On Wednesday, The New York Times announced it would suspend but not fire renowned reporter Glenn Thrush in the wake of harassment allegations first reported by Vox.
“While we believe that Glenn has acted offensively, we have decided that he does not deserve to be fired,” Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet said in a statement.
Vox reported that while working at Politico, Thrush hit on young journalists, enough so that other women warned colleagues not to be alone with him. Vox reported that Thrush acted like a creep, but he is not accused of behaving as outlandishly as other accused men in media like Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer.
The reality is, many women won’t encounter the boldness of what Harvey Weinstein is accused of doing. Instead, we are expected to navigate the gray areas of sexual harassment.
By not firing Thrush, The Times is giving harassers room to operate in this gray area without fear of losing their job. They can cross the line, as long as they don’t take it to someone’s idea of “too far.” This places an undue burden on the women who are expected to work with Thrush and others like him. It’s a delicate dance, to know whether a man is truly dangerous.
Vox reported that Thrush cornered an intern after a night of drinking. It was 11 p.m., and the two were walking alone through the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., in a secluded area. Thrush tried to kiss her, and then this happened:
“She began to cry. When Thrush saw, he abruptly walked off, waving his hand flippantly, and left her alone to wait for her ride,” Vox reported.
According to the intern’s account, Thrush did not force himself on her. But just being alone with a powerful man puts the intern in a vulnerable position. As women, we are told all of our lives to be on alert. We’re expected to take self-defense classes and carry rape whistles. We’re expected to know when to say no to man, but not so forcefully that we hurt the guy’s feelings.
Thrush chose to hit on young women trying to break into journalism and acted as a dream-killer. Anyone in the news business knows that a recommendation by someone as high profile as Thrush could catapult your career.
It could also end it.
Vox’s account also featured what happened to another woman who shut Thrush down. The author of the piece, Laura McGann, said that Thrush began spreading rumors about her to colleagues at Politico after she rejected him, except that in Thrush’s version of events, McGann had come onto Thrush.
And just like that, McGann got a reputation of trying to hit on a married man. Newsroom gossip is a powerful force. A reputation of being difficult could help sway a hiring decision. With constant layoffs in media and hundreds of applications for any one media job, it’s natural that an employer would opt to hire the “no drama” candidate.
After the Vox report, The Times conducted an internal investigation and interviewed more than 30 people in and out of the New York Times newsroom.
“Each case has to be evaluated based on individual circumstances. We believe this is an appropriate response to Glenn’s situation,” according to the New York Times statement.
After Thrush’s two-month suspension, he will return to the paper, but not to his prestigious beat covering the White House. It’s unclear what he will be covering instead, but it’s probably safe to say he won’t be working overnight shifts. He’ll bounce back and be given a second chance, while many women aren’t given a first. If he waits long enough, maybe he will be given the chance to cover the White House again.
The idea that one man’s talent is so great that they are irreplaceable is what helped keep someone like Matt Lauer become one of the highest paid broadcasters in television, even after ratings for “The Today Show” went down in the wake of Ann Curry’s firing. It turns out, Lauer wasn’t so irreplaceable and vital to the operation. In the weeks since Lauer has been off air, ratings for the show have gone up.
As one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world, The Times undoubtedly has its pick of writers. For every Glenn Thrush, there are hundreds of young journalists out there looking for a foot in the door. There are also plenty of seasoned journalists capable of doing his job.
Why continue to give an opportunity to a man who has proven himself to be unprofessional?
In the reckoning of the Me Too movement, it’s vital that companies send a message that women are safe and that their contributions are valuable. While keeping Thrush doesn’t negate the hard work that journalists at The Times have done on sexual harassment, it does send the message that one man is irreplaceable to the detriment of the vulnerable young women expected to worth with him.