's Challenge To Her Colleagues

May 10, 2017

Commentator and journalist Shaheen Pasha was a 19-year-old newsroom intern when a male colleague behaved in ways she felt crossed a line. As stories of sexual harassment in the media are surfacing more often these days, she's got some requests of her colleagues.

He was my mentor. A respected journalist. It started with compliments in the break room, quickly morphed into suggestive comments like, "You must be juggling a lot of boyfriends" and finally an invitation to dinner so that he could help me map out my career goals in what he called a "private setting," like his home.

I felt awkward, uncomfortable, humiliated. And scared. Because when I finally confided in a few trusted people in the media industry -- both men and women -- the advice was unanimous: let it go. I was a young woman of color, starting out in my career. Better not to make trouble before I’d even made a name for myself.

So I kept quiet. For 20 years.

I'm not alone. According to a recent study on the subject, more than two-thirds of women journalists experience some form of sexual harassment or abuse related to their job. It was only after reading that statistic that I finally opened up about my story.

It's the worst kept secret in the industry. We women know it’s happening, but we don't speak up.

But high profile sexual harassment cases against Fox News' Roger Ailes and its conservative darling Bill O'Reilly have finally blown the issue out into the open.

One Variety story focused on O’Reilly’s “shocking reversal of fortune.” Really? The fact that his career is in trouble is the shocking part? And Politico reported that Fox staffers were surprised that such a ratings powerhouse had been fired.

Even with O'Reilly out, the stories continue to focus on him and the outlet he works for. That’s shocking to me. What about the women? They’re often treated as if they’re tangential to the story. We learn about the salacious things they’re called, like “hot chocolate,” and the money they’ve received from their settlements.

But why isn’t there more emphasis on the aftermath of the abuse for these women? Why isn't the misogynistic culture in which they work the bigger story here?

We need more journalists like the young New York Times reporter who effectively took O'Reilly down by exposing his abuses. His sponsors fled en masse as a result.

It’s really past time the media put pressure on its own industry to stop this abuse. Perhaps O'Reilly's spectacular downfall will finally serve as a catalyst for change.

Shaheen Pasha teaches journalism at UMass Amherst.